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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Grading the present and future of Oklahoma’s position groups

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Where does OU stand with each group, and how good could each group become?

West Virginia v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The 2018 spring semester at the University of Oklahoma is in the books, but there are still some grades that need to be entered in. What grades am I talking about? My friends, I’m talking about my present and future grades for each position group.

To make things a slightly easier to follow (and to make it a bit shorter), I’ve grouped the positions into their respective units (defensive backs instead of corners and safeties, for example). I graded each unit by total experience, depth, talent and fit. I also included an extra grade for the potential of each unit in 2018. Things that influence how much a unit can improve are the underclassmen’s opportunity to gain experience, how injured players return from injury, and in some cases (but really all of them), how a unit is coached can determine the amount of upside for any given group.

So without further ado, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Quarterbacks

The QB battle is a two-man race, with redshirt junior Kyler Murray and redshirt sophomore Austin Kendall having both seen action for the Sooners — although most of it has come in mop-up time for both signal callers. If Murray stays in school this fall (which at this point seems more likely than not) instead of going pro in baseball, odds are he becomes Oklahoma’s next starting QB. Still, the Sooners have two QBs on the roster that could start for most other programs, so that makes this unit one of the strongest on the team.

Current Grade: B+

For whoever wins the starting job, that player will gain invaluable experience with each passing game, no pun intended. Experience will only make this unit stronger going forward, which is why I see a bright future for this position as the season progresses. Kyler Murray also has a ton of upside as a player and could prove to be electric.

Upside: A

Running Backs

Redshirt junior Rodney Anderson and sophomore Trey Sermon are undoubtedly the best tandem of backs in the Big 12, if not the nation. Those two alone give this position group a high grade, but then you factor in the potential of a solid third option emerging out of senior Marcelias Sutton, redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks and freshman T.J. Pledger. Of those three, Sutton is the only back who saw action last season, and Brooks made the most plays in the Spring Game. What any of them will add to Anderson and Sermon’s one-two punch remains to be seen, but there’s enough to go off of to consider running back one of the top groups on the team today.

Current Grade: A

Once again, more experience for the younger and more inexperienced guys will only bolster this unit going forward. I am also including fullbacks in this grading, and while redshirt senior Carson Meier and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Hall are largely unproven, I do see one of them separating themselves this fall.

Upside: A+

Receivers

The state of the Sooners’ receiving corps is close to night-and-day compared to this time last year. There are proven commodities across the board in guys like sophomore CeeDee Lamb, junior Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown and junior Mykel Jones. Redshirt senior Nick Basquine will be coming off back-to-back Achilles injuries after missing the entire 2017 season. It’s impossible to say if he’ll return to the same level he showed in 2016, but he’s another added weapon in the slot if he’s somehow able to fully recover. There are also a number of guys who could make some noise this season, such as redshirt junior A.D. Miller, redshirt freshman Charleston Rambo and true freshman Jaqualyn Crawford. I’ll consider tight end sophomore Grant Calcaterra as part of this group as well, making it one of the more formidable units on the team.

Current Grade: A-

As much as upside is about gaining experience, it’s also about guys simply panning out. Miller is a guy who has been in the program for a few seasons now, and it’s about time he proved he’s a player the coaches can rely on. Basquine also needs to come back strong from his injuries (perhaps even stronger than before) if he wants to spend his final season on the field. If that does happen, that’s yet another reliable weapon in the arsenal. If both of those players do what they need to do and the young guys make the most of their opportunities, this unit could become the best on the team.

Upside: A+

Offensive Line

This is one of the trickier units to grade. While Oklahoma has to replace All-American left tackle Orlando Brown and veteran center Erick Wren, their replacements happen to be really good. Last season’s right tackle Bobby Evans figures to man the other side this fall, and redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey has received high praise from his teammates and the coaching staff ever since he arrived on campus. Beyond that, the Sooners are quite experienced. Seniors Dru Samia and Ben Powers both have years of starting experience, redshirt seniors Jonathan Alvarez and Alex Dalton (returning from a season-ending injury) should provide some depth, and redshirt junior Cody Ford is in contention to start on the side opposite Evans. Even if Ford doesn’t end up being the guy opposite Evans, he’s still a guy who will likely see the field and play at a high level.

Now the reason this unit is tricky is because it’s not enough to simply plug in a bunch of talented players along the O-line. Those players also have to form a cohesive unit. I can’t be completely positive this group with gel right out of the gate with so much movement, and my grade reflects that uncertainty.

Current Grade: B+

All of that being said, the upside for this group is nearly a full letter grade higher than where I have them currently. Aside from Humphrey, there are plenty of other underclassmen who could make an unexpected impact this season. Keep an eye out for redshirt freshmen Adrian Ealy, Marquise Hayes and Tyrese Robinson. Additionally, I’m not in the business of doubting Bill Bedenbaugh, so there you go.

Upside: A

Defensive Line

Guys like junior Amani Bledsoe, senior Marquise Overton and redshirt juniors Neville Gallimore and Dillon Faamatau all have quality playing time under their belts. On the end, redshirt junior Kenneth Mann could have a breakout season after displaying flashes of brilliance in 2017.

The aspect of this unit that is the most uncertain is the depth. There are several options from the 2018 recruiting class that could factor in, such as Ronnie Perkins and D-end/LB hybrid Jalen Redmond. Still, experience and depth are usually both necessary for strong defensive line play, and Oklahoma currently looks to be a bit lacking in both areas.

Current Grade: B-

Barring injury, the defensive line could end up being a strength on the defense. At this point in time, the D-line’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high as others, but this unit is still capable of significant improvement. Perhaps high-upside guys like Tyreece Lott can make their presence felt. Maybe Gallimore will finally become the dominant player he’s supposed to be, and perhaps his move to nose tackle will work out for the team.

Upside: B+

Linebackers

Junior Caleb Kelly and sophomore Kenneth Murray are both returning to reprise their roles as starters, though Kelly is moving over from SAM to WILL this season. Sophomore JACK linebacker Addison Gumbs saw limited time last season, but could potentially have a bit of a breakout year. Aside from that, the Sooners have depth concerns due to a lack of experience. Redshirt sophomore Jon-Michael Terry and redshirt freshman Levi Draper could both find time in the middle, and redshirt senior Curtis Bolton could provide reinforcement at any linebacker position. Overall, this group may need to stay healthy throughout the season more than any other unit on the team. Additionally, the situation at the SAM position is still up in the air.

Current Grade: C+

The growth of Murray and Kelly’s positon switch are both key for the upside of the linebackers as a unit. If those two remain healthy and show the potential improvements under their respective circumstances, the linebacker corps could surprise this season. The more inexperienced players will also need to make the most of their opportunities, but the chance is certainly there to do just that.

The two names mentioned the most for the SAM position have been Mark Jackson and Ryan Jones. Jackson has been on campus for a bit longer, but he fits the JACK mold much better and would seem to be out of position at SAM. Ryan Jones, however, only became a linebacker this spring but seems to truly fit the mold of the SAM position. If he is able to get up to speed and become comfortable, the defense as a whole will benefit tremendously.

Upside: B

Secondary

There are four cornerbacks with legitimate on-field experience in junior Parnell Motley, sophomores Tre Norwood and Tre Brown, and redshirt sophomore Jordan Parker, who is returning from injury sustained in the first game of 2017. At safety, seniors Kahlil Haughton and Prentice McKinney, junior Chanse Sylvie and sophomore Robert Barnes all also have quality playing time on their resume. The depth was shockingly thin last year due to injuries and youth, and though the unit is still rather young in 2018, they are healthy and more seasoned.

Now, with the aforementioned group alone, the Sooners’ secondary would still grade out rather alright, but toss in a guy like Brendan Radley-Hiles, aka ‘Bookie’, and this unit just becomes a whole lot better. Yes, Bookie is a true freshman who still has to prove himself when the games actually mean something, but by all accounts, and after watching him in-person, I feel quite confident in saying that Bookie will be a major reason why this secondary will show some real improvement. His ability to fit perfectly into the nickel role allows OU to give that 4-2-5 look more frequently than they would otherwise.

The situation at corner looks solid from a personnel standpoint. However, the safety situation is still a bit rocky. Will Kahlil Haughton finally live up to his potential? Will Robert Barnes make a big enough stride this offseason? There are just a few too many variables at this point.

Current Grade: B-

Many of the starting spots in the secondary are still up for grabs. That will breed natural competition throughout fall camp and will continue throughout the season. As players begin to separate themselves from the others, and as Bookie gains more experience, this unit’s performance should continue to ascend.

Of course, there’s still the matter of Mike Stoops and the scheme. If he somehow pushes the right buttons this fall, the defensive backfield (and defense as a whole) has the talent to at least be good enough not to put too much pressure on the offense.

Upside: A-

Special Teams

Senior placekicker and punter Austin Seibert is entering his fourth year of double-duty, and last season was his best yet. That kind of veteran experience is invaluable to a team that’s already dealing with some major changes in other areas. Also returning is the reigning Mortell Holder of the Year Award winner Connor McGinnis. Long snapper Wesley Horky will have to be replaced, but overall the Sooners still should be solid, barring any botched squib kicks. I know, I’m sorry.

And with so many viable options for kickoff and punt return men, Oklahoma should have no problem finding someone who can make plays in both areas. Return units as a whole have unfortunately been lackluster in recent years. Luckily, help is on the way in the form of a new coach.

Current Grade: B-

I think what needs to be remembered in the special teams discussion is the hiring of Shane Beamer, son of Frank Beamer, aka the architect of ‘Beamer Ball’. If Oklahoma adopts some key aspects of a more aggressive yet more efficient style of play on special teams, fans might finally be able to expect more momentum-changing plays in this vital facet of the game. The upside here is high as long as you just let the players play, Coach.

Upside: A

Final Note

That’s it for the post-spring grades for each unit, as well as the grades for the upside for each of those units. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, please feel free to visit me in my office hours let your voice be heard in the comments section below! You can even give me a grade on how I did! And don’t worry folks, I respond well to constructive criticism and even insults.

For the Oklahoma Sooners, the potential for grade-A football is usually a possibility. In order for this program to return to the College Football Playoff, its going to need to turn that potential into reality. And it can absolutely happen — the upside is there.

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