For most of us, spring football is time to watch player drill montages, see which players have gotten fat and speculate wildly about OU’s next wide receiver/running back/pass rushing/run-stuffing sensation.
For the players, it’s mostly about getting comfortable with a new group and getting reps in. But there are a handful of guys who really have something at stake this spring, and they’ll spend the whole season trying to prove to the coaching staff that they can be the go-to guy.
Maybe they’re coming back from injury. Maybe they lost their job last season, or they want to take someone’s this year. Kartik already discussed some of the seniors to keep an eye on, and goodness knows guys like Jordan Smallwood and Will Johnson have plenty to prove. Who else can benefit from a stellar spring?
RB Rodney Anderson
When redshirt freshman running back Rodney Anderson injured his neck in preseason practice last year, Bob Stoops couldn’t stop lavishing praise on the 6-2, 223 pound player from Katy, Texas. “I hate it for Rodney,” he said, per SoonerSports.com. “He was practicing exceptionally well and had positioned himself to have a role in this year’s offense.”
That followed, of course, a 2015 season that saw Anderson medically redshirt after breaking his leg versus Tennessee. Just like that, Anderson went from a vaunted four-star talent to an afterthought, playing just two games in two seasons.
Anderson will wear a non-contact jersey all spring as the team tries to get him 100 percent for September. He might be Oklahoma’s next running back superstar. He might be a prodigious talent that can’t stay healthy and never makes it big. Either way, every healthy spring day is a big step forward for this Sooners stud.
OL Cody Ford
Cody ford is 6-4, 363 pounds of beard and muscle, and he wants his job back.
John Shinn recently detailed Ford’s journey with an in-depth look at the massive guard and his spring outlook. Shinn says the competition on the O-line’s interior may be the fiercest of the spring, and I’m not inclined to disagree. Between Ford, Ben Powers, Jonathan Alvarez, Dru Samia and Erick Wren, Bill Bedenbaugh will have some big decisions on his hands.
In Ford’s dream scenario, his camp is so good that he forces Samia back outside to compete with Bobby Evans for the right tackle spot. Most of the O-line is positionally versatile, which will help Bedenbaugh a bit when he tries to finalize his depth chart. But I do not envy that man’s job this year. It’s tough to ignore a player as large as Cody Ford.
LB Ricky DeBerry
As I wrote last week, the competition for inside linebacker snaps is going to be fierce and continuous throughout the season. Right now I’m riding the Jon-Michael Terry train, but I’m sure Ricky DeBerry has something to say about that.
Despite the defensive turmoil that opened a door for him last season, DeBerry’s impact has been limited since he arrived on campus two years ago. After a redshirt 2015, DeBerry played in six games and made one start (against Kansas) last season. His KU start alongside Caleb Kelly had Sooners fans frothing with talk of the next generation, but the two linebackers saw their fortunes diverge as the season wrapped up. Now Kelly is on the verge of bona-fide stardom, and DeBerry’s just looking for some snaps.
Bob Stoops casually mentioned the team’s plans to move DeBerry inside during his signing day presser. Maybe it’s the solution DeBerry needs — there’s no playing time outside any more, anyway. But with Terry, Kapri Doucet and (maybe) Emmanuel Beal in his way, nothing will be handed to him.
S Will Sunderland
The Sooners are going to miss the veteran presence of Ahmad Thomas at free safety, but the guys vying to replace him have definitely seen some action. After all, Will Sunderland made one of OU’s biggest defensive plays of the year:
OU #Sunderland interception saves 6 points for #SOONERS big play #OU up 35 to 27 w/ 3:20 in 3rd pic.twitter.com/YwSoIni1ZF— Steve Colis (@scolis) October 8, 2016
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the only notable thing he did in his eight games of action in 2016. He broke up one pass. He even had a tackle for loss. But Sunderland enters 2017 still looking for the first start of his career.
Battling him for that job will be fellow junior Kahlil Haughton. It was Haughton’s injury early in the Red River game that paved the way for Sunderland’s athletic pick. Despite the enthusiasm from Sooner Nation, Jordan Parker turned out to be the much more consequential name who entered that game due to injury. Now, it’s up to Sunderland or Haughton to prove that can help bring brighter days to the OU secondary.
There’s a talented ball hawk somewhere in that Midwest City four-star recruit. I’m betting on Sunderland to win the job and start the season next to Steven Parker as OU’s last line of defense.