Year after year, players depart for the next page in the book of life. For some, that means entering the NFL Draft but for others it leads to a professional career in another field. However, one thing remains true as each departure leaves a hole that needs to be filled.
This season is no different as the Oklahoma Sooners will be looking at replacing some of the most productive players to ever grace Owen Field. The most obvious name OU will be looking to fill the shoes of will be Ryan Broyles. But, that does not mean fans should count out others like Travis Lewis and Frank Alexander.
Every year there are a handful of players that have a slightly larger role in determining the success of a program. The Sooners have a few players they will need to lean on in order to achieve the lofty expectations that are placed on them year in and year out. Here is a quick look at those fans should expect to have a major impact on the game as they lead OU on the chase for eight once again.
Demontre Hurst - If there is one player who flys under the radar and is left out of many of the talks of "best of the best" is none other than Demontre Hurst. Last season, Hurst led the Sooners in pass breakups with 11 along with a single interception returned for a TD and two fumble recoveries. Yet, he was only awarded 2nd team All-Big XII honors. However, he should be credited with a lot why Ryan Broyles was who he was as they went head-to-head for two seasons. But on the flip side it is also why Hurst is the player he is today. You don't become the best without putting the best on an island.
While other Big XII names like Quandre Diggs and Brodrick Brown are constantly gaining press, Hurst is a name often forgotten. He remains a shutdown defender and will be looked to in 2012 as the secondary is revamped. Hurst has the experience, as he is a senior, and instinct to lead this secondary as all the youngsters will be looking toward him come fall. With the possibility of him thrusting himself into Big XII stardom, this is a kid who will not buckle under the pressure.
Landry Jones - There has not been a more criticized player in recent history than Landry Jones. After forgoing the NFL Draft, Jones is back for a senior season. He will be without the safety net that Broyles provided for him in moments of panic. However, the good news is that he will have a very experienced offensive line to help him stay upright and in the pocket.
While Jones has broken almost all of the school passing records, he still lacks the credit he deserves. With a new set of receivers and inexperienced tight ends, this offense could be in trouble. Landry will need to step up as the vocal leader while displaying poise and composure. The troops will rally around him as his decision making and footwork continue to progress. The incoming talent is off the charts but it will depend on the familiarity with one another to ride off with yet another successful season.
Kenny Stills - After many crowned Stills as the future of the receiving attack, fans saw a bit of a disappearance while others began to pick up the slack of the injured Ryan Broyles. Flash forward to the off-season in which the Sooners would suffer several more losses at the receiver position. All of these happenings have joined forces to create the perfect storm for a pass first program in a pass first league. It is a hurdle that the Sooners must overcome in order to remain atop the Big XII. Now, Oklahoma will rely on the only experienced receiver to lead a group of young guns into battle on the gridiron.
Stills will need to remain constant throughout the season as he is a proven deep threat. However, he will need to draw the attention of defenders to open things up for others like Trey Metoyer, who is a star in the making himself. Oklahoma will look for viable options at the receiver position until a player proves they don't deserve playing time but it all starts will Stills.
Tom Wort - A new anchor and voice of the defense will be revealed throughout this upcoming season. Much of that responsibility will fall to the one and only Wort. After becoming the starting middle linebacker due to injuries, Wort showed that he was inexperienced and lacked sound tackling yet was had plenty of natural talent. However, the next season he was thrust into a leadership role as Travis Lewis was injured. Through the experience, it was apparent that Wort had what it took to become the next leader of the defense.
Wort will be relied on to direct traffic in the box in an attempt to stop the running game. There are a few talent backs out there that will quickly put this to the challenge. Again, in a revamped and simplified defense, Wort will need to pick up where school legend T-Lewis left off.
Brennan Clay - Many who watched Clay play during his high school days had no doubts that he would play on the D-1 level. Now that he has landed at Oklahoma, some of the sparkle has begun to fade. Maybe it was the big hit he took as a true freshman but, his sophomore campaign saw significant improvements. Hopefully Clay will continue to progress into the back that many thought he could be.
The bigger question though comes from the standpoint of Dominique Whaley. This was a player who went from making six-inch subs to making highlight reels. If Whaley is unable to make the return soon, another back will need to fill the void. Roy Finch, while a great option and change of pace, lacks the necessary physical attributes to be the headliner. The Sooners may take another running by committee approach. Damien Williams should expect to see the field as well but he will have to catch up to players like Clay in learning the system. With that said, Clay will need to step up and prove that he has what it takes if the cards unfold in an unfavorable way for the Sooners heading into the fall.