The spring football session effectively comes to an end for the Oklahoma Sooners this weekend with the annual Red-White Game. If reports from around the program are accurate, the banged-up squad could use the break. Expect the list of holdouts from Saturday’s action to be extensive.
A scrimmage will still be played, however. Gift certificates to local establishments will be awarded to lucky attendees. Sideline interviews with Sooner celebrities will be conducted. Walk-ons will be granted their shots at glory. “Build Me Up Buttercup” and other family-friendly standards will be pumped through the PA system at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
And, most importantly, verdicts will be rendered — rightly or not. Here are some of the most important aspects of the pseudo-game to watch.
If you’ve been paying attention to reports from spring practice so far, the offensive line as a group has struggled in camp to build much cohesion. Creed Humphrey’s departure for the NFL left a huge hole at center, and nailing down that spot could go a long way towards settling the entire unit.
The initial plan coming into the spring was for Chris Murray to slide in for Humphrey. The UCLA transfer barely got his feet wet at guard last season after an extended wait for the NCAA to make him eligible, so he remains an unknown quantity to most fans. Murray doesn’t lack for ability, but the center also has to coordinate the rest of the OL in OU’s scheme. Murray’s inexperience may mean that is an unreasonable expectation.
Andrew Raym appears to be the most likely alternative if things don’t click for Murray. Both should get time at center on Saturday. Let’s see if the line functions better with one on the field relative to the other.
Arguably the biggest story of the spring has been the play of true freshmen who share the same last name.
By all accounts, Lincoln Riley has his next star quarterback on campus now in Caleb Williams. The five-star recruit from the Washington, D.C. area has impressed with his ability to tax defenses by land and by air. He will make his public debut in crimson and cream in the Red-White Game, and a few highlight plays seem all but certain. More importantly, we’ll get a better idea if he has the chops to backup Spencer Rattler come fall.
Perhaps Caleb Williams will hook up with another five-star rookie, wideout Mario Williams, in the spring game. The Florida receiver has reportedly dazzled the coaching staff in practices, making a strong case for immediate playing time like recent freshman studs Ceedee Lamb and Marvin Mims. The shaky status of receiver Trejan Bridges means Mario’s development in the coming months will take on even greater significance.
On a related note, with running back Seth McGowan in essentially the same jam as Bridges, the Sooners are starting to look thin at running back. Good thing RB coach Demarco Murray landed ex-Tennessee Volunteer Eric Gray out of the transfer portal in the offseason.
The word on Gray is that even though he’s no slouch running the ball, his skills as a receiver coming out of the backfield should add another dangerous weapon to Riley’s arsenal. In a normal year, he might be a change-of-pace back to complement workhorse Kennedy Brooks. Brooks’ absence last fall, however, may put Gray on even footing for the top line of the depth chart. Let’s see if Riley puts Gray in position to make a statement this weekend.
Brooks is one of three Sooners looking to get back in business after a trying 2020 campaign. His decision to sit out the season prevented him from attempting to rush for at least a thousand yards for the third consecutive season. Keep an eye out for any signs of rust on Saturday, assuming he doesn’t get held out of the scrimmage.
Talented defensive lineman Jalen Redmond also missed 2020 of his own accord, although the break allowed him to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. The Midwest City product bulked up over the break to equip himself to play three-tech defensive tackle in OU’s four-man front. Redmond also may not see the field this weekend, but should he be available, watch to see if adding weight has robbed him of any explosiveness.
Lastly, Jason Kersey of The Athletic ($) recently revealed some of the harrowing details around Austin Stogner’s absence from the lineup for an extended period in 2020. The tight end eventually made it back for the Cotton Bowl after missing four games due to complications from a leg injury. If Stogner does play Saturday, pay attention to how well he moves in his routes and how he reacts to contact when blocking.
Kersey also profiled defensive back Jeremiah Criddell ($) this week, offering a look at the presumed favorite to win the competition at nickel. That “presumed” part still leaves plenty of ambiguity surrounding a position shrouded in mystery since Brendan Radley-Hiles and Tre Norwood moved on.
Aside from Criddell, which players are even getting snaps at nickel? We can start there. Candidates from the safety-ish bucket include Tennessee transfer Key Lawrence, true freshman Billy Bowman and veteran Justin Broiles. If nominal cornerbacks such as Jaden Davis and Joshua Eaton see any action at nickel, perhaps that’s a sign defensive coordinator Alex Grinch hasn’t completely moved away from the idea of using a coverage-oriented player there.
And while we’re on the subject, keep an eye out to see if Grinch trots out any specific personnel groupings on obvious passing situations.