Monday, March 21, 2011
Opening spring practice: Oklahoma
By David Ubben
Schedule: Oklahoma opens spring practice Monday at 4:40 p.m. ET and will play its spring game on April 16. The first 15 minutes of Monday's practice are open to the media, but the remainder of the practices until the spring game will be closed.
What’s new: Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, responsible for the highest-scoring offense in college football history in 2008, took the head coaching job at Indiana. Replacing him for the Sooners are co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell. Heupel has been with the program since 2006 as the quarterbacks coach, and won a national title at OU in 2000. Wilson was with the team for its Fiesta Bowl win, but Heupel called the plays for the Sooners and will do so in 2011. Norvell has coached receivers at Oklahoma since 2008.
On the mend: Running back Roy Finch looks like the favorite to replace DeMarco Murray as Oklahoma's featured back, but surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot suffered during bowl practices will keep him out during the spring. Starting fullback Trey Millard is also out for spring practices after minor surgery.
On the move: Defensive back Aaron Colvin played some in spot duty as a true freshman in 2010, but opens the spring as the Sooners' starting strong safety. He was expected to replace last season's starting corner, Jamell Fleming, who is not enrolled and won't be back until the fall semester at the earliest after reported academic misconduct. The corner job went to Gabe Lynn, who enters the spring with little on-field experience.
New faces: Running back Brandon Williams enrolled early and will start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart at running back. Quarterback Kendal Thompson is also in camp as an early enrollee alongside Marquis Anderson, a third signee from the 2011 class.
Breaking out: Nickel back Tony Jefferson. You could make the argument that he's already broken out as the co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2010, but he's hardly a household name across the country or even the conference. That could change fast for Jefferson, who looks like his sophomore year could mean dropping the "rising" from his status as a rising star.
Don’t forget about: Sophomore receiver Kenny Stills. His teammate Ryan Broyles gets all the headlines, but Stills showed plenty of potential in his first season on the field, giving Oklahoma a much-needed second option in the passing game. He started all 14 games as a true freshman and broke Broyles' freshman receiving record with 786 yards and five touchdowns on 61 receptions.
All eyes on: The defensive lines and secondary. It's a "National Championship or Bust" kind of year for the Sooners, who may well debut at No. 1 in the preseason polls next fall. If one thing stops them from winning it all, it will be a lack of experience up front or troubles defending the pass without their top corner, Fleming. Stacy McGee, Jamarkus McFarland, Daniel Noble and Casey Walker will be in the rotation at defensive tackle, and have to help collapse the pocket and stop the run. Junior Demontre Hurst played well as a sophomore, but if Fleming doesn't return, Lynn and Colvin will have to be solid alongside experienced safeties Javon Harris and Sam Proctor to slow the prolific Big 12 passing offenses.