With spring practices starting on Saturday, we here at CCM decided to get together for one of our patented (and by patented, we mean completely unoriginal interwebs concept) roundtables to discuss some of the pertinent topics surrounding this Oklahoma football team.
We'll touch on a number of things, but as always we're eager to here you take on things as well. So feel free to post your thoughts to our questions/topics in the comment section.
Fair warning, it could be a little bit of a long read so settle in and let's get to it.
Okay, so there has been a lot made of the fact that there is going to be a quarterback competition for the Sooners this spring. How much are you buying the "competition" part of that statement? If you're a believer, who do you believe is the most likely to unseat the incumbent favorite, Blake Bell?
Chip: As far as the quarterback position for next fall, I think Blake Bell comes in as the favorite, but he will be challenged, for sure, by Trevor Knight. Both bring a little different dimension to the position. I think we are going to see a different look from the position, given the more mobile skills of Blake and Knight and the departure of L. Jones (who was purely a pocket passer). Bob Stoops has seen what the QBs in the league have been able to do when they are more than just a passing threat, so I definitely think we will see more versatility out of the OU QB in 2013. I think it will be Blake No. 1 and Knight No. 2 on the depth chart coming into the fall unless something unforseen happens between now and then.
Matt: The job is Blake Bell's to lose and there's no denying that whatsoever. Does that mean there won't be a competition though? I'm sure there will be but as long as Bell shows that he has the best grasp of the offense, and can put some touch on the football, then he's going to be the starter this fall and the competition will be to see who backs him up. Where things could get interesting is if Bell struggles in one aspect or another. Then we may see Trevor Knight make some waves in the offense as just about everyone has been impressed with his upside.
Rich: If I'm being honest, I've bought into it 100% at this point. The Oklahoma Sooners have a plethora of talent at the WR position heading into 2013 and will be looking for a QB who can utilize the weapons available to him. This Oklahoma program was built on great defenses and a passing quarterback. But, a competition brings out the best in competitors which I believe there to be a roster full of these at OU. Last season, as a scout-team member Trevor Knight impressed his fellow team members as he torched the starting defense time and time again. He is the most likely to unseat the favorite in Blake Bell. If Bell proves he still needs to work on his throwing motion Knight has an outside shot of winning the job. I certainly won't be surprised to see Knight listed at the top of the depth chart.
Jordan: Simply put, I'm not a believer. Now don't take that to mean I am not a fan of Trevor Knight because nothing could be further from the truth. At this point though, I just don't see anyone with a legitimate chance of beating out Blake Bell. I do believe that both Knight and Kendal Thompson will get more practice snaps this year maybe than in years past, but ultimately I think this is very much Bell's job to lose.
Sticking with the quarterback positions, no matter who wins the job each candidate offers the possibility of a QB run game. However, the coaches have continually downplayed their intention to utilize it. Is this just coach speak in your mind or do you believe they will continue to run a similar type of offense as in years past?
Rich: I do believe this is just "coach speak" as you have tabbed it. The college game has evolved to involve more of a dual threat quarterback. The coaching staff sees this transition and cannot ignore it in any way shape or form, it is why they have recruited the players they have on the roster at the QB position. Josh Heupel has said he will have to explore that option and I fully expect him to follow through on it.
Jordan: A part of me simply cannot believe these coaches would attempt to run a similar offense to last year with every quarterback on the roster being such an inexperienced passer. Having any of those guys drop back 50 times in a game strikes me as an incredibly stupid decision. Admittedly, it has not happened yet and very well may not but at this point I'd never put it past Josh Heupel. That said, I do believe the coaches are smart enough to realize the quarterback run game has to play some kind of a role in this offense. It has to.
Matt: I know that I may be in the minority here but I'm not really a fan of running the quarterback. I think that you can keep a defense off balance with a zone-read but how often do you really want the guy who the entire offense centers around sticking his neck out there. I would be a bigger fan of using a zone-read to set up a play-action pass just as much as a potential threat for the quarterback to run. Now, to your question specifically, I don't know what to expect. If I was put on the spot I would say that we may see a handful of designed run plays. My honest opinion is that where a running quarterback would be most dangerous for the Sooners would be with the option to scramble in a situation where receiving targets aren't open.
If you had to single out one player you're most excited to hear about (and I say hear because we won't have a chance to actually see anything until the Red/White game) this spring, who is that player and why was that player your pick?
Chip: I would like to hear more about the new running back recruit Keith Ford. He is supposed to be extremely talented, and I'm excited to have him join Damien Williams and Brennan Clay in the Sooner backfield next season. I also look for an even better season from Trey Millard, who has had a couple of exceptional years as a starter already. Bob Stoops has always been in favor of a strong running game in order to open up the passing lanes, and I believe next season the OU run game may be the featured piece of their offensive attack.
I'm excited to see what Sterling Shepard can do in his sophomore season, as well. With Justin Brown and Kenny Stills gone, SS should get more playing time. You'd have to say that I'm both curious and excited to see what Bell and Knight will do against each other, presumably, in the spring game. I am also very interested to see what effect the new coaching changes will have on next season's team.
Rich: Dannon Cavil. With his size and ability, he could pose a great threat to some of the aforementioned receivers. Oklahoma hasn't had a talented sizable guy like him make major contributions in the past several years. Here is to hoping he can be the next great deep threat.
Matt: Man, that's a really good question because there are so many open positions. Quarterback is the easy position to pick out but I'm going to go with Alex Ross at running back. With a 6-1/218 frame he has good size but I want to hear about (and see) his speed. Dude is supposed to be lightning fast.
Jordan: Alex Ross, no question. With Stoops' track record, I don't expect Williams and Clay, who are both seniors, to get a ton of work this spring. For that reason alone, I think Ross, David Smith, and Daniel Brooks could get a lot of practice snaps. Ross has been talked about all the back to his days at Jenks for his home run hitting ability to hit a seam and take it to the house. He's had a year to redshirt and he's already listed at 6'1" almost 220 pounds, he's ready and I'm ready to see him finally get his shot.
How difficult will it be to replace Kenny Stills and Justin Brown on the outside and who do you believe are the most likely candidates?
Matt: I actually think that it will be easier to replace Stills than Brown. That’s no slide towards Kenny but the reality is that Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard will absorb his receptions this season. The question is who will be the big bodied possession receiver that Brown was last season. Lacolton Bester (6-3/205) may be a dark horse for that role but I think they’ll most likely look to Trey Metoyer first. Either way, it won’t be an easy fix because I believe that Brown was possibly the most underrated aspect of Oklahoma’s offense last season.
Rich: In my humble opinion, while these two were solid contributors to the offense, there is a stable of young, hungry guys ready to step up to the challenge. Trey Metoyer has the potential to be that depth threat on the outside that Oklahoma loses with Kenny Stills. My concern here becomes, who makes the clutch catches Stills was able to make? I don't see it in Metoyer as of yet. The other leading candidate is none other than Jalen Saunders. He is experienced with the ability to make defenders miss and will be counted on as the leader of the wide-outs.
Chip: I'm not that concerned about replacing the offense provided by Justin Brown and Kenny Stills. We still have a full stable of talented ande quick receivers coming back in Shepard, Trey Metoyer, Duran Neal and, of course, Jalen Saunders. Plus, I understand that Jaz Reynolds will be back this coming season, and he was one of the featured receivers the year before last. Trey Franks is pretty good, too, but I understand he is moving to defensive back this coming season. Look for Metoyer to get the first shot at one of the outside receiver spots.
Jordan: I think it's a legitimate concern given that all of the candidates, barring a move of Saunders to the outside, are very inexperienced. Like a number of other positions we've discussed in this preview series, there is talent here but it's obviously unproven. I was as big a fan of Durron Neal as anyone when he signed last year and I think he, along with Trey Metoyer of course, is someone who is going to need to step up in a big way this year.
Will the tight end position continue to be non-existent in this offense or will a healthy Taylor McNamara change that?
Jordan: I want to believe that McNamara could change things, but even as talented as we believe him to be he's still just a redshirt freshman. McNamara has the ability to be that threat up the seam this offense has been missing ever since Jermaine Gresham left, but like many things with this team in 2013 I'm going to have to see it to believe it.
I still think they could get a lot more out of Brannon Green, especially if the run game is featured more this year, but Heupel clearly could not find a role for him last season.
Chip: Tight end has been an important position for past Stoops teams. I think the Sooner coaching staff would like to re-establish a presence at TE, both from a pass catching perspective as well as a key blocker in the run game. We just haven't had the talent there (outside of James Hanna) for a couple of seasons. Taylor McNamara could be the guy.
Matt: You know what? I'm going to go ahead and say that the tight end position makes a comeback at OU this fall and here's why. The previous question asked about replacing two of the most significant receivers from last year's team and the tight end may be an answer to that. I'm also going to go a step further and suggest that we may see Trey Millard used as the old "H back" that we saw Josh Norman play during his career. He is versatile and talented enough where he can pull that off very successfully.
Rich: Simply put, I don't see it changing in the least bit.
Are you buying the 3-4 defensive scheme talk and if so, how worried are you about Oklahoma attempting to do it without so many of the necessary parts?
Rich: I'm not there yet. Of course, I have the benefit of participating in this after Bob Stoops has went on record saying that while they will implement the 3-4, it will not be something they intend to do exclusively. The Onuoha move is what has put many people on edge and it is the best indicator we have. I just hope the coaching staff isn't to stubborn to see that something isn't working and reverts to a different option.
Matt: Yes, I am buying into the talk and am more curious than I am worried. I know that there are varying thoughts on the coaching staff but the truth is, these guys don't get to where they are by not knowing what they are doing. I don't think that it will be a full-time shift for Oklahoma's defense but something that they can show and then quickly change back to a four or five man front without having to switch personnel, thus the reason for Mike Onuoha transitioning to outside linebacker. It would be very simple for him to line up at defensive end on the next snap.
Chip: Regarding a switch to the 3-4 defensive set, I would certainly be willing to see Mike Stoops give it a try. It may take more than a season to get it in place from a comfort and effectiveness perspective. OU did have one of the best DL recruiting standing with the 2013 recruiting class, which should bode well up front in future years. Unless the Sooner defense is able to mount a better pass rush with the new and returning defensive personnel, a switch to the 3-4 might work.
Jordan: To be fair, this all started as pure speculation on the part of fans and media alike so it's not like the coaches have promised something any may not deliver. As they've since clarified some things, this 3-4 talk sounds like something that will be situational at best. Now that doesn't make me like the idea of it, but switching to the 3-4 never made much sense to begin with. In theory, I could see how it would make sense but that's with the major caveat that you have the personnel to do so, which Oklahoma does not. I'm relieved they're not going to attempts something so foolish, but that still doesn't make me feel much better about this defense in 2013 either.
The defensive line and secondary both suffered a significant turnover, who are you looking to step up this spring to help mitigate some of those losses?
Matt: I would throw the linebackers into that mix as well. Again, there are so many guys who need to step up that it's hard to pinpoint just one. I'm going to go with Gabe Lynn though. He is a hard hitting defensive back who has struggled, at times, in coverage but would make for a great safety. Look for him to push for a starting role at one of the safety spots and be a senior leader in the secondary.
Chip: The strength of the defensive secondary next season will also affect the risk/benefit of switching the defensive alignment of the front seven. Aaron Colvin is back, but the loss of veterans in Jefferson, Hust and Harris is potentially going to make the Sooners even more vulnerable to the long bomb than they were last season, and even then they gave up a bunch of yardage of long gainers (principally because they couldn't put enough pressure on the opponent's QB). The success of the DL has a lot to say about the effectiveness of the secondary. Both will be unknowns and areas of concern coming into the new season - and what should be a football team with its customary abundance of talent and the same winning attitude but with a different look and way of going about it.
Rich: From the defensive line perspective, I'd say Chuka Ndulue. He is the most experienced on the line and will need to step up. Likewise, Aaron Colvin for the secondary. Colvin is one of the most complete players on the entire defense and he will single-handedly set the tone for the rest of the defense.
Jordan: The obvious candidate on the defensive line is Jordan Phillips, all 6'6" 324 pounds of him. He'd be the guy for me even if the Sooners didn't lose three former starters at the position off last year's team. He's too talented not to be the guy, but the question is can he cash in on all that talent this early?
In the secondary, I had hoped it would be Gary Simon but that's obviously not happening now. If this were the summer, I'd say Hatari Byrd who I think is going to be a star. However, it's the spring so I'm going to go with Cortez Johnson. The former Arizona Wildcat started as a true freshman for Mike Stoops and he is the odds on favorite to win the starting job opposite Colvin this year. And given that Colvin has proved to be one of the best corners in the country, teams are going to much more apt to challenge Johnson. So a lot is going to be on his shoulders in the coming season, it will be extremely important how he responds to that pressure.