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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Putting a wrap on early signing day

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How well do OU’s early signees meet the team’s roster needs?

Syndication: The Oklahoman Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

You can typically grade recruiting classes in college football along two different dimensions.

First, look at the individual quality of the players signed. If the early returns from the recruiting services are any indication, Brent Venables and the rest of the Oklahoma Sooners coaching staff have assembled an impressive crop of signees in the 2023 recruiting class.

According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, for instance, OU currently owns the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation for 2023. The fact that the vast majority of players are signing their letters of intent during the early period suggests that number won’t change much when the next wave of put pen to paper in February. Not bad, seeing as the Sooners compiled a 6-6 record this year in Venables’ first season as head coach.

But if the overall ranking offers a good view of the class from 10,000 feet, you also have to consider needs. Let’s do a deeper dive into how some of OU’s signees fit with the composition of the team’s roster.

Putting the secondary first

The defensive backs recruited as part of the 2020 and 2021 classes have washed out of OU’s program at a staggering rate. A total of eight secondary players signed with OU out of high school in those two cycles. Five of them have either transferred out of the program or are in the process of doing so, and one shifted in the middle of last season to receiver. The Sooners also signed one junior college transfer in that period, Justin Harrington, and his struggles to see the field have been well documented.

In other words, it’s not a coincidence that OU loaded up on DBs this time around: Seven of the 25 signees in the ‘23 class play somewhere in the secondary.

The Sooners can probably rely on their upperclassmen to keep any the newcomers from getting rushed into action before they’re ready. Five-star safety Peyton Bowen and JUCO transfer Kendel Dolby should push for immediate playing time, but most of the signees will probably spend the next 18 months or so marinating. All that attrition in the classes ahead of them means they need to be ready for action in 2024.

The future at QB

The play behind center without Dillon Gabriel in losses to TCU and Texas revealed the decrepit state of the quarterback room in 2022. Not surprisingly, after joining OU’s staff, offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby made recruiting QB Jackson Arnold out of Denton, Texas, a priority. The five-star field general was locked down in short order, and Arnold never showed any signs of wavering in his commitment.

Even has a freshman, having Arnold in the fold immediately upgrades the QB position in the coming season for the Sooners. Gabriel will likely return for another season next fall, so look for Arnold to win the backup job and ascend to the top line of the depth chart in 2024. Freshman Nick Evers apparently saw the writing on the wall, prompting his transfer to Wisconsin.

Not enough DTs

The OU coaching staff made runs at a slew of high-quality prospects on the interior of the defensive line and mainly came up empty. Of the players who signed last week, Californian Ashton Sanders (6-2, 300 pounds) is the only signee who is actually listed as a defensive tackle. However, late addition Markus Strong (6-4, 268) out of Florida seems destined to grow into an interior role. The same goes for fellow Floridian Derrick LeBlanc (6-4, 265).

DLs usually require a year of learning the ropes and adding weight as freshmen. Don’t count on any of the newcomers to contribute much next year, in other words.

After a signing a group of good-not-great DTs this year, OU’s coaching staff must capitalize on a strong class of interior linemen locally in 2023. In the more immediate future, expect OU to continue evaluating late bloomers at DT for the February signing period.

Light on receivers, too

Another position group where OU could attempt to add more pieces later.

Anthony Evans’ decision to sign with Georgia left the Sooners with just two true wideouts in the class. Although Jaquaize Pettaway and Keyon Brown should have fans excited about their potential, OU needs more players to fill out the receivers room in Jeff Lebby’s offense. The most appealing transfer prospects at WR are dwindling, too, so the Sooners need to make a move fast if they want to land an immediate-impact player at the position.

A new line of linebackers

OU didn’t land the flashiest names at LB, but the Sooners made up for it with substance over style. Lewis Carter out of Tampa has the feel of a dependable, multi-year starter. Ditto for Samuel Omosigho, who may be the slightly more explosive than Carter. Meanwhile, the ceiling for IMG Academy’s Phil Picciotti may sit lower than the other two LBs in the class, but he appears to be the most physically prepared of the three.

Now, the coaches just need to figure out which roles fit the three LBs best. Picciotti will probably play MIKE from the jump, but Carter and Omosigho should at least audition at CHEETAH.