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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Offensive position battles to watch this spring

What to watch in competitions for openings at running back, tackle and more.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Oklahoma vs Louisiana State Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Spring football essentially ended for the Oklahoma Sooners as soon as it started in 2020 with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The lack of a typical offseason clearly created some unforeseen challenges for head coach Lincoln Riley and his coaching staff, who were left scrambling to find answers at open positions during pandemic-interrupted practices in August.

Covid-19 is still with us, but it appears spring football is on for 2021. The slate of 15 practices represents the first opportunity for players to battle for a limited number of openings in the starting lineup. In preparation for the start of spring ball, we’ll assess the top competitions on the offensive side first.

Running back

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl-Florida vs Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Contenders: Kennedy Brooks, Eric Gray, Marcus Major, Seth McGowan

On the one hand, OU lost 55% of its rushing yards from 2020 with the departures of Rhamondre Stevenson and T.J. Pledger. Stevenson led the team with 665 yards on the ground despite missing five of 11 games.

On the other, Kennedy Brooks has two seasons with more than a thousand rushing yards under his belt, and he’s back after opting out in ‘20. Meanwhile, transfer Eric Gray ran for a total of 1,300 yards in two years at Tennessee.

Seth McGowan may be the best receiving threat of the bunch. He’ll likely begin spring camp atop the depth chart by virtue of the fact that he was part of the team last season. Can he stay there? It won’t matter much in the end because OU will spread the carries around once the games count.

Favorite: Brooks

Left and right tackle

NCAA Football: Kansas at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Contenders: Anton Harrison, Wanya Morris, Erik Swenson, Stacey Wilkins

Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is a tinkerer. He’ll probably experiment with a variety of personnel combinations up front this spring. The biggest mystery, though, seems to be how the tackle spots will shake out. Importantly, how much will incumbency matter?

Let’s start with what should be obvious: Wanya Morris didn’t transfer from Tennessee to OU to stand on the sidelines. Unless he completely blows it between now and September, he’s starting – most likely at left tackle. What that means for the spring is anybody’s guess, but don’t be shocked if Bedenbaugh still makes the ex-Volunteer split first-team duties with upperclassman Erik Swenson.

The mildly surprising decision by Adrian Ealy to declare for the NFL draft adds some intrigue on the opposite side. Anton Harrison showed promise in his stints at left tackle as a rookie, but the right side may fit his skill set better. Swenson could also get a look on the right, and Stacey Wilkins may audition there as well after sitting out 2020.

Favorites: Morris (left), Harrison (right)

Y receiver

NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Contenders: Billy Bowman, Trejan Bridges, Drake Stoops, Mario Williams

The Y receiver should present one of the more interesting competitions of the spring around Norman. It’s tempting to pencil in Trejan Bridges here. After all, it seems like a waste to not maximize that kind of talent, and the jockeying for playing time at the outside positions is already fierce. But is Bridges really best-suited to play inside?

That’s not a question with Drake Stoops, who started at Y last season. He caught just 15 balls for 219 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games, all of which feel surprisingly low relative to his actual impact on the field. It won’t be easy for any challengers to unseat a player the coaches clearly admire.

The early enrollment of touted freshmen Billy Bowman and Mario Williams throws a curveball into this competition. Neither will likely win the spring competition, but each should command playing time in the fall.

Favorite: Stoops

Backup quarterback

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Contenders: Micah Bowens, Caleb Williams

Riley nearly had a pair of QBs with in-game experience battling this spring for the second line on the depth chart. The picture looks dramatically different following the decisions by Chandler Morris and Tanner Mordecai to transfer.

The good news: Five-star recruit Caleb Williams was able to enroll for the spring, which seemed like less of a certainty in the fall. With Spencer Rattler gaining draft eligibility after the 2021 season, Williams can get a head start on preparing for the day when he’ll compete for the starting gig.

Don’t discount Bowens playing a role in the offense this year, however. Riley could deploy the Penn State transfer as a solid situational QB for designed runs and other wrinkles. The bottom line is that Williams will likely emerge from spring as Rattler’s backup, but we should get a better idea of how Bowens can contribute, too.

Favorite: Williams