So as you've probably noticed, things have slowed down around here a little bit. It was probably inevitable, I mean OU is and always will be a football school. So with that said, it's definitely never too early to start thinking about next year. OU will be returning a potentially dominant, national championship caliber type squad in 2011 and I thought it would fun to put together a projected depth chart.
Obviously OU got some great news this past week with the announcement that Travis Lewis and Ryan Broyles would be returning for their senior seasons. Just as obviously, their respective spots on the depth chart as set in stone. But where are there opportunities for some other Sooners to make a name for themselves? Will we have another year where the youngsters contribute so much to the team?
As always, I'm looking for some comments/feedback so if there is anything you disagree with or think I missed don't hesitate to chime in on the comments section. We'll start with the offense after the jump.
QB - Landry Jones-JR, Drew Allen-RS SO, Blake Bell-RS FR, Kendal Thompson-FR
Well despite the calls for his job by some
disgruntledOU fans, I'm gonna go ahead and pen (that's right, not pencil) Landry in at the QB1 spot. I could easily be proven wrong, but I think Allen holds on to the backup spot over fan favorite Blake Bell. I just think his experience in the system gives him a slight edge, mainly in that "trust factor" with the coaches. I sincerely hope that we never have to really find out as the only reason either should see significant time would be due to an injury to Landry (firmly knocking on wood) which isn't happening. Ultimately I do think Bell passes Allen on the depth chart, just not next year. Thompson is a guaranteed redshirt.
RB - Jonathan Miller-RS SO, Roy Finch-SO, Brandon Williams-FR, Brennan Clay-SO, Jermie Calhoun-JR
Here's where things start to get interesting. I expect a couple comments on this one as I've got Jonathan Miller penciled in as the starter heading into 2011. Let me clarify by saying I think Finch sees plenty of action, but he's just not a DeMarco Murray (or at least what Murray developed into this past year) type workhorse back. I think he's the most talented (although B.Williams is pretty close) back, but he's going to share time no matter what it's simply a matter of who he shares it with. I think after the year off, Miller will be hungry and be used in a similar fashion to how Chris Brown was used. He'll be able to get those tough yards and soften the defense up, to then put in the home-run hitters Finch and Willams.
I won't go so far as to create a "starting" spot for him, but Trey Millard definitely warrants mentioning here as well. If he was that good as a true freshman, it's scary to think just how much better he's going to be next year and all the things he can help bring to this offense.
WR - Ryan Broyles-SR, Kenny Stills-SO, Dejuan Miller-SR, Trey Franks-SO, Trey Metoyer-FR, Joe Powell-SO
Broyles coming back makes this potentially the best set of WRs in the entire country. Stills was outstanding as a freshman and will only get better with a year under his belt and another year of double coverage on Broyles. I think Miller comes back from is injury and gets the other outside spot, but don't be surprised if Metoyer (pronounced "muh-twire") winds up there. Metoyer compares favorable to a Malcolm Kelly type WR, in that he's not a true burner but his hands are second to none. The kid will catch everything that is near him, so if he's able to develop a repor with Landry early he could easily have a similar type impact to what Stills did in 2010.
Trey Franks surprised a lot of people this past season with his route running ability as most assumed, being a more of a "track guy", that he might have difficulty transitioning to the WR position at the D-1 level. Look for him to continue to improve and is the heir apparent to Broyles in the slot. Powell, Sheldon McClain, Justin McCay, and Kameel Jackson are some of the other names to keep in eye on at the WR spot. McClain was a kid who the coaches talked about progressing very well during his redshirt year and McCay is a freak of an athlete, but was pretty raw as a WR prospect so he may only be used in spots next year. As well as possibly yet to be determined position switches for incoming "athletes" Danzel Williams and Brandon Carter, who were dynamic all around players for their respective high school teams and may prove to be too explosive to keep off the offensive side of the ball.
TE - James Hanna-SR, Trent Ratterree-SR, Austin Haywood-SO, Max Stevenson-FR, Dan Tapko-FR
I don't see much changing at the TE spot heading into 2011. Hanna is coming off easily his best season at OU and Ratterree has certainly earned his spot in the TE rotation. Hopefully we'll see an expanded role for Haywood, specifically getting much more involved in the passing game. However, there is only one ball and as described above OU will not lack for options on offense so it might be 2012 before we see a "break out" season from Haywood. Barring an injury, I think both Stevenson and Tapko redshirt.
OL - Donald Stephenson-SR, Gabe Ikard-SO, Ben Habern-JR, Adam Shead-RS FR, Jarvis Jones-SR
Again, maybe another spot where I'll get some raised eyebrows with a RS FR starting at the RG spot but from what I've read Shead has been getting rave reviews all year. OU has struggled at both guard spots these last couple years with guys like Stephen Good and Tyler Evans failing (at least up to this point) to live up to their potential. I think another year to put on some more "good" weight for Ikard will only be a good thing and no slight to Eric Mensik, but I think with Jones and Stephenson we're even better at the tackle spots in 2011.
There are a ton of other names to be familiar with along the o-line. SO Josh Aladenoye, RS FR Daryl Williams, and RS FR Tyrus Thompson at the tackle spots, SO Bronson Irwin at a G spot, and RS FR Austin Woods behind Habern at center. The o-line will undoubtedly play a huge role in determining whether this is a legit team to secure #8 or a team that again struggles to get the tough yards when they need to. The line hasn't, for the most part, had trouble protecting Landry whereas they have struggled mightily in consistently opening up running lanes for the OU RBs. If OU can improve their YPC average next year to a 4+ to 5 or higher number then I think there is a VERY good chance the 2011 OU squad brings home that crystal football.
Let's flip things over to the defensive side of the ball now.
DL - Frank Alexander-SR, Stacey McGee-JR, Jamarkus McFarland-JR, Ronnell Lewis-JR
It's not much of a leap on my part, but I think the d-line is where you see the biggest improvement for this defense in 2011. To see what The Hammer did the second half of the season and imagine how dominant he could be with an entire offseason to practice at just one position should terrify opposing teams. Then you take into account the attention that Frank Alexander will command on the other side and OU could have one hell of a set of book ends at DE. Another name at DE I think you'll hear early and often in 2011 is that of RS FR Geneo Grissom. Grissom was another kid who was very likely to see time last year, but re-aggravated a foot injury and was forced to have surgery and redshirt. From practice reports, the kid has a motor that just won't quit and I can almost guarantee the coaches won't be able to keep him off the field in 2011. Soon to be fourth year junior, R.J. Washington will be looking (still) to earn his first significant time on the field for OU and will compete will fellow returnee David King. RS FR Chuka Ndulue was a kid who the coaches talked about making improvements throughout the year and the two incoming freshman DEs Cooper Washington (Auston English clone, but will likely need a redshirt year to bulk up) and Nathan Hughes will be looking to get some time as well. Hughes is a much bigger DE, 6'6" 265, than OU has typically recruited in the past and that size could help him see the field in 2011.
I also think that just by the sheer numbers of it, the DT position will be much better in 2011. McGee made huge strides in 2010 and should only continue to get better under probably the best DT coach in the country. McFarland has a tendency to be a little hot and cold, but will get pushed for playing time this year so hopefully that will light a fire in him. Casey Walker will be back, hopefully Daniel Noble will be able to return from his concussion issues, RS FR Torrea Peterson was a very likely candidate for playing time in 2010 before an injury forced a redshirt, and fellow RS FR Eric Humphrey and Damon Williams could also see some action as well.
LB - Travis Lewis-SR, Austin Box-SR, Corey Nelson-SO
I'll be perfectly honest, the Nelson pick is a personal preference on my part. I don't think that's what the coaches will do, I think they'll play that SLB spot exactly like they have in the past and in my opinion that means Joseph Ibiloye will likely get that third spot. I will say even though I don't think it will happen, I could see Nelson forcing the coaches hand in that he's just too good to keep off the field. I think he is the natural replacement for Lewis once he graduates next year, but I don't think he's going to want to wait around on the bench for another year. All year on the site and our podcast, I've been professing my love for Austin Box and what he was able to bring to this defense once recovered from that back injury. If he's able to avoid injury this offseason, and I expect the coaches to give him the "DeMarco treatment", then OU fans should be very, very happy headed into 2011.
I'm quite certain that Venables will find a way to continue to get Tom Wort on the field and I think with another year, and perhaps more importantly a second year removed from knee surgery, he'll be significantly better than he was in 2010. Backups Jaydan Bird, Daniel Franklin, and Rashod Favors will continue to fight for time, but the guy I'm most excited about is RS FR Aaron Franklin. This is a kid who suffered a knee injury his senior year and was forced to redshirt last year, but he believe me when I tell you he can absolutely fly! He is a guy I can see making a serious name for himself on special teams next year and setting himself up for a serious chance at starting in 2012. OU will also bring in two versatile LBs in the 2011 class in P.L. Lindley and Franklin Shannon. Both are big and fast enough to play that hybrid LB/S role OU loves so much, so look for them to use 2011 to learn the system and then compete for that starting SLB spot in 2012.
DB - Jamell Fleming-SR, Demontre Hurst-JR, Javon Harris-JR, Tony Jefferson-SO
To me, this is going to be the strength of the OU defense and that's really saying something when you having coming back what we do at LB. But I'd put Fleming and Hurst up against any other CB duo in the entire country and I think Harris and Jefferson could be outstanding at the safety spot. My only concern is Jefferson moving away from the line of scrimmage. He was just so good against the run in the nickel/Roy spot, a part of me thinks they don't fix what ain't broke and leave him there and play somebody like Sam Proctor at the other safety spot. It will be very interesting to see how things play out, mainly because I think you have to keep Jefferson on the field at all times also because OU has so many options at safety if they leave Jefferson at nickel. Proctor who I mentioned, Kevin Brent who is a guy recruiting followers will know and who came in with a ton of hype but has yet to see the field, a bunch of young talent in Julian Wilson, James Haynes Quentin Hayes.
As I mentioned above, OU is as solid as it gets at CB but were they to lose somebody they have SO Aaron Colvin who proved he was more than capable to step in and not miss a beat. It drives me insane that OU has a kid like this on the bench when the other team lines up in four and five wide, where he could be out there in coverage instead of a freaking LB but I digress. Between Colvin and RS SO Gabe Lynn, OU should be set up very well at the CB spot.
I'm not really going to address special teams for two reasons really. First, thinking about them makes me want to smash something. Second, what is there really to address? We know where we're at with the punter and we know that place kicker will continue to make you want to bang your head against a wall. To his credit, Stevens did become infinitely more reliable over the latter part of the season than every before but I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't incredibly happy that he'll be a senior next year. As for returners, with Broyles coming back he'll obviously continue to handle punt returns but is there anyone in particular you'd like to see run kickoffs back? I'm a big Trey Franks guy myself and truly believe if he can find that seam there is no chance of anybody catching him. I like the idea of Clay back there, but at times last year he looked a little hesitant to me. I don't think it makes sense to risk Finch back there, much like it didn't with Murray. I'm sure I'm missing someone?
Anyway, that's my early projection but obviously things will change once spring ball starts and the rest of the 2011 class shows up this fall. Do you agree, disagree? Feel free to share, we've all got to help each other get through these next VERY LONG eight months :(