Spring football has come to a close, but we're just not ready to stop talking football quite yet. So in an effort to keep things going, we reached out to the esteemed Josh McCuistion of SoonerScoop for a Q&A to cover all things OU recruiting. He was kind enough to oblige and as he and all the guys on SoonerScoop do on a daily basis, he brought his fastball touching on just about every aspect of 2013 recruiting, even sneaking in a little 2012 talk as well.
Enough of the talk, you're here for the info and we're happy to provide it.
CCM: So obviously the big recruiting news coming out of the Spring Game weekend is the fourth verbal commitment of the Sooners 2013 class in the form of the state's top player, DE .D.J. Ward For those out there who maybe don't follow recruiting as closely as you and I do, tell OU fans what kind of player they are getting in Ward. What are some aspects of his game that really stand out to you and where are some areas he can look to improve during his senior season?
Josh: Well first off, I should say that Ward has been our undoubted No. 1 player in the state of Oklahoma since seeing him as a rising sophomore and just being blown away with his physical tools from the start.
As far as the type of player Ward is, I've strained and struggled to find a comparison I like and so far one hasn't really emerged for me but the best one I've come up with to date is something of a Jonathan Jackson type of player though I think Ward has a bit more upside than that.
He is tremendous with his hands and as a long-armed guy really does a nice job of getting to the offensive tackle before they can get to his body. I still think he could use some work on his first step as often Ward gets by on his length or strength and really hasn't refined a lot of his game with moves and as he learns to challenge harder up field he'll be more able to use a spin move or any other of variety of chances.
CCM: Quarterback is always a high profile position in any recruiting class especially at a school like Oklahoma and the history of success they've had at the position under Bob Stoops. Most people are aware that the Sooners missed out on their top target at the position (Max Browne), but there really hasn't been much talk around the position since Browne committed to USC.
There is believed to be a Top 3 list of candidates most likely to receive that next offer from OU, who are those three players and where do the Sooners stand with each. Do you have a preference between the three? Are there any other names at QB we should keep an eye on?
Josh: The current remaining 'top three' is a bit fluid to me as the Sooners seem to be patient with what they are doing in recruiting, which would seem to imply that they'd like to see more of two players they've been able to work out at their own camp in Kelly Hilinski and Brayden Scott, and one they'd just like to see work out at all Cody Thomas. Scott is a guy the Sooners have basically watched grow up at their camps each summer while Hilinski took part last summer showing off a big frame and bigger arm. Meanwhile Thomas is perhaps the guy that would be the choice if not for being a very legitimate baseball prospect, a reality that caused him to miss last year's summer camp as well as some of spring workouts for his Colleyville Heritage team.
It's such a complicated question because it all depends on how you want to see the 'answer'. Based on pure talent, I'd go with Thomas, but there is real doubt he'll ever play a snap of college football, or at best will be a Brandon Weeden situation. Based on a guy that most naturally fits the mold of where Oklahoma seems to be going at QB, it's the athletic Scott, but is he big enough and how much has a very exotic HS offense padded the results that are clearly impressive? Finally with Hilinski, he seems to be the best fit for Heupel as far as the type of person he usually recruits as well as clearly having plenty of talent.
So really there is a reason that it all seems unclear - it is. I do think there is something to be said that Oklahoma is still looking around at some various players around the country, but right now that's kind of just conjecture rather than a name clearly emerging as a true target.
CCM: Offensive tackle is another position that is expected to be an area of focus in this 2013 class and while I know I've read you say it's one of the positions that takes the longest for the coaches to really evaluate, the Sooners have missed on a number of their early offers at the position. Where do things stand at the moment on the recruiting trail with respect to Coach Kittle and the tackle position?
Josh: Well, I really think the OT offers question figures to be answered to a great degree over the next few weeks - in fact I'm not sure it won't be the most active offer position over the spring evaluation period. Oklahoma is clearly placing a great focus on the spot but we currently don't have as many confirmed uncommitted offers (three) at the position as we do current expected spots filled by tackles in the class (four).
I'd keep a close eye on guys like Dan Skipper, Kenny Lacy, and Jake Campos in the coming weeks as all have made it clear they are very interested in Oklahoma and could be some in-person evaluations away from the Sooners throwing their hat in the ring. I also think Tulsa Union's Dalton Rodriguez is a guy that people need to keep looking at, lot of natural talent there.
CCM: I know on our site, a majority of the questions we are getting regarding 2013 recruiting at the moment is heavily focused on the defensive side of the ball. More specifically, we're getting a bunch of questions about what the Sooners are looking to do at linebacker. Thanks to the outstanding War Board you and the boys at SoonerScoop maintain, we can see that the Sooners have a number of offers out at the position but no names really standing out at the moment in terms of strong interest. Who are some of the players at LB that OU fans should be familiar with that Oklahoma is or could get seriously involved with?
Josh: I think you have to start with Chans Cox, and the new LB offers, most notably Matt Rolin from Virginia. To start with Cox has a long, and highly favorable, relationship with Tim Kish from Kish's days in Arizona. Cox is a guy that has been very adamant that he'll be visiting Oklahoma this spring or summer and while it's easy to disregard guys that are farther from Oklahoma he has a connection to the school through Kish and seems genuinely intrigued.
With Rolin, there was just something about the way he talked about Oklahoma when we spoke, you can tell the offer meant a lot and that his intention of taking an OV was sincere. Now things can change with young guys but he is familiar with the region so it was probably less lip service than we often get.
CCM: Another spot on that side of the ball we hear a lot about is defensive tackle. The 2012 class was a little odd in that the Sooners did not take a single player at the position, so I believe the expectation is for OU to take at least a couple players in 2013. Obviously Justin Manning is THE name at the position for OU fans, but for those who aren't already aware of Manning tell us why so many are excited about the Sooner legacy?
Also, can you tell us about some of the other targets for Oklahoma at the DT position?
Josh: Manning, for those that don't know is the younger brother of Demarcus Granger, but really the two couldn't be more different as players. While Granger was a load in the middle who was a run-stuffer first, his brother is much more in the mold of guys like Tommie Harris and Gerald McCoy as an upfield player that is capable of creating pressure from the middle - a truly rare trait at DT.
He is incredibly quick for a player his size and thanks to a brother that has taught him many tricks from the college level, is well advanced for his age. He'll need to work on doing more as a run-stopper as Manning can sometimes get out of position getting upfield but it's always hard to know how much of that is just him playing as his coaches ask him to and how much is overly aggressive play.
As for other DTs, Josh Augusta and De'Asian Richardson are a couple of interesting guys that already hold offers. Augusta could fit in as a DE but I really think as he fills out he'll naturally look like a DT. I also think it's very worthwhile to have a look at some JUCO DTs, probably recent Ole Miss commit Marquel Combs among them, who in spite of the commitment I'm convinced isn't a closed book.
CCM: So Mike Stoops, maybe unintentionally, revealed a little insight towards what the Sooners are looking to do in the secondary with this 2013 class when he said they'd like to take five players at the position. Who are some of the top names OU is currently considering and where exactly do they stand in terms of mutual interest?
Josh: I think you have to start with Cole Luke and then after that I'm not sure there is a player currently with an offer that, within sound reason, there is ample reason to feel confident about. Luke is a talented corner that, in my opinion, isn't quite getting his due nationally and could be a guy that we all look back on in a few years and wonder what the hold up was on offering for several programs.
There are guys like Tahaan Goodman that I think Oklahoma has a puncher's chance with but a lot of these guys seem a bit tied to the region or the Sooners are simply battling elite recruiters with the ability to sell proximity. However, I think you'll see more of those five come from guys who aren't currently holding offers. Players like in-state standouts Stanvon Taylor (Ed. note - Taylor got his offer Monday), Maurice Chandler, and Khari Harding. While Taylor is a pure corner, Chandler is something of a cross between a safety and a corner and Harding could end up being that next Sooner OLB/SS type in the mold of Ontei Jones, Roy Williams, and currently Joseph Ibiloye.
CCM: At this point, with the four verbal commitments on the board, the Sooners commits are obviously concentrated on two specific positions (RB & DE). In your opinion, are the Sooners "done" recruiting at those positions in this 2013 class? If not, who are the names to know at each respectively?
Josh: I think so at running back, I just don't know how you follow four backs with three more. It's a position that may rotate bodies but the Sooners didn't graduate a back in 2011 and will only lose Dominique Whaley following 2012. I just don't see how those numbers could add up any other way and when you add in that Oklahoma seems to be in great shape with a couple of truly elite backs in 2014, moving on would seem to be the score.
At DE, I really don't see any way the Sooners are done, and it's for the inverse reason of RB being done in my eyes. The Sooners lost two starters following 2011 and will lose their two projected starters for 2012 following this year when David King and R.J. Washington run out of eligibility. I think now, with two quality commitments at the position, the Sooners can be a bit more patient and either really focus in on 2-3 guys that they feel good about or perhaps wait for a late riser like last year's signing Michael Onuoha.
Another guy at DE, Jordan Sherit is a guy that Oklahoma has done a good early job with and as he already has an offer, is a guy worth continuing to watch. Among the uncommitted there are some names I like but no one that Oklahoma has become heavily involved with to date.
CCM: So up to this point, we've clearly focused primarily on 2013 but I wanted to get your opinion on some of the 2012 guys that will be on campus later this summer. Who are some of the players not already on campus that you could see receiving legitimate playing time this coming season? I know personally, I'm really excited about some of the WRs in guys like Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard, and Courtney Gardner and I know you're really high on Gary Simon (assuming he can qualify). Who are some others?
Josh: Any time you talk about playing early you have to start with the junior college guys and to me unless running back Damien Williams has spent his time eating twinkies and gummie bears, I just don't see how you keep his talent off the field. There is probably no guy that was more important to this class, and yet some seem to talk about him as an afterthought. If Whaley doesn't come back 100-percent, it won't shock me for a minute if he is the starter down the stretch, his talent and fit for Oklahoma's offense is that complete.
I think with Gardner it's simply a matter of him arriving, I know some around Norman felt he was every bit as talented as 'DGB' and have told anyone that will listen his early impact could rival that of the now 'destined for stardom' Trey Metoyer. Guys who run and move in space like he does are a dime a decade.
With Will Latu, there is certainly potential there but if he misses any time in summer workouts, that's going to get infinitely tougher. He is a physical guy but comparing JC lifting regimens to that of major college programs like Texas, Kansas State, etc., it's just no comparison. If he is going to battle in the trenches immediately he'll need every workout he can get in.
Among the high school guys, I'd keep a close eye on Sam Grant, Neal, Shepard, and Simon. With Grant there is just such a huge need at his spot (tight end) and he is a physical perimeter blocker, there is definitely a chance he'll surprise and get out there early. When Bob Stoops compares you to one of, by all belief, his favorite players of all-time (Brody Eldridge)? That's saying a lot.
With Neal and Shepard, again, there just aren't a lot of slot receivers that are stepping up and taking over what is perhaps the most under appreciated role on Oklahoma's entire roster. For the offense to hum, it needs a player who can get in the middle and keep linebackers out of the line of scrimmage.
Finally, Simon, if he can qualify he is the best corner prospect Oklahoma has signed in a decade, yeah, I said it, and I mean it. He has a chance to be a special, special player.
So there you go, if that doesn't give you your recruiting fix I don't know what will. And as if he wasn't already generous enough with his time, Josh has asked me to let you know that if you're interested in giving SoonerScoop a try just email him at email@example.com and he'll give you your first two weeks free. Hard to beat that deal.