Between breaking in a new quarterback and installing first-year coordinator Alex Grinch’s defense, there’s no shortage of interest around Norman in what’s going on with the Oklahoma Sooners during spring practice.
Naturally, head coach Lincoln Riley has put an even tighter lid than usual on the information coming out of the program in recent weeks. That leaves those of us on the outside with precious little to go on when it comes to figuring out how the offseason projects are progressing.
There’s no doubt spring ball has taken on a special sense of importance for a number of players. Whether it be the result of competition from newcomers or changes to schemes, plenty of Sooners have something to prove this spring.
Justin Broiles, DB
As a redshirt freshman last year, Broiles gained a reputation for his trash-talking abilities. Apparently his mouth was running way ahead of his play on the field. After beginning the year as OU’s starting nickel, Broiles quickly slid down the depth chart in the second half of the year before an injury essentially ended his season.
Broiles is working at free safety this spring, a move that may unlock his potential. Given how thin OU is in the secondary, Broiles will have a chance to really show out. No one wants to see one of Oklahoma’s own fall short.
Levi Draper, LB
As is the case with Broiles, Draper has plenty of support from his home state. He came to Norman billed as one of the better linebackers in the 2017 recruiting class. After missing all of that season with a shoulder injury, the Collinsville product didn’t have much of an impact as a redshirt freshman in 2018.
Was the injury holding Draper back last year? Possibly, but the previous regime didn’t appear to do him any favors. Either way, nothing should be standing in his way this spring. He’ll have an opportunity to show if he has a bright future with the program.
Neville Gallimore, DL
It may seem silly to include one of the mainstays of OU’s defensive line on this list. Let’s be real, though, about Gallimore’s body of work up to this point.
Big Canada has played well in spurts throughout his career as a Sooner, but he also has disappeared for stretches. Health also has been an issue for Gallimore, who has seen injuries limit his availability for the last two years.
Gallimore never came off as a great fit in a two-gap defensive scheme, but Alex Grinch’s new attacking philosophy could put him in position to thrive on the interior. Taking that step starts this spring as Gallimore enters the equivalent of a contract year in 2019.
Jeremiah Hall, H-Back
As a redshirt freshman last year, no one expected Hall to take the place of Dmitri Flowers, who was a key cog in the offense in the preceding four seasons. Even so, Hall didn’t make much of an impression. He made appearances in all 14 games, but he only caught two passes for 36 yards the entire season.
Moving sophomore Brayden Willis to H-back seems to indicate how the coaches feel about Hall’s development so far. Maybe the third-year sophomore will respond positively to more competition for his spot.
Jalen Hurts, QB
Presumably, Lincoln Riley didn’t recruit Hurts as a graduate transfer with the intention of using him as a backup quarterback. It would be a major upset if Hurts doesn’t get the starting nod at the beginning of the year.
Don’t confuse that with having nothing to prove. Hurts lost his last job because of his struggles throwing the ball, and he’s now working in an offensive system that requires him to throw even more. Riley won’t want to waste all of that ability at wide receiver on a QB who can’t consistently deliver the ball on target. By all accounts, the guy made strides as a passer in 2018, and we were able to get a sample of that in the SEC Championship Game.
One way to look at it: Riley will start figuring out how long of a leash to give Hurts based on what is happening this spring. It could be a mile, or it could be an inch.
Ryan Jones, LB
Jones looks the part of a hybrid safety-linebacker, but his performance on the field in 2018 was messy. He frequently looked confused and struggled to handle responsibilities against the run. He ended the year with 20 tackles in 11 games.
Now in his third year on campus, Jones needs to show that he’s heading in the right direction. To be fair, some of that falls on the coaching staff. Jones has been jerked around enough when it comes to finding a position for him. Let’s see if Grinch has a niche for him in his scheme.
Charleston Rambo, WR
Rambo played well late in the 2018 season, including in the Orange Bowl versus the Alabama Crimson Tide. He still only ended up catching eight balls for 125 yards and a touchdown in 11 appearances, so it’s fair to say he hasn’t really locked up a spot in the starting lineup this season.
With so many hyped freshmen now on campus, Rambo could get passed up if he’s not making strides this spring. Guys like Theo Wease and Jadon Haselwood are so talented that Rambo could still lose his presumed starting spot even if he does make progress.
Every offensive lineman not named Creed Humphrey
Humphrey’s sitting out the spring, which has no bearing on his status as OU’s first-string center. It’s getting spicy at the other positions along the offensive line, however.
Position coach Bill Bedenbaugh is experimenting with different rotation players in new spots. Most notably, Brey Walker is working at guard, not in his anticipated spot at tackle. Darrell Simpson apparently has joined him.
Does that mean Marquis Hayes and Tyrese Robinson need to watch out? Alternatively, is Bedenbaugh so confident in graduate transfer R.J. Proctor — who is considered a guard but can play any position — that he felt compelled to move some pieces around? Maybe redshirt junior Erik Swenson is more of a factor out at tackle than anticipated?
Needless to say, installing four new starters up front gives every lineman on the roster a chance to prove their worth this spring.