The Oklahoma Sooners open spring football this week with new faces across the roster and the sidelines.
Naturally, first-year head coach Brent Venables headlines the changes. After five seasons under former coach Lincoln Riley, the players left on the roster from previous seasons will have to adjust to different ways of doing things for the new coaching regime. Meanwhile, new players will try to establish themselves in the eyes of teammates and the coaches – they include a handful of instant-impact transfers at key positions.
All those changes leave plenty of room for uncertainty, especially as the coaches implement new schemes on both sides of the ball. With that in mind, let’s try to project the state of the depth chart, beginning with the offense.
2022 Oklahoma Sooners Depth Chart Projection - Offense (Spring)
Dillon Gabriel, Jr.
Nick Evers, Fr.;
Ralph Rucker, R-Fr.
No uncertainty here: Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby has already anointed Central Florida transfer Dillon Gabriel as OU’s starting QB. Gabriel thrived in Lebby’s scheme in 2019 and 2020 before missing most of the 2021 campaign with a broken collarbone. Physically, Gabriel will be getting back up to speed in the spring; fortunately, he isn’t facing the same learning curve when it comes to learning the offense.
This is one position where Venables and the coaching staff may look to add another transfer after the spring. Rookie Nick Evers will probably be the second option behind Gabriel in the spring.
Eric Gray, Sr.
Marcus Major, R-Jr.
Jovantae Barnes, Fr.
Gavin Sawchuck, Fr.
The running back room in Norman represents one of the bigger stories for the Sooners this season, even if it doesn’t carry the same cachet as the QB position. Lebby’s offense builds on the ground attack first and foremost, which makes a strong stable of backs a must. Gray and Major seem like a solid pairing atop the rotation. Gray, however, is more of an all-purpose RB, and Major has yet to prove himself as a feature back.
As an early enrollee, Barnes will have a chance during spring practice to make a case to see the field right away. Expect the Las Vegas native to make the most of the opportunity.
Brayden Willis, Sr.
Daniel Parker, Sr.
Kaden Helms, Fr.
Willis said recently he intended to declare for the NFL draft before OU’s coaching change. Needless to say, the buy-in from the veteran feels high, and he has generated some buzz during winter workouts. For his part, Parker didn’t transfer to OU to sit the bench. Lebby may play a significant amount of 12 personnel this season to take advantage of the duo’s physicality in the running game.
Theo Wease, R-Jr.; Marvin Mims, Jr.; D. Stoops, R-Sr.
Jalil Farooq, So.; Cody Jackson, So.; Trevon West, Jr.
Brian Darby, Jr.; Jayden Gibson, Fr.; Nic Anderson, Fr.
If we’re talking about proven commodities, Wease, Mims and Stoops have the best bodies of work among the OU receiving corps. Will that dictate how the rotation looks this fall? For now, let’s assume it carries some weight.
Farooq seems to be the most likely member of the second line to become a major contributor this season. He showed flashes of brilliance last season and reportedly turned heads during preparation for the Alamo Bowl. Jackson also showed promise before an illness derailed his season.
The Sooners may be looking for another receiver in the transfer portal come April.
Right tackle: Wanya Morris, Sr.; Savion Byrd, R-Fr.
Left tackle: Anton Harrison, Jr.; Aaryn Parks, R-So.
Right guard: Chris Murray, R-Sr.; Brey Walker, R-Sr.
Left guard: McKade Mettauer, Sr.; Marcus Alexander, R-Jr.
Center: Andrew Raym, Jr.; Robert Congel, R-Sr.
Admittedly, this projection feels all kinds of shaky.
First, three players are essentially competing for the two tackle spots – Morris, Byrd and Harrison. Those of us outside the program know nothing about Byrd, although whispers behind the scenes indicate he has the highest ceiling on the roster. You could say the same for Morris, a touted 2021 transfer who rarely saw the field. Meanwhile, Harrison’s motor has left something to be desired in the last two years. Workouts with strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt should factor heavily in how this competition plays out, in other words.
Second, are any position changes coming? Raym, for example, seems miscast as a center. That doesn’t mean OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh has a better option at his disposal, but spring offers an opportunity to find out if any other linemen would work there. That might allow Raym to shift to his more natural spot at guard.