Big 12: Taylor McNamara

Watch list week continued Tuesday with the release of the Mackey Award and Rimington Trophy. The Mackey goes to the most outstanding tight end, while the Rimington is for college football's top center.

Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:

Mackey
Rimington

Monday, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Hornung (most versatile player) watch lists were released.

Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:

Wednesday
- Lou Groza Award, best place-kicker
- Ray Guy Award, best punter

Thursday
- Bronko Nagurski Trophy, best defensive player
- Outland Trophy, best interior lineman

Friday
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back

Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman

Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver

Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.

Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back

Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 26, 2014
3/26/14
12:00
PM ET
I'm guessing Justin Gilbert's agent is going to suggest he stop doing this until after the NFL draft.
NORMAN, Okla. -- In Bob Stoops’ first season in 1999, Oklahoma spread everyone out and threw it around.

In 2004, the Sooners put Jason White under center and handed off to Adrian Peterson.

As Stoops pointed out last week, the Sooners have often "played to their personnel." That includes last season, when, after it became abundantly clear the Sooners’ fourth-best receiver was better than any tight end, OU went almost exclusively with four-wide formations.

[+] EnlargeTaylor McNamara
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIThe Sooners need redshirt freshman Taylor McNamara to become a passing-game threat in 2013.
“We had some young [tight ends], a new guy from junior college,” Stoops said. “We weren’t the same with them on the field. Our best grouping was with wide receivers, which was quite obvious to anybody who watched us.”

In recent weeks, the Sooners have taken criticism from ESPN analysts Trent Dilfer and Jon Gruden for not using tight ends. They say it put too much pressure on quarterback Landry Jones to throw the ball downfield.

In several OU victories, Jones’ arm was good enough to overcome the limitations of not having a tight end checking off a route underneath the coverage, streaking down the middle of the field or helping to block in the run game.

But in the Sooners’ three 2012 losses, not having a tight end came back to haunt them, as OU was unable to maintain balance with the run or attack the Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M defenses off play-action.

The OU coaching staff recognized this liability and tried to lure another junior-college tight end to Norman before signing day. But after losing out on Beau Sandland and Emmanuel Bibbs -- the two juco tight ends they thought could provide an immediate impact -- the Sooners were forced to go with what they have.

Only this time, they won’t have Jones’ arm to fall back on. To be successful in 2013, the Sooners will have to run the ball with better efficiency. And they’ll have to also be lethal with play-action. Which means Sam Grant, Taylor McNamara and Brannon Green, whom the Sooners deemed weren’t ready last year, had better be ready to play this time around.

“I feel much better about it,” Stoops said. “The two freshmen [Grant and McNamara] have come along, are stronger blockers, have a stronger presence about what they’re trying to do. Same thing with Brannon Green, more experience in what we want him to do.

“I believe they’ll have more opportunities.”

Despite losing Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, the Sooners figure to be strong at wideout again. Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard should be prolific, and Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal, Dannon Cavil, Jaz Reynolds and others have big-play ability. But as OU transitions to an offense more reliant on the ground game -- as well as the running ability of its inexperienced quarterbacks -- tight end play will be paramount.

It’s no coincidence that when the Sooners have run the ball best, they’ve had stellar tight end play.

Quentin Griffin had Trent Smith.

Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray had Brody Eldridge and Jermaine Gresham.

Even Adrian Peterson had James "Bubba" Moses and Joe Jon Finley.

Stoops says he likes what he saw from the tight ends in the spring. After redshirting last year, Grant showed promise as a blocking specialist. McNamara has put on weight and is finally healthy after undergoing shoulder surgery last season, then tweaking a hamstring after being cleared for spring ball. Green has come along, too.

They’ll never be confused with the 2007 tight end grouping of Gresham, Eldridge and Finley. But if they can be just solid enough to be used, that might be adequate.

The Sooners are always going to play to their personnel. But OU has always been better when the tight ends are included.

NORMAN, Okla. -- With nothing open from his initial reads, quarterback Blake Bell abandoned the pocket. But instead of attempting to truck his way into the end zone, the artist formerly known as the "Belldozer" rolled right.

Near the sidelines, he waited, and waited. And then when he couldn’t wait any longer, Bell stuck a pass into the chest of receiver Durron Neal for a three-yard touchdown.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJunior Blake Bell, considered the front-runner to start for the Sooners before the spring, had the best day of all the QBs in OU's spring game.
Bell said after Oklahoma’s Red-White spring game that he wanted to show he could "sling it around a little bit, too."

And sling it he did, demonstrating that the power running that made him a fan-favorite the past two seasons is just one facet of his arsenal.

Bell completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns -- with no turnovers -- Saturday. He also showed the most poise and precision among the quarterbacks to seize momentum in the QB competition heading into the summer.

"I missed a couple throws," Bell said, "But overall, I thought I made some good plays, and was pretty accurate with the ball."

Bell displayed that accuracy from the opening possession, quickly moving the offense down the field with three completions to Jalen Saunders. The drive ultimately ended in a touchdown, when wide receiver Lacoltan Bester scooped up a Damien Williams fumble and raced 35 yards for the score.

(Read full post)

Jake Trotter from SoonerNation filling in today with the lunch links. Enjoy:
There were times last December when it appeared Oklahoma might have to run four- or five-receiver sets for the majority of the 2012 season.

The Sooners' tight end depth had been crippled during the 2011 season. James Hanna and Trent Ratterree were about to complete their eligibility in the Insight Bowl, Austin Haywood had left the team, and an injury forced Max Stevenson to leave the program. Those departures left no scholarship tight ends on the roster.

Now, heading into the spring game, there’s depth and optimism at the position.

[+] EnlargeTaylor McNamara
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comFreshman tight end Taylor McNamara should be a contributor for the Sooners in the fall.
Tight ends Brannon “Moose” Green and Taylor MaNamara appear poised to help the Sooners this fall after enrolling in January.

“For both of them to be here for a few months, they’ve done a wonderful job,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “They both have phenomenal hands.”

Green, a junior college transfer, has made the easiest transition into the program because of his experience at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. The best blocker of the two, at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Green should make an immediate impact in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

“He’s more of the physical, edge-presence guy,” tight ends coach Bruce Kittle said. “He’s not quite as fluid as Taylor is, but he has a great set of hands. He’s very predicable with his routes, he runs pretty good routes, and when he does get open, he catches the ball.”

While Green has proven to be more experienced and ready to play this spring, McNamara has the potential to be a factor in OU’s passing attack if he continues to improve.

“He’s got a ways to mature,” Kittle said. “It’s hard. You get punched in the face twice, on separate plays, and thrown on your back by David King ... the world is not a very nice place here some days. But you have to pick yourself up and fight through that. He keeps responding, keeps coming back.”

It’s been a rough transition for McNamara as homesickness and getting used to college life has been difficult. The early enrollee was a four-star recruit on ESPN after starring at San Diego, Calif./Westview, and picked the Sooners because he recognized the opportunity to play early and compete for championships.

“It’s quite an adjustment moving from San Diego,” Kittle said. “A couple of weeks ago he came in and said, ‘You know, I finally stopped hating OU this week.’ I didn’t know he hated it, but I knew it was pretty overwhelming for him.”

Homesickness aside, McNamara has shown flashes of the pass-catching ability that made him one of the top prep tight ends in the nation last season.

“He’s very fluid in open space, he’s a very good athlete,” Kittle said. “He’s holding his own.”

Kittle hopes McNamara can gain 10 pounds -- “he needs to get stronger," the coach says -- during the summer so he can enter fall camp at 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. Even though he has struggled with the transition to college football, McNamara has shown enough talent to make an impact in 2012.

“He was a guy who was committed to coming in early and trying to give himself an advantage,” Kittle said. “It’s important to him, he wants to play and he’s going to be one of the guys in the rotation, playing for us this fall.”
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.
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).

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