With the non-conference slate now complete, the Oklahoma Sooners have reached the quarter pole of the 2019 season. The open week offers a good opportunity to take stock of what we’ve seen through the first three games of the season.
With OU now gearing up for Big 12 play, here are some early grades for the different units on both sides of the ball.
Starter – Frankly, the first three games at OU for senior transfer Jalen Hurts couldn’t have gone much better. He is averaging nearly 10 yards every time he runs the ball, and head coach Lincoln Riley has deployed him as an effective short-yardage option. So far, his passing also looks pretty polished – he has a passer rating of 250 through three contests.
The numbers won’t look so pretty nine games from now, but Hurts seems to have settled in fine in Norman.
Depth – It’s tough to tell much from garbage time, but Riley has given backup Tanner Mordecai chances to run the offense, rather than just handing off the ball. He has delivered a handful of nifty throws. Freshman Spencer Rattler looked the part of a five-star QB in his only appearance versus South Dakota.
Running backs: B+
Starters – Hurts has siphoned off some of the carries reserved for the running backs in recent years. Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks continue to make the most of their opportunities, however, averaging 7.33 and 10.41 yards per carry, respectively. They’re getting dinged slightly here for the dip in touches from a year ago, which is really beyond their control.
Depth – Rhamondre Stevenson probably has the highest ceiling of the entire group of running backs. He’s already averaging almost nine yards per carry, albeit mainly against second-string defenders. OU will ramp up his usage as the season goes on.
Starter – Jeremiah Hall has been solid. He won’t make anyone forget about Dmitri Flowers, but he has blocked well in the running game and can take advantage when defenses get caught sleeping on him.
Depth – Brayden Willis has yet to assert himself the way many observers expected prior to the season. That doesn’t mean he can’t – opportunities have been scarce.
Starters – I’m looking for holes here, but they don’t exist. You could argue that CeeDee Lamb isn’t hitting his marks, but he has made big plays for touchdowns in all three games despite drawing bracket coverage. Meanwhile, Charleston Rambo has broken out as a threat to go the distance every time he catches the ball. Grant Calcaterra and Nick Basquine keep making timely catches when called upon.
Depth – The second and third lines make this the deepest position group on the entire team so far. We already know what Lee Morris can do. Even though he’s playing behind studs, freshman Jadon Haselwood is already pushing for more reps. His classmates Trejan Bridges and Theo Wease each have a touchdown catch.
This group is stacked for years to come.
Offensive line: B-
Starters – I had to shave some points off this score for two reasons. First, the left tackle position doesn’t feel settled yet. Erik Swenson is clearly trying to play through a shoulder injury that is limiting his effectiveness, so where is graduate transfer R.J. Proctor?
Second, the group as a whole has to cut down on penalties.
On the positive side, the unit appears to grow more cohesive as each game passes. Position coach Bill Bedenbaugh has made his dissatisfaction with the line known, but that sounds more like a motivational technique relative to what his team is doing out on the field. It’s not a great offensive line quite yet, but you can easily envision a time this season when it will be.
Depth – Some of the players expected to fortify the OL have yet to make much of an impact. Most notably, Finley Felix and Michael Thompson don’t appear to be making a push for more time at offensive tackle. That could open the door for true freshman Stacey Wilkins to get more run.
Interior defensive line: B+
Starters – Now in his fifth season with the Sooners, nose tackle Neville Gallimore finally looks like the player everyone expected him to be. Whether it was the change in philosophy under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch or the realization that he is in a contract year, Big Canada is playing like an all-conference pick. A year ago, he’s not showing up on this kind of list.
As for the weak side defensive tackles, LaRon Stokes and Jalen Redmond appear ahead of schedule. Redmond, in particular, has adapted to his new spot much more quickly than expected – he’s leading the team in tackles for loss with 4.5.
Depth – Marquise Overton has grown into a capable backup to Gallimore – to the point that the two are almost splitting snaps right down the middle in games. A healthy Dillon Faamatau could chip in a handful of snaps per game once he gets right.
With Kenneth Mann almost back from a shoulder injury, will he move to three-tech DT?
Starters – No complaints about Ronnie Perkins, who is living up to billing at strong side defensive end. He is holding up well when movement on the DL is forcing him to square up against bigger offensive linemen.
RUSH linebacker Jon-Michael Terry is one of the bigger surprises of the season to date. His athleticism frees him up to assist in coverage at times, and he seems to understand where he is supposed to be.
Depth – You normally can’t count on freshmen to contribute in the trenches, but Marcus Stripling has answered the bell as the primary backup to Perkins. Meanwhile, upperclassman Isaiah Thomas seems to be making his way up the depth chart. He even notched the first sack of his career last week versus UCLA.
The RUSH spot isn’t showing much drop-off from JMT to Nik Bonitto. Bonitto doesn’t look like a difference-maker right now, but he’s also not a liability. If Caleb Kelly can somehow make it back late this season, he could end up in the mix at RUSH as well.
Inside linebackers: B
Starters – Junior Kenneth Murray is thriving in a defensive scheme that allows him to attack the backfield. Instead of playing on his heels, Murray can use his speed to track down ball carriers and opposing passers. His sophomore sidekick, DaShaun White got off to a rough start in week one against Houston. Since then, White has settled down and is mirroring Murray’s success.
Depth – Linebackers coach Brian Odom hasn’t been shy about subbing in his reserves. Guys like Bryan Mead and Ryan Jones are seeing the field in the first half of games, which was a rarity under the previous coaches. For his part, Jones appears more comfortable at ILB than any of the roughly other 47 positions he has cycled through at OU.
Keep an eye on Brian Asamoah. He has flashed in his limited opportunities to make an impression.
Starters – Once left for dead, Parnell Motley has emerged this season as a solid – if not good – cover man in OU’s defensive backfield. We’ve seen Motley start hot and shrink at the hint of struggles, so time will tell if his renaissance is for real. On the other hand, a few tackling flubs have raised questions about Tre Brown’s job security.
Depth – Rookie Jaden Davis has played well enough to warrant more. You could argue he is already the Sooners’ best CB, in fact. (That’s not necessarily a good thing, although Davis has a bright future.) Jordan Parker’s inability to crack the rotation has come as a surprise, especially given the buzz about him around Norman before the season started.
Starters – Yikes. Easily OU’s biggest vulnerability at the moment.
Deep safeties Patrick Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell have left a lot to be desired. Neither has done anything of merit in run support. At the same time, both seem to be struggling to pick up their coverage assignments.
Brendan Radley-Hiles has performed adequately at nickel. He was dominant versus lowly South Dakota in week two, but he has filled the other two games with mainly hits and occasional misses. At that rate, Bookie hasn’t done anything to warrant losing his job.
Depth – You have to think that if Grinch had better alternatives at safety, they would be playing now. Perhaps, though, he’ll throw a few new personnel combinations out against Texas Tech after the open date. Freshmen Woodi Washington and Jeremiah Criddell may have an opportunity to work into the rotation.