Monday, March 5, 2012
Breaking down spring camp: Oklahoma
By David Ubben
Oklahoma will be the fourth Big 12 team (TCU, Texas, Texas Tech) to open spring camp when practice begins later Monday.
Here's a closer look and an idea of what to watch for.
Schedule: Oklahoma kicks off the first of its NCAA-allowed 15 practices Monday, leading up to the spring game on April 14. Practices are closed to fans and media.
What's new: The Sooners made the biggest Big 12 offseason acquisition when they brought back Mike Stoops as co-defensive coordinator. He dropped the "co-" after longtime coordinator Brent Venables took the DC job at Clemson after 13 years on Bob Stoops' staff in Norman. The Sooners will miss his presence, but hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize an Oklahoma defense that paved the way for the Sooners' last national title back in 2000, coordinated by none other than Stoops. He was fired by Arizona in the middle of the 2011 season, his eighth at Arizona.
New faces: Stoops is obvious, but Oklahoma is also welcoming six freshman or junior college transfers this spring to get practice time in before the 2012 season. Tight end Taylor McNamara and 2011 signee Trey Metoyer highlight the group. McNamara was the nation's No. 2 tight end and Metoyer was the nation's No. 8 receiver and No. 51 overall prospect in the 2011 class. He enrolled in military school after failing to qualify last fall, and could help boost a receiving corps in need of reinforcements. Junior college transfers Kass (pronounced "KAHss") Everett, Brannon Green and Chaz Nelson join 2011 signee Jordan Wade on campus this spring, too. Tight ends McNamara and Green should have some impact. Oklahoma returns no tight ends from its 2011 team, thanks to injuries and player exits.
Big shoes to fill: Kenny Stills. Ryan Broyles tore his ACL late last season, and the Sooners' receivers disappointed in the absence of the FBS all-time leader for receptions. The offense was punchless in an embarrassing blowout loss to Oklahoma State with the Big 12 title on the line. Especially without Jaz Reynolds (kidney) this spring, Stills need to prove he can be a reliable, top-tier receiver for Oklahoma's Big 12 title dreams to come true in 2012.
On the move: Safety Tony Jefferson. How will Jefferson be used in Stoops' defensive scheme? It's a big question for the Sooners. Jefferson's one of the team's most talented players, but he moved around a lot in 2011, seeing time at nickel back and moving to traditional safety after Javon Harris had some high-profile struggles in the loss to Baylor. Jefferson can play and excel at both spots. What the rest of OU's defense looks like depends on where he plays.
Question marks: What does OU's running back spot look like? Dominique Whaley is still rehabbing after breaking his ankle midseason, an injury that birthed the Belldozer formation. Backup quarterback Blake Bell rushed for 13 touchdowns in the second half of the season, but look for Oklahoma to try and find a way to run between the tackles more traditionally this spring. Who can be the man? Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Danzel Williams are the only healthy scholarship running backs for the Sooners. Will we see fullback Trey Millard get some run, too?
All eyes on: The defense. Quarterback Landry Jones actually played well in a loss to Baylor, but Oklahoma's defense was clearly the weak link in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State that turned a year with national title aspirations into an average 10-3 season that finished in the Insight Bowl. The defense played well in the bowl win over Iowa, but Iowa's offense is nothing like what awaits the Sooners in the always-dangerous Big 12. Mike Stoops' work is cut out for him.