Today marks the first day of spring football for our Oklahoma Sooners and for the first time in what really hasn't been that long but feels like forever, we can discuss actual football as it is taking place. Admittedly with Bob Stoops' total lockdown policy on practices and scrimmages, the information might be limited but this time of year we'll take whatever we can get.
So with that thought in mind, we're going to preview what we expect/hope to see with both the offense and the defense over the next couple weeks.
DEFENSIVE ENDS - It's not very often that you can replace two departing starters with two fairly experienced seniors, but that is the luxury the Sooners have this spring. David King and R.J. Washington slide into the two starting spots and will hopefully give OU a duo not that far off from the players they're replacing. Though that will be no easy task as they'll be attempting to replace the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year and arguably the Sooners most athletic player from last year.
Behind to two seniors is really what should be the focus at the defensive end position this spring. The Sooners are loaded with young but unproven talent. Names like Geneo Grissom, Chuka Ndulue, and Nathan Hughes should all be players Sooner Nation hopes to hear from this spring. Both Grissom and Ndulue played last season, but in extremely limited roles. Hughes redshirted but is a big (6'6" 248) d-end who has the versatility to potentially play inside or outside.
In addition to the youngsters, the Sooners will be aided by yet another JUCO signee in Chaz Nelson. Nelson was an accomplished junior college player and with just two years to play, the expectation is that he works his way into the rotation this spring.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE - A position that has been of great consternation for OU fans these last couple years, the Sooners hope three seniors and some young talent can help to remedy the issue. Casey Walker, Stacy McGee, and Jamarkus McFarland have all shown flashes of dominance at times, but up to this point those flashes have not occurred nearly enough. The Sooners are looking for a much more consistent performance from all three this season. A consistent push up the middle can make things so much easier for the entire defense, so hopefully in their final year on campus the trio can become those kind of players.
Behind the three seniors, the Sooners have another trio of young, talented defensive tackles. Marquis Anderson, Jordan Phillips, and Jordan Wade were all very highly regarded recruits and among the top prospects at their position. However, potential often goes unfilled at this level and especially at the DT position. As we've stated several times in both these previews, Stoops is well known for taking it easy on his seniors during spring practices. So these three freshman should receive a ton of snaps to help advance their development. In this fan's opinion, Jordan Phillips has the highest ceiling and could be that next special defensive tackle for OU. No knock to either of the other two guys as I'm definitely excited about both, but I'm just really, really excited about Phillips.
LINEBACKERS - As fans, we think we know that the back seven of the OU defense is pretty well set. However with new position coaches at each position group respectively, the chance are that might not be quite as certain as first thought. That said, it would be a considerable surprise if at least two of the three linebacker spots are not essentially set. Tom Wort and Corey Nelson have to be considered overwhelming favorites to start in the middle and on the weakside respectively.
That third backer spot however remains to be seen as we wait to see what exactly Mike Stoops is looking to do with Tony Jefferson. The expectation of some is that Jefferson moves back to safety, where he played towards the end of last year, and that opens up the "Roy-back" spot the Sooners have been so fond of in the past. If however Jefferson stays at his more familiar spot, then the linebacker unit is set and very solid.
While the projected starters may be set, what most definitely is not is the players behind them. The Sooners have little to no experience behind their projected starters (with the exception of Jaydan Bird & Joseph Ibiloye), so this spring will be monumental for new coach Tim Kish and the linebacker position. Guys like Frank Shannon, Rashod Favors, P.L. Lindley, Aaron Franklin, and Kellen Jones need to prove they can be the future at the position.
SECONDARY - To say there is a great deal of excitement surrounding Mike Stoops return and what the expectations are with his secondary would be a massive understatement. Many OU fans felt Brent Venables' defensive scheme was too complicated and at times prevented players from using their athleticism to make plays, often over thinking things and leading to indecision. The early talk has been that the younger Stoops will simplify things for the secondary and let players make plays.
The Sooners have the fortune of returning stars Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin who are arguably two of the most dependable players in the entire country. If you presume that Tony Jefferson does in fact move to safety, you've got three of your best players in a secondary that could potentially be one of the most talented in the nation. Add to that formidable threesome JUCO corner Kass Everett who if he pans out as advertised can only make the secondary that much stronger.
At that point you'd also have the considerable luxury of a player like Javon Harris available as a fifth starter or off the bench who you could selectively use so as to best utilize his ability (i.e against the run). Hopefully a guy like Gabe Lynn can find a role for himself either at corner or safety (hopefully safety) as well as a young guy in Bennett Okotcha who has already drawn some high praise from teammates. Would also really like to see some young guys like Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes step up this spring as well.