With the Oklahoma Sooners kicking off spring football this week, here are some of the biggest questions facing the team in the next 15 practices.
Is Lincoln Riley really going to play at holding a quarterback competition?
You won’t find anyone outside of Tanner Mordecai’s hometown of Waco, Texas, who believes the Sooners are holding a legitimate QB derby this offseason. Riley has gone through that charade for two straight seasons. To the extent that gambit worked on the public in the past, it won’t fly now.
Of course, what matters to Riley is how the team and QBs themselves respond to holding the job open into the fall. Carrying out a QB battle may force redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler to sharpen his game over the summer, even if he’s the anointed one in all but name. Perhaps it also dissuades Mordecai from entertaining ideas of transferring.
We saw this all play out in 2018 with Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall. We saw it again in 2019 with Jalen Hurts and the aforementioned Mordecai. Chances are we’ll see it again in 2020.
Who’s playing where in the secondary?
LSU’s roasting of the OU defense in the Peach Bowl laid bare the depth issues in the defensive backfield. The Sooners have amassed a group of promising candidates to step into starting roles and also to fill in the gaps behind them. Now, the coaches have to figure out who fits best at different positions.
For example, after sitting out last season with a leg injury, is Tre Norwood going to play nickel or compete to replace Parnell Motley as a first-string cornerback? Woodi Washington filled in at safety late in the season, but could he play CB? Is Jeremiah Criddell a nickel or a safety? And what about NB Brendan Radley-Hiles, who ended the 2019 season on a down note?
If there is a silver lining to Delarrin Turner-Yell’s limited availability this spring, it will give the coaches a chance to evaluate some of the other candidates at safety. This includes early enrollee Bryson Washington, one of the big prizes of the 2020 recruiting class.
Is there a role for Charleston Rambo?
Rambo started the 2019 season as a devastating deep threat in the passing game for quarterback Jalen Hurts, catching five touchdowns in the first seven games. As the season progressed, whatever semblance of chemistry that existed between Hurts and Rambo disappeared. Was that more of a Hurts thing or a Rambo thing?
Sophomores Theo Wease, Jadon Haselwood and Trejan Bridges (early-season suspension pending) will command playing time this year. Rambo can either set the pace in the receivers room or recede into the background. We should know more 15 practices from now.
Who’s providing the depth at inside linebacker?
Do-everything MIKE LB Kenneth Murray leaves a huge hole in the starting lineup that is likely to be filled by last season’s starting WILL LB, DaShaun White. That means fifth-year senior Caleb Kelly probably takes over full-time at WILL. The bigger issue is who plays behind them.
Brian Asamoah saw action early in the season in ‘19, but that tailed off. He seems like the most obvious candidate to back up Kelly at WILL.
At MIKE, it appears as though sophomore David Ugwoegbu will at least get a tryout after impressing as an edge player last year. Early enrollee Shane Whitter is also looking to insert himself into the rotation.
Spring ball will also give converted safeties Robert Barnes and Jamal Morris a chance to show they can contribute inside going forward.
Are Perrion Winfrey and Jordan Kelley ready to go?
The graduations of nose tackles Neville Gallimore, Marquise Overton and Dillon Faamatuahave left defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux looking for answers on the interior. Kelley, a redshirt sophomore who missed most of the ‘19 season with an injury, and JUCO transfer Winfrey seem like the most obvious candidates to take over in the middle. Both lack experience at this level of football, so it would ease some minds to hear reports that they’re progressing in the coming months.
What kind of personnel groupings work best on offense?
Riley tends to mix up the offense’s personnel groupings, but certain go-to sets seem to emerge over the course of a season. Last season, for instance, the Sooners deployed heavier personnel with multiple running backs or H-backs to make use of QB Jalen Hurts’ running ability.
Rattler’s capacity as a thrower may have Riley leveraging more traditional spread passing formations in 2020. Count on OU’s head coach tinkering with the lineups in the spring to find the best fits.
What’s the short-term plan for replacing Ronnie Perkins?
Riley has hinted that the OU athletic department is working on appeals to the suspensions of Perkins, Bridges and Rhamondre Stevenson. In the meantime, the coaches have to figure out what to do to combat their absences in the first five contests of ‘20. Perkins poses the biggest challenge in that regard.
Sophomore Marcus Stripling and redshirt junior Isaiah Thomas came on late last season and will certainly get the first crack at filling in for Perkins at strong side defensive end. The Sooners will need reinforcements behind them, however. Look for Thibodeaux and Jamar Cain to experiment with some of the other defensive linemen on the roster to get a better sense of how they hold up as five-tech DEs.