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OU's top RB to be decided on game days

8/19/2014

Bob Stoops chuckled before answering the question.

"I thought they were kind of small," Oklahoma's veteran coach said during Big 12 media days last month after being asked about trying to replace the Sooners "big" trio of running backs.

Big, small or otherwise, there's no doubting the production of three departed running backs leaves a major hole in the Sooners backfield.

Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch combined for 1,857 of OU's 2,911 rushing yards in 2013. The Sooners return 153 rushing yards from running backs currently on the roster in Keith Ford's 134 and Alex Ross' 19.

The running back position is arguably the biggest concern on the Sooners' offense heading into this season. Ford looked poised to have a bigger impact as a true freshman last season, but fumble troubles landed him in the doghouse. Ross never quite forced his way into the lineup as a redshirt freshman. Freshman Samaje Perine stepped on campus as a ESPN300 running back and has the talent to join Ford and Ross as key members of OU's running game, but OU's depth at the position took a hit when fellow freshman Joe Mixon was suspended earlier this week.

Clay, Williams and Finch combined for 348 total carries last season, so plenty of opportunities remain for what could be the Sooners' new trio of Ford, Ross and Perine.

But nobody has separated as at the No. 1 guy during preseason camp. And the Sooners don't expect that to change before they kick off the season against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30.

"They're all getting snaps now and we'll see how they do early," Stoops said. "A lot will be determined in what they do in their initial opportunities."

Ford is a physical, tough runner, who forced his way onto the field despite having three seniors in Clay, Williams and Finch standing between himself and playing time as a true freshman. He entered the offseason as the favorite to slide into the starting lineup and remains in line to be play a significant role.

Ross brings a terrific size/speed combination to the offensive backfield and was one of the Sooners' stars of the spring.

Perine is the wild card, bringing a big back option to the table at 5-foot-11 and 243 pounds. The No. 220 player in the ESPN300, he appears ready to make an immediate impact as a true freshman.

"He's one of the freshman that has an opportunity to contribute," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "He's a big physical kid, he's taking care of the football and we're gaining confidence in him every day. He runs with his pads very well and he's learned quickly. Kids that play as freshman carry themselves with maturity. And he's done that."

Ford and Ross are likely to sit first in the queue on game day. But, after that, all bets are off.

"You'll find out, sometimes with a running back, when the lights come on, in the [middle] of action how they'll respond," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "Ultimately on game day we're going to find out who the guy is."