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OU Football 2013 | Spring Practices Are A Chance For Young Players To Shine

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Michael C. Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Spring football is typically time where coaches have a somewhat rare opportunity to experiment with some things both with respect to scheme and personnel. If you are going through a regime change, as several prominent schools currently are, it's a time to install your system and evaluate the available talent.

While Oklahoma experienced more coaching turnover following this past season than in any other during the Bob Stoops tenure, the core principles of who and what they are as a program remain intact. So this spring for the Sooners is really more of a chance to (1) experiment with some new wrinkles and (2) an opportunity to learn what they have in some of their underclassmen.

Even though the Sooners are only about halfway through their allotment of fifteen spring practices, a number of young players have already drawn praise from both coaches and players alike. Which, for OU fans, is a good thing because Oklahoma could be relying on a number of them once the regular season starts.

Oubulletlogo_medium Sterling Shepard (Wide Receiver) - This one won't really come as much of a surprise given how much he played last year as a true freshman, but by all accounts Shepard's development has continued at an accelerated rate. He's been described as one of the most talented players on this offense and whether it's in the slot or outside, he is certainly someone the Sooners will be counting on in 2013.

Oubulletlogo_medium Alex Ross (Running Back) - OU fans have been anxious to see Ross ever since the first day he arrived on campus. They had to wait a year while the former Jenks Trojan redshirted, which has only increased the anticipation for his first carry as a Sooner. Ross has impressed this spring with the work he put in to transform his body while still maintaining the 'track speed' he was so well known for during his high school days. He'll certainly have some worthwhile competition for carries in the form of Damien Williams and Brennan Clay, but Ross may simply be too talented to keep off the field this year.

Oubulletlogo_medium Ty Darlington (Center) - When you step back and consider that there has been talk of even the possibility of Darlington possibly starting at center with a guy like Gabe Ikard ahead of him it shows just how good the coaches think Darlington could be. Now the odds definitely are not in favor of this actually happening, which would shift Ikard over to guard, but just the fact it's put out there and not laughed at is a testament to Darlington's ability (and future). The sophomore has received a lion's share of the snaps at center this spring however following Ikard's broken hand. Which is something that can only help to continue his development as Ikard's eventual replacement.

Oubulletlogo_medium Ahmad Thomas (Safety) - If you've read a spring practice report here or anywhere else, it's likely Thomas' name has been mentioned. The true freshman and early enrollee has impressed both this coaches and teammates with his physical play and ability to pick things up so quickly. He's currently running with the second team, but if he continues to progress as quickly as he has already he could easily be starting at some point this season.

Oubulletlogo_medium Durron Neal (Wide Receiver) - You may or may not realize it, but Neal actually played nine games last year. The reason you may not remember him playing in that many games is likely due to the fact that he played sparingly (at best) and only recorded four catches for 62 yards. However, big things are expected of him this year as a guy who could step up and be one of OU's primary outside receiving threats after the loss of Kenny Stills and Justin Brown. Neal is continuing to improve on his ability as a route runner, but is a guy capable of making defenders look silly in the open field when he gets the ball in his hands.