Big 12: Derrick Woods

video Trevor Knight's job just got harder.

Oklahoma announced Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham will not be eligible to play for the Sooners in 2014 after his waiver request to make the receiver immediately eligible was denied by the NCAA on Friday.

Now Knight, the Sooners starting quarterback, is left with junior Sterling Shepard as his lone proven receiver to target heading into this season. Shepard had 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. The rest of the receivers on the Sooners' roster combined for 17 receptions for 228 yards in 2013.

The Sooners were hoping Green-Beckham would become eligible to provide a proven playmaker on the outside after the 6-foot-6, 225 pound receiver had 59 receptions for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns for Missouri in 2013 before his dismissal last spring.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Sooners will have to be without receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for the season.
Instead, Shepard will enter the season as Knight's No. 1 target and the clear focus of opposing secondaries. It's an unproven but talented group of receivers that will have to step up if the Sooners hope to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff this fall.

Much of the burden is likely to fall upon Durron Neal, the second-leading returning receiver on the roster. Neal was an Army All-American when he arrived on campus but has yet to fulfill those high expectations with 18 career receptions for 251 yards in his first two seasons.

"I think we have some real stability with Shepard and Neal on the perimeter," receivers coach Jay Norvell said earlier this week. "Then we've got some young guys, K.J. Young and Michiah Quick, that are kind of coming on in the slot."

Sophomore Derrick Woods is another receiver the Sooners are counting on to become an impact player on offense for the first time in his career after a redshirt freshman season that featured just two receptions for 29 yards including a clutch third-down reception in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

"We could play with Derrick Woods as a starter," Norvell said. "There's no question and feel confident doing that. He's been in the fire. He made a huge play in the Sugar Bowl and the one thing about that kid, you get him in a competitive situation, he really responds."

A portion of the onus could also fall upon covered tight end Blake Bell, who made the switch from quarterback in January with an eye on becoming an big target for Knight.

Keep an eye on a pair of redshirt freshmen who will get more opportunities with Green-Beckham out of the equation. Jordan Smallwood, who has impressed since he arrived on campus in the summer of 2013 but was forced into a redshirt season by a broken foot in the preseason a year ago, and K.J. Young, who has emerged as an potential impact player in the slot for the Sooners, have both used a redshirt year in 2013 to put themselves in position to make an impact this fall.

"K.J.'s just playing a lot faster," Norvell said. "He really has an understanding of what we want him to do inside. He's playing really fast, roaring off the football. That's a big thing here at Oklahoma. We really stress coming off the ball and playing with speed, and when you watch guys like Kenny Stills and Jalen Saunders, when those guys played, they roared off the football, and K.J.'s starting to get that."

Incoming freshman Michiah Quick is another player who could see his role expand with Shepard's ability to play in the slot or on the outside allowing the Sooners to move Shepard around with a goal of getting their top three or four receivers on the field.

It's clear the Sooners like their talent at receiver but it is largely unproven. OU's season opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30 and second-non conference game against Tulsa on Sept. 6 will be critical for the Sooners offense to figure out which receivers can be counted on heading into their home matchup with Tennessee on Sept. 13.
This week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners.

Most indispensable player: Receiver Sterling Shepard

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard's production will be vital to Oklahoma's success in the passing game in 2014.
2013 stats: Caught 51 passes for 603 yards and seven touchdowns.

Why Oklahoma can’t afford to lose him: A strong case could be made for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight here. He was spectacular in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and has the skill set to be a star in college football. But it’s difficult to slap the “indispensable” label on a player who has only started and finished three games in his college career.

Last season, Oklahoma’s most indispensable player was do-everything receiver Jalen Saunders. This season, the Sooners’ most indispensable player figures to be another do-everything pass-catcher.

Shepard has been a key part of the Oklahoma offense from the moment he stepped on campus. Through two seasons in Norman, Shepard already has 96 receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns.

With Saunders now a member of the New York Jets, Shepard will take over as the Sooners’ go-to playmaker at receiver. But unlike Saunders, who had Shepard and Lacoltan Bester alongside him, Shepard won’t have an experienced receiver flanking him. That makes Shepard all-the-more indispensable.

After Shepard, Durron Neal is Oklahoma’s second-leading receiver from last season, and he finished with only 13 receptions. Neal also missed spring practice with knee and ankle injuries.

Elsewhere, the Sooners are loaded with inexperience at receiver. Jordan Smallwood, Dannon Cavil and K.J. Young redshirted last season. Austin Bennett and Derrick Woods have been used sparingly. Mark Andrews, Jeff Mead, Michiah Quick and Dallis Todd are incoming true freshmen.

In fact, outside Shepard, the only two returning Sooners who had touchdown catches last year are fullback Aaron Ripkowski and place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt.

That’s why Shepard is so valuable.

He gives the Sooners an unequivocal tone-setter and leader for its extremely young group of receivers. And he gives Knight that one dependable target every budding quarterback requires.
Since last week we’ve been examining at the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big 12 team going into the fall.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners:

Strongest position: Defensive line

Pretty obvious choice here for Oklahoma, considering how this unit played in its greatest test yet against Alabama.

Eric Striker gives the Sooners an All-Big 12 defensive end who still has two years left to get even better. He's a playmaker, and senior Geneo Grissom proved against the Tide, with his two sacks and two fumble recoveries, that he can be, too.

We got to see Jordan Phillips in only four games last fall before he was shut down for the season, but the defensive tackle was one of OU's most promising defenders when he was on the field. The trio of Phillips, Chuka Ndulue and Jordan Wade is potent. Keep them healthy, and they can develop into a fearsome group.

What makes this group really stand out, and what probably gets overlooked, is the depth you don't see. While these starters form one of the conference's best defensive lines, the guys behind them will continue to develop in the background.

Some will be called upon when injuries hit, but having young linemen such as Matt Dimon, D.J. Ward, Dwayne Orso Jr. and Courtney Garnett waiting in the wings will mean an exciting future for this line.

Weakest position: Wide receivers

You can't lose a great talent like Jalen Saunders and key seniors Lacoltan Bester and Jaz Reynolds and not be a little concerned with this group.

The Sooners are essentially working with four experienced receivers going into 2014, led by Sterling Shepard. He can't do it all by himself. Among Durron Neal, Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett, quarterback Trevor Knight is going to need to find a couple guys he can trust. There are some redshirt freshmen waiting for their turn, too.

The good news is help is on the way, and it might be elite help. The Sooners signed three skyscrapers in Mark Andrews (6-foot-6), Jeffery Mead (6-6) and Dallis Todd (6-5) and then inked a four-star speedster in Michiah Quick on signing day. Three of those incoming freshmen are ESPN 300 recruits with big expectations.

If a couple are ready when they show up in Norman, this group will instantly get a lot better.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Wednesday with receivers (and tight ends). These outlooks could look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.

2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.

3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.

4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.

5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.

6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.

7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.

8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.

10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. On Tuesday, we continue the series with Oklahoma:

Offense (projected starters in bold)

QB: Trevor Knight (So.), Cody Thomas (RFr.), Justice Hansen (Fr.)

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAfter receiving only 23 carries last season as a freshman, OU's Keith Ford will likely be the starting tailback in 2014.
The Sooners feel great about putting the offense in the hands of Knight after his Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP performance against Alabama. The sophomore looked like a future star against the Crimson Tide while leading the Sooners to a 45-31 upset win. OU is inexperienced behind Knight with a pair of freshman in Thomas and Hansen. Former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred to OU in January, would be the perfect fit behind Knight but won’t be eligible to play until 2015. If he plays consistent and remains healthy, Knight could lead his team to a College Football Playoff berth. If not, OU could flounder below expectations and look back upon the 2014 season as a missed opportunity.

RB: Keith Ford (So.), Alex Ross (So.), Daniel Brooks (So.)

Ford exits spring as the favorite to start in the backfield, but he didn’t take the job and hide during 15 spring practices. Ross was one of the stars of the spring as he continually made plays during scrimmages, and Brooks was one of the standouts during the spring game. OU has several talented options at running back and is poised to add two top freshman runners in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

FB/TE: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.), Dimitri Flowers (Fr.), Blake Bell (Sr.)

OU uses fullbacks and tight ends in similar ways as both positions spend their meeting time with tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ripkowski is one of the unsung heroes on the entire roster. He played a critical role during the team's strong finish to the 2013 season. Flowers has stepped on campus ready to make an impact with his versatility and football IQ after enrolling in school early. Bell has moved over from quarterback and looks poised to make an impact as a pass catcher with his size and athleticism. It’s a talented and versatile group that is likely to get overlooked this fall but could be the foundation of any success the team has on offense.

WR: Sterling Shepard (Jr.), Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (RFr.), Jordan Smallwood (RFr.), Austin Bennett (So.)

Shepard should be one of the Big 12’s top receivers if Knight continues to develop as a passer. OU badly needs someone to emerge alongside Shepard if it hopes to have a strong passing game to help make the 2014 version of the offense more balanced than the 2013 version. There’s talent on campus but nobody separated themselves during the spring, opening the door for a freshman like Michiah Quick to step on campus and into the lineup this fall.

C: Ty Darlington (Jr.)

G: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.), Tony Feo (Sr.), Adam Shead (Sr.), Tyler Evans (Sr.)

T: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Josiah St. John (Sr.)

Darlington has been groomed to replace All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and could slide into the starting lineup with ease. Nonetheless, adding competition at this position would help the Sooners. OU is fairly deep at guard and tackle which should allow competition for playing time to help everyone improve. Williams is the anchor of the entire offensive line and should be one of the Big 12’s top tackles this fall. The Sooners should have one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.

DEFENSE

DE: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), Matt Dimon (So.)

DT: Jordan Phillips (Jr.) or Chuka Ndulue (Sr.), Jordan Wade (So.)

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSooners linebacker Dominique Alexander emerged as a playmaker as a freshman.
OU’s defensive line could be one of the most disruptive and deepest in the nation. The Sooners should easily go six or seven deep along the defensive line, particularly if Phillips returns to his early 2013 form after suffering a back injury last season. Tapper and Grissom have the ability to be disruptive against anyone, and the overall depth on the roster should allow OU to come at offenses in waves with fresh bodies rotating throughout games. If OU makes a national title run, the defensive line will likely be the driving force.

LB: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.), Eric Striker (Jr.), Jordan Evans (So.), Devante Bond (Jr.)

Striker could be the Big 12’s best pass rusher, Alexander has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s best before his career is over, Evans could take a major step forward as a sophomore and Bond impressed as a junior college transfer this spring. If Shannon returns to good standing after missing part of spring due to personal issues, this is a good, experienced group. OU’s linebackers are one of the main reasons its defense could be the most athletic and versatile in the conference this fall.

CB: Zack Sanchez (So.), Julian Wilson (Sr.), Dakota Austin (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)

Here’s where things get interesting for the defense. Wilson returns as the starting nickelback and a productive veteran in the secondary. Sanchez is solid and took his game to another level this spring as he strives to be the type of coverage cornerback that teams don’t want to test. But the Sooners need someone to step up on the opposite side of the field with Austin ending the spring as a starter but remaining untested. No matter who wins the job, they will be picked on repeatedly until they prove they aren’t the weak link of the secondary. Defensive back is one of the few unsettled and unproven spots on the entire roster.

S: Quentin Hayes (Sr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)

Hayes was quietly one of the better safeties in the Big 12 in 2013. He was productive with 75 tackles and solid in coverage. Byrd and Thomas have matured and started to develop as sophomores and should be key contributors this fall. Nonetheless, freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in an earn a role this summer. If Parker is as good as advertised, OU will go two deep with talented options.
A glimpse at the future is no longer enough.

Oklahoma receivers coach Jay Norvell has several pass catchers in his meeting room who have made occasional plays for the Sooners, showing glimpses of their playmaking ability. This season OU is counting on those players to transform into consistent playmakers. If they don’t, OU could find itself with a passing offense that is shooting blanks.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard is a proven commodity at WR for Oklahoma, but there are plenty of question marks behind him.
“We don’t have as many guys with game time, but I think that’s a good thing,” Norvell said. “We’re going to have to find about five guys out of this group and they’re going to have to grow up in a hurry. It’s about being consistent and being competitive now. The really good players, they do it every day.”

Sterling Shepard qualifies as "really good".

The Sooners’ leading returning receiver will take over for Jalen Saunders as OU’s go-to receiver after two seasons as a complementary piece in OU’s offense. Outside of Shepard, the Sooners' returning receivers combined for 17 receptions and 228 receiving yards in 2013.

Durron Neal's 22-yard catch against Kansas State and Derrick Woods' 20-yard reception against Alabama provided glimpses of their potential. The duo joined Shepard in the same recruiting class but have been looking up at him on the depth chart for their first two years on campus. Neal was one of the nation’s top receiver recruits out of high school, and the Sooners held off a late charge from USC to secure Woods.

Making the occasional play is no longer acceptable for Neal or Woods; it’s either step up or lose their spot. Sophomore Austin Bennett joins redshirt freshmen Dannon Cavil, Jordan Smallwood and K.J. Young as highly regarded receivers nipping at their heels this spring. And four freshmen signees, including ESPN 300 receiver Michiah Quick, will arrive this summer with the goal of forcing themselves into the competition.

The overall depth of talent at the position is one reason the Sooners aren’t overly concerned about finding pass catchers for starting quarterback Trevor Knight.

“It’s a good group, they just haven’t had a ton of time on the field,” said Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who likened the receiver position to OU’s defensive line group, which was a major question mark last spring before blossoming into a major asset in the fall.

“These guys have been developing, training [and are] ready to take over. Those guys are just going to have to be more consistent [to] stay on the field.”

Shepard is the lone known commodity, with all-conference honors in his sights after 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. He’s tough as nails, competitive and rises to the occasion in big games, with four of his seven scores coming in wins over Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.

The Sooners' search for consistent receivers is reminiscent of two springs ago in Norman, Okla., when OU had just lost NCAA all-time receptions leader Ryan Broyles and returned Kenny Stills, who had been a key player during his first two seasons but was being counted on to anchor the receiver spot for the first time in his career. Norvell turned to Stills to raise his overall game and leadership that spring, much like he’s asking from Shepard over the next 12 practices.

“When you become a leader, you gotta make everybody else better,” Norvell said of his only veteran receiver. “He’s not competing against guys here, he’s competing against guys around our league, around the country. He’s got to raise the standard in his game.”

OU hopes the similarities between 2012 and 2014 stop at the concerns about the receiver spot during spring football. In 2012, the Sooners added transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Saunders (Fresno State) in the summer after post-spring suspensions took Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks out of the equation. OU hopes its young receivers improve enough this spring to remove all doubt about the position heading into the summer while creating depth that can withstand any unexpected hits before August.

“It’s a competitive group,” Norvell said. “We’re extremely competitive in the spring, the whole group gets graded every single day on every snap, so it's really easy to know who the best players are. We have a bunch of young guys who have shown flashes but now it’s about being able to go out every day compete and make plays. So, we’ll see who rises to the top.”

How OU can salvage its season

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma is on the cusp of another disappointing season. Its chances of winning another Big 12 title are slim, and the Sooners are completely out of the BCS title conversation after their 41-12 loss to Baylor last Thursday.

Competing for national championships is the stated goal in Norman, so here are five things the Sooners can do to salvage the season with that ultimate goal in mind.

[+] EnlargeKendal Thompson
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Kendal Thompson is in his third season in the program but hasn't appeared in a game.
Find a quarterback of the future. OU has sent out two starting quarterbacks this season, Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, and has a third, Kendal Thompson, who hasn't taken a snap. Yet, the Sooners don't seem any closer to replacing Landry Jones than they did when the season began. Bell has had good and bad moments and hasn't separated himself from either of the other two despite starting the majority of OU's games. Knight was the opening-day starter but didn't look like a game-changing signal caller as his youth was readily on display. And Thompson, who missed preseason camp and the first few games due to a broken foot, hasn't been given the opportunity to show what he can do. If the Sooners accomplish nothing else during the final weeks of the season, they need to have a much better feel for who they want to lead the offense in 2014 after the regular season finale at Oklahoma State.

Figure out the vision of what the Sooners offense should be. What is OU's identity on offense? At this point last season, the offense had progressed into a four-receiver attack that forced defenses to account for several talented targets in the passing game, with a solid supplementary running attack. This season OU can run the ball, but that's about it. It's clear the Sooners wanted to make running the football a priority, but they appear to have emphasized that goal to the point their passing game isn't anything worth worrying about. They're much closer to the goal of becoming a physical running team, but that doesn't do any good if they can't be balanced. OU must find a middle ground between its 2012 offense and this 2013 version, then aim to make that the starting point in 2014. There needs to be a baseline starting point that coaches, players and the rest of the staff are comfortable with to begin each cycle.

Get young players plenty of game experience. Coach Bob Stoops raved about his freshman class in August. It's time for those freshmen, like receiver Austin Bennett or safety Ahmad Thomas, who aren't in the midst of a redshirt year, to see the field much more often. If they're going to use a year of eligibility, why not use it by getting them prepared to make an impact as sophomores? True enough, there will be ups and downs to deal with, and the potential for opponents to take advantage of them, but it would pay off in 2014, show them what it takes to be successful at this level and could give them confidence heading into the offseason. One series here or there and those guys can gain some game experience while the Sooners remain committed to their starting lineup and veterans.

Find out who are the most competitive, mentally tough players on the roster. Adversity can be educating. The Sooners can use some of their current struggles to learn which players could be the foundation of a title run in the future. OU should be willing to put some of its younger players, not just freshman, into adverse situations down the stretch, even at the risk of making a game harder to win. Can Keith Ford respond when he's tired from carrying the load and OU needs to convert a key short-yardage situation in the red zone? Will Zack Sanchez accept the challenge if asked to cover the opponent's top receiver for a quarter? Would Derrick Woods flash some potential if he gets some snaps at receiver? Creating little scenarios like that will challenge the players and help the coaches learn some things about the roster they might not know otherwise heading into the offseason.

Find some confidence. Win or lose, OU needs to play well in every game the rest of the way. This team rarely has played to its potential in 2013 and doesn't seem to play with any confidence until something good happens. And if good things don't happen, the confidence to dig out of a hole seems sorely lacking. This squad, particularly offensively, seems to question its ability to get the job done any time adversity hits. OU needs to find the players who have the unyielding confidence that they can make plays, like receiver Jalen Saunders, and build around them for the next three games. The Sooners need to find some way to get back to the belief that they can excel against anyone if they execute and focus on themselves, not the opponent. If they do, it could help lift the program to greater heights in 2014.

Lunch links: New pressure on Mack Brown

February, 11, 2013
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Come back, Daryl!

Checking in on the ESPN 150 in 2012

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The ESPN 150 are the best of the best when it comes to recruits, but how do they really stack up on the field? We check in each season with the freshmen who made an impact and those who didn't in Year 1.

You can look back on the ESPN 150 in 2012 right here, but how did the guys who landed in the Big 12 do? So glad you asked.

Also, here's how the last few years of Big 12 ESPN 150 recruits shaped up: No. 2: Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas: Took over in midseason as the team's featured running back and led the team with 701 yards and three touchdowns. Had 22 more carries than any other Texas back.

No. 12: Malcom Brown, DT, Texas: Contributed as a reserve on Texas' strong defensive line. Made 19 tackles and two tackles for loss.

No. 54: Dominique Wheeler, WR, Texas Tech: Redshirted his first season for Texas Tech's deep receiving corps.

No. 57: Peter Jinkens, OLB, Texas: Started two games and played in every game this season. Made 27 tackles and three tackles for loss with a sack and an interception.

No. 58: Kennedy Estelle, OL, Texas: Missed five games with a shoulder injury but contributed as a reserve offensive lineman in three games.

No. 60: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma: Was one of the league's most promising freshmen in Year 1. Emerged with a breakout game against Kansas State with seven catches for 108 yards and a score. He finished with 41 catches for 578 yards and three touchdowns.

No. 64: Durron Neal, WR, Oklahoma: Played sparingly and contributed in nine games. Caught four passes for 62 yards.

No. 70: Alex Ross, RB, Oklahoma: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 77: Torshiro Davis, LB, Texas: Goes by "Shiro" now and moved to defensive end. Played in the final six games of Texas' season and made three tackles, one tackle for loss and broke up a pass.

No. 78: Curtis Riser, OG, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 79: Bryson Echols, CB, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 87: Reginald Davis, WR, Texas Tech: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 92: Dalton Santos, LB, Texas: Played in 12 games and made 24 tackles, mostly contributing on special teams. Added 2.5 tackles for loss.

No. 97: Alex Norman, DT, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 120: Michael Starts, OT, Texas Tech: Moved to defensive tackle but played in just three games. Made three tackles with a sack against New Mexico. Missed time because of a blood pressure issue.

No. 126: Dominic Ramacher, LB, Oklahoma State: Moved to fullback and redshirted in 2012.

No. 130: Connor Brewer, QB, Texas: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 137: Derrick Woods, WR, Oklahoma: Redshirted in 2012.

No. 141: Daje Johnson, ATH, Texas: Speedster made an impact as a big-play threat at running back for Texas. Carried the ball 27 times for 203 yards and a touchdown and caught 19 passes for 287 yards and a score.

No. 147: Cayleb Jones, WR, Texas: Played in 12 games but caught two passes for 35 yards and carried the ball once for 10 yards.

No. 148: Ty Darlington, OL, Oklahoma: Earned starts late in the season at center and proved to be a valuable piece of the Sooners' offensive line that provided an opportunity for versatility and ability to move Gabe Ikard to guard.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Even with its best player on the sidelines in tears, Oklahoma didn't know how bad it could get in the season's final month.

No player in the history of FBS caught more passes than Ryan Broyles. When the Sooners' receivers lost their leader and most productive member, one-loss Oklahoma went from Big 12 title contender gunning for an NCAA-most ninth BCS bowl appearance to Insight Bowl participant.

"I just felt like we didn’t know what to do once Ryan went down, to tell you the truth," receiver Kenny Stills said. "We never really saw that coming, and it hit us really hard."

[+] EnlargeKenny Stills
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKenny Stills and the Sooners receivers will try to replace Ryan Broyles' production this fall.
After the loss, quarterback Landry Jones was shut out of the end zone for the season's final three games along with five interceptions. Oklahoma's sure-handed unit suddenly turned shaky, dropping passes more frequently than it had all season.

The Sooners started slow in a win over Iowa State, but were embarrassed in the regular season finale at Oklahoma State with the conference title hanging in the balance.

"We’re disappointed at the way we finished last season, I don’t think there’s any question," said co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell, "and I think that’s motivated our guys to come out and really prove themselves and to step their game up."

That's been the task for Oklahoma's receivers this spring. After Broyles' injury, Stills moved to an unfamiliar slot position, and his discomfort showed. Despite Broyles' presence, Stills managed to top 100 yards receiving three times in his first six appearances of the season.

When the Sooners' needed him to replace Broyles' production, he didn't top 75 yards receiving.

"We were figuring out what to do with different people in different positions and now I feel like the spring’s helped us figure out what we want to do," Stills said.

He's playing some inside and some outside during the spring, but his preference is simple.

"Wherever the ball’s coming, I want to go," Stills said.

He'll get this offseason to learn how to live life without Broyles, whether it's leading off the field or producing on it. He'll also have plenty of reinforcements. Freshman Trey Metoyer has turned heads in the spring and coach Bob Stoops said he could "absolutely" start.

Come fall, freshmen Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard (two of the nation's top 10 receivers in the 2012 class) and Derrick Woods will join the team, along with highly touted juco transfer Courtney Gardner.

"Competition is the best motivator that you have. That’s Oklahoma," Norvell said. "You hear stories about back in the day when all the running backs were here and coach [Barry] Switzer was here, and there’d be another guy come in, and the way guys looked at each other.

"Good players, they have a lot of pride. And I just think we’ve tried to create that environment. We have a lot of guys that can make plays and that also push each other. I think guys get excited when they see somebody come in that has ability like that and it can help the team."

Norvell's message to his receivers this spring was accountability. Replacing Broyles is up to more than just Stills.

"We’ve talked a lot about (accountability), and I think we have to do a better job of that as a unit and as a team, playing hard for each other, and I don’t think we always did that, especially at the end of last year," Norvell said. "That’s what being a part of a team is, it’s the most special thing you can ever be a part of, especially because you know somebody has your back, and that’s exactly where we started this spring."
Kenny Stills is a proven playmaker.

During his first two seasons, the Oklahoma receiver has threatened defenses with his speed, acceleration and ball skills. Stills has shown he can run past speedy defensive backs -- see his touchdown catches against Florida State or Nebraska -- or make difficult catches while he’s covered like he did in the 2010 Red River Rivalry against Texas.

[+] EnlargeKenny Stills
Phil Sears/US PresswireOklahoma receiver Kenny Stills is trying to fill the void left by Ryan Broyles' graduation.
Heading into his junior season, Stills is looking to progress from playmaker to difference-maker for the Sooners offense. And he understands that the biggest steps forward he can make in the next few months will come off the field.

“I felt like I need to be that guy who does that, I need to be a leader for these guys,” Stills said. “We were in the shadows with the older guys, who had played for a national championship, [but] I was ready to step in the role and I had to go out and show them, not just talk about it.”

Replacing Ryan Broyles' production has been a focal point for the Sooners since OU’s all-time leading receiver suffered an ACL injury on Nov. 5. But replacing Broyles in the meeting room, on the practice field and on the sideline during games could be just as important.

While Broyles' production was unmatched -- he averaged 7.3 receptions for 95.5 yards and nearly one touchdown per game during his 48-game career -- his injury showed just how important he was to the team’s overall success. The Sooners went 2-2 without Broyles and had three of their four lowest-scoring games with him on the sidelines.

In other words, Broyles was a difference-maker. So, it’s easy to see why Stills is looking to duplicate Broyles in every way possible.

“I feel like you have to lead by example, that’s what Ryan did half of the time,” Stills said. “It wasn’t about just telling people, you have to go out and do it. And they have to see you do it, every day. That’s what I’m trying to do for these guys throughout the spring and summer.”

Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell has noticed the difference. Also serving as OU’s receivers coach, Norvell has watched Stills mature in the past few months and he’s seen an example of Stills’ maturation process in the way he has interacted with spring enrollee Trey Metoyer.

“I think it’s a maturation of Kenny Stills,” Norvell said. “He sees a young guy coming in who doesn’t really understand everything, going through similar things he went through not that long ago. All of a sudden you look around and you’re one of the older guys and you have a different role, different way of looking at things. He has to become more of a leader by example.”

Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard, Derrick Woods and Courtney Gardner will join Metoyer as additions to the Sooners receiving corps this summer and those newcomers will be searching for someone to mentor them and ease their transition into Big 12 football.

“I have a lot to prove to myself,” Stills said. “We [Coach Norvell and I] talked about the great players do the little things well. One of those things, for me, was to come back and be able to lead the guys who are coming back and the guys who are coming in, so that’s what I’m hoping to do.”
We looked at the biggest needs for each team in the Big 12 last week. Now it's time to see who filled them.

BAYLOR

Baylor needed a quarterback and defensive tackle, and delivered in both positions. Javonte Magee is on the way as the nation's No. 20 tackle, and the Bears grabbed former Kansas commit Seth Russell, the nation's No. 47 quarterback, from outside Dallas. The Bears also added the No. 78 defensive tackle, Zorrell Ezell, and Joey Sercy from junior college.

IOWA STATE

The Cyclones needed receivers and got them. Two of the team's top four signees are receivers, P.J. Harris and Quan West. The duo was just outside the top 100 nationally at the position and came from Florida and Texas, respectively.

KANSAS

The raw rankings won't tell you the strength of Kansas' recruiting class. Quarterback has been a huge weakness the past two years, and passers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps arrive as transfers from Notre Dame and BYU, respectively. It also fulfilled a need by adding Tyler Holmes, the nation's No. 105 tackle.

KANSAS STATE

The biggest need filled for K-State is simple: defensive line. Two of the team's top signees (Travis Britz, Demonte Hood) are along the line, and the team added two more signees (Chaquil Reed, Wesley Hollingshed) from the juco ranks.

OKLAHOMA

The Sooners clearly filled their biggest need. The team's top three recruits (Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal) are all receivers, which is huge for a team that found out it wasn't very strong at the position after Ryan Broyles' injury. It also added the nation's No. 19 receiver, Derrick Woods, to the class.

OKLAHOMA STATE

The Cowboys added a whole lot of volume at receiver. Time will tell how much noise it makes. OSU added six receivers in this class, but none ranked in the top 85 at their position. The team's top recruit, Dominic Ramacher, is the nation' No. 3 tight end and will surely be able to catch a few passes.

TEXAS

The Longhorns lost two starters at linebacker, and filled the void extremely well. The nation's No. 1 inside linebacker, Dalton Santos, is coming. As is Peter Jinkens, the nation's No. 5 outside linebacker, and the No. 12 outside linebacker, Torshiro Davis. It also added Tim Cole, the No. 27 outside linebacker and Alex De La Torre, the No. 11 inside linebacker.

TCU

The Horned Frogs' top two commits in their top-25 class are both on the defensive line, filling a big need. That includes Devonte Fields, an ESPNU 150 signee and the No. 11 defensive end. Joey Hunt is the nation's No. 18 defensive tackle. Both hail from Texas. The Horned Frogs also added James McFarland and Terell Lathan, two defensive ends in the top 85 at the position.

TEXAS TECH

The Red Raiders got big-time reinforcements at receiver, adding two of the nation's top 15 at the position. Dominique Wheeler and Reginald Davis are two of Tech's three ESPNU 150 signees in the top-20 class.
NORMAN, Okla. – Last week, Oklahoma lost an assistant reputed for being a top-notch recruiter. The Sooners, however, are replacing him with a coach with the same reputation.

Former Arizona defensive coordinator Tim Kish has been named OU’s next linebackers coach, head coach Bob Stoops announced Tuesday. Kish, 57, will take over for ex-OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who last week accepted a job to be defensive coordinator at Clemson.

Kish worked with Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops all eight years that Stoops was head coach in Arizona, first as a linebackers coach, then taking over as the primary defensive coordinator before the 2011 season. When Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start, Kish was named interim head coach and guided the Wildcats to a 3-3 finish.

Kish has been in coaching for more than 30 years, with stints in the Big 10, MAC and Ohio high school ranks. He has been one of Arizona’s top recruiters, focusing primarily on the California area, where the Sooners have made inroads in recent years. In this upcoming class, OU has secured verbal commitments from wide receiver Derrick Woods (Inglewood, Calif.) and tight end Taylor McNamara (San Diego).

SoonerNation links: Recruiting updates

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
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Bob Przybylo Insider writes: Oklahoma defensive end commitment Chaz Nelson has come a long ways since high school. But the work he put in to improve has him on track to compete for the Sooners in 2012.

Brandon Chatmon Insider writes: Nelson could contribute immediately.

Przybylo Insider writes: California receiver Derrick Woods is the Sooners’ 16th commitment for the class of 2012.

Przybylo Insider writes: Arizona commit Kyle Kelly is visiting Oklahoma next weekend.

Przybylo Insider : Q&A with 2013 in-state linebacker T.J. Ponds.

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