Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:00
PM ET
It's almost time for the Houston Rockets to break out those fishing poles.
  • TCU wideout Brandon Carter was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Deanna Boyd has the details.
  • Clint Trickett is still West Virginia's No. 1 QB despite not taking part in spring ball; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt explains. West Virginia MetroNews's Allan Taylor breaks down the Mountaineer running backs.
  • Kansas State defensive end Laton Dowling is pushing for playing time, reports the Topeka Capital-Journal's Tim Bisel. K-State coach Bill Snyder says Saturday's spring game is for the fans in this article from the Manhattan Mercury's Joshua Kinder.
  • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was in Kentucky and donning blue to support his brother. The Oklahoman's Don Gammill looks back at legendary Sooner coach Bud Wilkinson.
  • A refreshing wave of honesty is blowing through Austin, Texas, the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger writes.
  • A Texas commitment called rival Texas A&M "a circus."
  • Iowa State released its post-spring depth chart, and the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse analyzes what's different. La Gesse also got a spring recap from Cyclones offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.
  • Retiring Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance was candid about the firing of former coach Mike Leach, according to this report by the Amarillo Globe-News' Jon Mark Beilue.
  • Former Oklahoma State kicker Dan Bailey of the Dallas Cowboys flew with the Blue Angels.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring.

On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. On Tuesday, we reviewed five questions that remain unanswered. On Wednesday, we took a look at five surprising Sooners. Today, we highlight the five disappointing developments of the spring.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsAn injury limited what OU QB-turned-TE Blake Bell could do at his new position this spring.
Blake Bell's injury: Sooner nation was robbed of the chance to see Bell in his new tight end position after a MCL sprain forced him to miss the end of spring. It also robbed Bell of critical reps he could have used to improve at his new position. Luckily he should return in the summer, allowing him to get even more time at the position before preseason camp begins because once the Sooners start preparing for the season, all bets are off and it will be time for Bell to battle for a role in the offense.

Stanvon Taylor's development: The sophomore cornerback is a better player than he’s showing. Taylor earned the praise of Bob Stoops and Mike Stoops on signing day, as the two brothers compared him to Aaron Colvin. He stepped on campus with a hungry desire to make an impact and started against Tulsa early in his freshman season but he hasn’t made the jump you would expect from a player of his talent as a sophomore. Dakota Austin passed him on the depth chart, and Taylor currently doesn’t look like a guy who can slide into Colvin’s spot without a drop off. Taylor isn’t a bust nor is a guy who won’t contribute this fall -- he just needs to take his game to another level if he’s going fulfill the upside that made him the No. 199 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2013.

No dominant No. 2 receiver: Ideally, the Sooners would have seen one receiver emerge from the competition to show he wants to be a starter and centerpiece in OU’s passing game. Jordan Smallwood is the closest to filling that description, but he hasn’t run away from the competition with K.J. Young, Dannon Cavil and Derrick Woods among the receivers nipping at his heels. Sterling Shepard will be OU’s No. 1 target and will make plenty of plays as a junior, but someone else needs to step up as the No. 2 guy and force defenses to account for them if OU’s offense is going to really take off in 2014.

Offensive line injuries: The Sooners never really could get their entire offensive line together this spring with injuries to guard Nila Kasitati, tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Adam Shead and others during spring practices. Center Ty Darlington's smooth transition into the starting center spot got overlooked in the spring, but the uncertainty along the rest of the offensive line could hurt the Sooners in the fall or could pay off since it seasoned the overall depth of OU’s offensive front. It was a disappointing spring because a roster full of healthy bodies would have spurred competition and forced returning starters to get better, much like it did on with the Sooners’ defensive line.

Offensive production in the spring game: Baker Mayfield was the lone quarterback to pass for more than 60 yards, Daniel Brooks was the lone running back to rush for more than 30 yards and no OU receiver recorded more than 62 receiving yards. To be fair, OU didn’t exactly break out its full arsenal on offense, but more individual playmaking would have made the Sooners’ coaching staff head into the summer with more confidence. The Sooners' offense didn’t look like a unit that was overflowing with players who will make game-changing plays this fall. OU has talented skill players; they just need those guys to continue to develop and, once the games really matter, to become consistent, productive playmakers.

Big 12 spring stars, Part 1

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
9:00
AM ET
Spring football is coming to a close in the Big 12, with several players making a move in their respective programs and securing or bettering their role on the team. During the next two days, we’ll review the Big 12’s stars of the spring by taking a closer look at their pre-spring roles, spring performance and potential roles this fall.

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Pre-spring role: Oakman looked like he could be a breakout star on Baylor’s defense after recording 12.5 tackles for loss in a backup role.

What he did this spring: Oakman cemented his spot in the starting lineup and boosted the belief that he could be one of the Big 12’s top defensive linemen this fall.

What his role could be this fall: A freakish athlete at 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, Oakman has NFL ability and could show it as the key piece in Baylor’s stellar defensive line.

Quotable: “We can't block him. And I don't think anybody else will, either. It's what I've been saying all along: Our defensive line is as good as anyone's in America. He's just one of them out of six or seven that is going to be a dynamic player for us in the fall.” - Baylor coach Art Briles.

Receiver Brett Medders, Iowa State

Pre-spring role: The redshirt junior hadn’t really made an impact during his first three seasons, so not much was expected from him.

What he did this spring: Medders emerged as a legitimate option at receiver for a Cyclones offense searching for additional playmakers this spring. He had six receptions for 48 yards in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads praised Medders' performance during ISU’s spring practices.

What his role could be this fall: Even though ISU has several potential options at receiver, including true freshman Allen Lazard, Medders could have carved himself a role in Mark Mangino’s offense. He’s not a game-changing target, but could help force defenses to account for receiving threats other than Quenton Bundrage.

Receiver Nick Harwell, Kansas

Pre-spring role: The Jayhawks knew they had someone who could help them in Harwell, who was forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring from Miami (Ohio).

What he did this spring: Harwell emerged as arguably the Jayhawks’ go-to playmaker. He’s a shifty receiver who can excel in the open field. KU repeatedly tried to put the ball in his hands during its spring game, so expect that to continue this fall. The Jayhawks wanted to identify playmakers during the spring and Harwell stepped up to fill that void.

What his role could be this fall: Harwell will be Montell Cozart’s main target and should join running back Tony Pierson as KU’s top playmakers in John Reagan’s new offense.

Quotable: “You try not to get too excited because he is so competitive and he runs good routes and he catches the ball. He doesn't like getting beat in drills. He wants to go against the best guy every single time. He is the type of competitor I am used to playing with. If he comes even close to the expectation I have for him, then I think we will be pretty happy.” - KU coach Charlie Weis

Cornerback Morgan Burns, Kansas State

Pre-spring role: Burns was poised to battle for a spot in the secondary after two seasons in a backup role.

What he did this spring: While the Wildcats' spring is not over yet, Burns has worked himself into a key role while separating himself among the Wildcats’ cornerbacks, who are competing for two starting positions.

What his role could be this fall: He appears poised to be KSU’s No. 1 option at cornerback unless he takes a step backward during the four months before the season kicks off.

Safety Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma

Pre-spring role: He was very solid as a freshman, playing a role on special teams while getting spot duty on defense. Thomas was expected to battle fellow sophomore Hatari Byrd to replace Gabe Lynn at safety.

What he did this spring: Thomas showed he’s going to be on the field one way or the other with a strong spring, which he capped with several plays in the spring game. He showed the ability to line up at multiple positions in the Sooners defense, allowing OU to use him in several roles.

What his role could be this fall: Byrd had a solid spring as well, so Thomas didn’t run away with the job at safety. But it would be a surprise if Thomas is not a key contributor on OU’s defense in 2014.

ESPN 300 RB reopens recruitment 

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
11:33
PM ET
Texas A&M's highly ranked recruiting class took a hit on Wednesday as one longtime recruit decided to evaluate new options.

ESPN 300 running back Rodney Anderson said on Wednesday evening that he is reopening his recruitment to look at some new schools.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
12:00
PM ET
Played pick-up basketball last night... and lost all six games.
  • Texas coach Charlie Strong is a little too honest for his fanbase, in the opinion of the Dallas Morning News' Kevin Sherrington. The paper's Chuck Carlton got a one-on-one video interview with Strong.
  • The naming of Montell Cozart as Kansas' starting QB was all about timing, writes the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait.
  • Baylor is relishing its role as the defending Big 12 champs.
  • TCU defensive end Devonte Fields has returned better than ever, writes Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Lindy Berry, a former TCU All-American QB, passed away at 86.
  • Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads wants a starting quarterback named by mid-August, reports the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
  • The Kansas State running back competition continues, according to the Manhattan Mercury's Joshua Kinder. The Wildcats are looking for more out of linebacker Charmeachealle Moore, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Ken Corbitt.
  • Oklahoma lost another commitment, its second in the last week. The Sooners are hoping to land this blue-chip kicker. An Alabama transfer offensive lineman chose Ohio State over Oklahoma. Bob Stoops weighs in on whether transfer QB Baker Mayfield will be on scholarship.
  • West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is a fan of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, but wonders if it's going to be reformed, reports Dave Hickman of the Charleston Gazette. Allan Taylor of the West Virginia MetroNews Network addresses whether the Mountaineers receiving corps can regain its swagger.
  • Coach Kliff Kingsbury said incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes is likely to be Texas Tech's No. 2 QB behind starter Davis Webb.
  • Big 12 coaches don't see players as employees, The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports.
  • Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy sees the College Football Playoff eventually going to eight teams, according to the Austin American-Statesman's Kevin Lyttle. Gundy also thinks college football is becoming more time consuming for players, reports the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines.
  • The Dallas Morning News wraps up spring ball for Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring. On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. On Tuesday, we reviewed five questions that remain unanswered. Today, we look at five players who surprised this spring.

Running back Alex Ross: The sophomore made it clear he plans to be a part of OU’s offense this fall. He had a solid spring and was consistently mentioned as a playmaker after Sooners’ scrimmages. It was an important spring for Ross, who was passed on the depth chart by Keith Ford last season and will watch highly touted signees Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon arrive this summer. Ross needed to seize the opportunity to remind people he was a highly touted signee as well and that’s exactly what he did.

“He’s playing explosively,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “He’s just having fun playing. He gets the ball in his hands and he’s down the field real quick. It’s good to watch.”

[+] EnlargeHatari Byrd
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSophomore safety Hatari Byrd looks poised to make an impact in the secondary this season.
Safety Hatari Byrd: The sophomore moved seamlessly into the Sooners’ secondary and looks ready to be a key contributor, even if he doesn’t end up starting. He brings a hungry attitude and a will to succeed to OU’s secondary. Byrd saw limited time on defense as a true freshman but he sure looked at home alongside Quentin Hayes at the safety spot and joins Ahmad Thomas to give OU a pair of quality young safeties to compete for playing time this fall. Byrd’s smooth transition into the defensive system was a pleasant surprise for Sooners’ fans.

“He’s stepping up, coming down and making plays,” linebacker Eric Striker said.

Receiver K.J. Young: Fellow redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood has gotten a lot of the accolades but Young looks poised to be a contributor in OU’s offense in the fall. He’s a smooth operator in the slot and can make plays when he gets the ball in his hands. Young didn’t separate himself in the spring game but he has all the tools to emerge as a quality receiving option for Knight in 2014. He’s gets overlooked at times but has the type of playmaking skills that can separate him from the competition.

Linebacker Jordan Evans: The sophomore is poised to provide depth and add athleticism to the Sooners linebacker corps. The Norman (Okla.) native played several positions in high school and his versatility shines through at linebacker. He’s very comfortable in space yet is willing to play physical if needed. If Evans continues to perform like he did this spring, the Sooners could end up having to find a place for him in their defensive system.

“He has played great,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Jordan has really improved and is much more sound and disciplined in schemes and where he needs to be. He has got great range and great athleticism.”

Cornerback Dakota Austin: The sophomore didn’t enter the spring as the favorite to replace Aaron Colvin but the job could be his to lose after a strong spring showing. He’s undersized but competitive and solid in coverage, which helped him surpass Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson, a pair of returning cornerbacks who started games in 2013. Austin hasn’t locked down the starting spot but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him team with Zack Sanchez as OU’s starting cornerbacks for the season opener.

Big 12 coaches talk major issues

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
5:21
PM ET

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The mercurial state of college football could be summed up by listening to Big 12 coaches respond to questions Monday as spring practices draw to a close.

What was once an opportunity to discuss X's and O's, the hotshot freshman or a new starting quarterback instead became a discussion of whether players are employees, the perils and merits of transfers, and the money associated with the new format for college football's playoff.

Perhaps nobody in the Big 12 is better able to characterize the changes to the game than Bill Snyder, who took over at Kansas State in 1988 and has been witness to the shifting landscape.

Take the issue of whether players are university employees, a hot-button issue after players at Northwestern sought to form a union. A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board has said that they meet the definition of employees under federal law. The university has filed an appeal, saying it provided "overwhelming evidence" that players are "students first."

Players are set to vote by secret ballot Friday on whether to form a union.

"I haven't thought about it that way," Snyder said. "I consider them to be young men going through a stage in their life where they're trying to formulate a foundation to be successful in life. I don't see it any other way right now."

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoop was even more succinct: "If they're employees," he argued, "I guess you get to fire them, and I never want to do that to a young man."

"I look at them as part of our family in a way," Stoops said, "and that we're here to support them and help them in every way possible, and help guide them and help them get their education and develop them to be as good of athletes as they want to be."


(Read full post)


Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' words are a small glimpse into the Sooners’ approach on the recruiting trail, which has helped land them several players who outperformed expectations during his tenure in Norman, Okla.

Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, top-five NFL draft pick Lane Johnson and FBS all-time receptions leader Ryan Broyles are just a few players who exceeded the production of other highly regarded recruits in their class.

“We’re very aware when we see very good football players, and they may not have all the stars or may not fit any one particular position,” Stoops said during Tuesday’s Big 12 teleconference. “But we love the way they play, they’re smart, they have size, they can play multiple positions.”

OU may have found another one in its 2014 class. Fullback Dimitri Flowers, who enrolled early and participated in spring drills, has already started carving a role in the Sooners’ plans for 2014. Flowers could help fill the void left by Trey Millard, a four-year starter and critical contributor.

“This is the first guy in three years that we felt reminded us of Trey Millard because they aren’t easy to find,” Stoops said. “We get him on campus and he’s everything and more than we thought he would be. We’re elated with all the things he can do and how similar he is to Trey Millard and all the versatility Trey gave to us.”

Flowers spent a lot of time with the first-team offense during OU’s spring game before a injury knocked him out of the scrimmage. The hyper-extended knee is not expected to keep Flowers from participating in summer workouts or preseason camp.

If Flowers is as good as advertised he could team with returning fullback Aaron Ripkowski to give the Sooners a pair of quality blockers as they try to match their 223.9 rushing yards per game average from 2013.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:00
PM ET
The Grizzlies eventually won, but this shot was insane.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring. On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. Today, we move on to five questions that remain unanswered.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight is already a good QB, as evidenced by his play last season but now he needs to take the next step in his development.
Which Trevor Knight will trigger the Sooners this fall? Knight left no doubt how good he could be after his MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Now the OU quarterback needs to answer how good he is over the course of a season. It’s easy to forget Knight is just a sophomore with plenty of developing to do if he plans to become one of the Big 12’s top signal-callers. His subpar spring game is an example, as he finished with 53 passing yards and one interception during a disappointing showing. Transforming from a good quarterback to a great quarterback is the next step in Knight’s progression.

Who will be the starting running back? The competition promises to continue into August, but don't be surprised if it continues deep into the season. OU has plenty of good options including sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross, but this competition could be decided by what the Sooners' running backs do without the ball in their hands. Ross had an excellent spring but didn’t star in the spring game while Ford showed he can play at a Big 12 level as a freshman. The running back battle could be the most exciting battle to monitor this fall.

How will Ahmad Thomas be used? The sophomore has really come on since the middle of last season. He saw time against Alabama and held his own, then built upon that performance with a strong spring. It would be a surprise if he’s not a major contributor on OU’s defense; it’s just a matter of where he plays. Thomas is a versatile defensive back who can play safety or nickelback. He’s the type of guy the Sooners can leave on the field -- regardless of the offense they’re facing -- and feel confident he will make an positive impact against the run or pass.

Who will back up Knight? Baker Mayfield is the obvious choice … in 2015. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the standout of the spring game and will have Knight feeling like his starting spot is never secure when he becomes eligible to play for the Sooners after sitting out the 2014 season. This fall, however, Knight’s backup remains a question mark. Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas looks like he could develop into a quality quarterback, and the new NCAA rules will allow the Sooners to quicken his development like never before. Thomas should be considered the favorite to win the No. 2 job but Justice Hansen's decision to enroll early has allowed him to get one spring under his belt and he could arrive in the fall much more comfortable than the average freshman. This is another battle that could last deep into August.

Who will make big plays in the passing game? Austin Bennett. Blake Bell. Jordan Smallwood. Durron Neal. K.J. Young. Those names could emerge as key targets for Knight this fall but none of them have locked down a spot in the offense quite yet. Smallwood, who probably had the best spring of the bunch, will undoubtedly play a role but OU needs someone to emerge as a legit, consistent threat alongside Sterling Shepard or risk watching one of the Big 12’s top returning receivers be double teamed constantly.

Big 12 recruiting update: 2015

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
9:00
AM ET
With spring football all wrapped up, college coaches are back on the road recruiting from now until May 31. Here’s an update on where the Big 12 classes stand entering the spring evaluation period. Also, remember to check out the RecruitingNation team and follow the On the Trail blog:

BAYLOR

4-star: WR John Humphrey Jr.; WR Devontre Stricklin; ATH Louis Brown; WR Chad President; RB Ja’Mycal Hasty; ATH Blake Lynch

3-star: OT Sam Tecklenburg

Other: OT Maurice Porter

The skinny: Baylor’s class is ranked No. 15 nationally, and no program in this conference has more ESPN 300 commitments than BU’s six. Hasty and Humphrey are perfect fits for what the Bears do on offense, and Humphrey might be the fastest prospect in the state of Texas. After loading up on offensive talent, expect some defensive pledges in the next few months.

IOWA STATE

4-star: None

3-star: None

Other: OLB Bobby McMillen

The skinny: More than two months after landing McMillen, the Cyclones have yet to add a second pledge.

KANSAS

4-star: None

3-star: None

Other: None

The skinny: Kansas hosted plenty of recruits this spring, but still no verbal commitments so far.

KANSAS STATE

4-star: None

3-star: QB Alex Delton

Other: None

The skinny: Delton remains the only pledge in this class, but he’s a good one. ESPN scouts praise his athleticism and instincts but want to see him make some mechanical fixes before he gets on KSU’s campus.

OKLAHOMA

4-star: DT Marquise Overton; TE Bobby Evans; S Jamile Johnson Jr.

3-star: DT Du’Vonta Lampkin

Other: None

The skinny: Oklahoma’s post-Sugar Bowl recruiting moment took a hit when ESPN 300 lineman Joshua Wariboko decommitted last week, but the Sooners are still in the running for him as well as some of the best prospects in Oklahoma and Texas. Wariboko wants to play in college with his younger brother, 2016 CB Max Wariboko, so it might take offering both to get the offensive guard back on board.

OKLAHOMA STATE

4-star: RB Ronald Jones II; QB John Kolar; OG Johnny Wilson

3-star: DT Taaj Bakari

Other: None

The skinny: The newly released ESPN 300 was very friendly to the Cowboys. Jones chose OSU this month over Baylor, Oklahoma, Oregon, Ohio State, USC and Notre Dame, and he’s now ranked No. 3 among all running back prospects. Kolar was a huge riser in the rankings and is now the nation’s No. 3 pocket passer. Bakari, the most recent pledge, was a nice interior addition.

TCU

4-star: None

3-star: WR Tony James; WR Jarrison Stewart; OLB Alec Dunham; DE Breylin Mitchell

Other: DT Joseph Broadnax; WR J.F. Thomas; ILB Semaj Thomas; ATH Tre’Vontae Hights; OT Cody Ford

The skinny: TCU is off to a really nice start with nine commitments, highlighted by pledges from four future receivers. That’s just what the Frogs’ new offense needs. James might be one of the most underrated athletes in Texas, but the same could be said of several of these recruits. Considering this staff’s reputation for talent evaluation, don’t be shocked if a few of these TCU commits end up as four-stars when it’s all said and done.

TEXAS

4-star: S DeShon Elliott; OT Toby Weathersby; OG Patrick Vahe; RB Tristian Houston; RB Jordan Stevenson; OT Ronnie Major

3-star: DT Bryce English; RB Kirk Johnson; DE Charles Omenihu

Other: CB Keivon Ramsey

The skinny: The Longhorns are now in great shape at running back after landing Houston and Johnson in the same week, and Johnson’s coveted younger brother, 2016 WR Collin Johnson, also committed last week. Ramsey made his pledge at the spring game and is another hard hitter for the secondary. Texas would have 12 commitments now, but early pledges CB Jalen Campbell and S Johnny Shaw were taken off the list and will get a chance to re-earn their offers in summer camp.

TEXAS TECH

4-star: QB Jarrett Stidham; DT Breiden Fehoko

3-star: None

Other: ILB D’Vonta Hinton; RB Corey Dauphine; OT Trace Ellison; OG Lio Lafaele

The skinny: Landing Stidham was huge, but Fehoko is another top-50 recruit who followed in his brother’s footsteps and will work hard to recruit for this class. He can play anywhere on a defensive line. Even at 5-foot-10, Hinton is one of the state’s most talented linebackers. The Red Raiders have a chance to put together one of their best classes in a long time.

WEST VIRGINIA

4-star: WR Jovon Durante; S Kendrell McFadden

3-star: ATH Jordan Adams; ATH Jacquez Adams; WR Kahlil Lewis; RB William Cameron; OG Matt Jones; Stone Wolfley

Other: S Kevin Williams; S Sheldrick Redwine

The skinny: Thanks to its efforts in Florida, WVU is off to an excellent start with this 10-man class. The tricky part will be holding on to some of these recruits, especially Durante. The No. 120 overall recruit visited Alabama this weekend and reportedly came very close to committing. That flip could be coming soon unless the Mountaineers coaching staff can convince him to stay put.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
12:00
PM ET
A great moment.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively injury free and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring, starting with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices.

The defensive line is as good as advertised: Junior Charles Tapper didn't rest on his laurels after a breakout, All-Big 12 sophomore season. He’ll enter the fall as one of the Big 12’s top defensive ends and is a legitimate difference-maker on OU’s defensive front. His strength, speed and athleticism could push him into the fight to be an All-American if his development continues.

Senior defensive end Geneo Grissom appears ready to fulfill the recruiting hype that followed him onto campus, senior defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue is a veteran presence, sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Wade is strong in the middle and junior defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is on the road to recovery after missing the majority of the 2013 season with a back injury. The depth of the defensive line is expanding as well, with redshirt freshmen Matt Romar and Charles Walker bringing competition inside during spring drills and sophomores Matt Dimon and Mike Onuoha adding depth on the outside.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Robin Alam/Icon SMIEric Striker hasn't seemed to miss a beat since his Sugar Bowl breakout.
The defense could be the most versatile in years: The Sooners' savvy decision to tinker with some of their defensive stars and move guys around in the defensive system this spring should pay off in the fall. Grissom spent time at linebacker alongside Eric Striker, who played some nickelback during the 15 practices. Both players will be core members of OU’s defense in 2014 but the spring was spent trying find the Sooners' best 11 defenders for every situation. Challenging its best players to be more versatile will help defensive coordinator Mike Stoops adapt to the various offenses the Big 12 has to offer this fall. Putting its best players in the best position to make plays could make this defense even stronger.

The Class of 2013 is better than expected: It seemed like OU scrambled to put together its 2013 recruiting class, yet the group started showing signs it was better than anticipated last season. This spring, they further cemented that belief with several sophomores or redshirt freshmen fighting to be major contributors. Receiver Jordan Smallwood, cornerback Dakota Austin, safety Ahmad Thomas and linebacker Jordan Evans are just a few of the members of that class who could be poised for breakout seasons in 2014 after a strong spring showing.

Fullback/tight end Dimitri Flowers was the hidden gem of the Class of 2014: We haven’t even reached three months after signing day, yet Flowers already looks like a diamond in the rough. Comparisons to Trey Millard began early in spring practices and increased from that point. While his versatility, size, blocking and receiving prowess immediately impressed, Flowers showed an ability to pick up the Sooners' offensive concepts and operated like a veteran. It's put him on the road to becoming a valuable asset in OU’s offense as a freshman. When they see Flowers for the first time this fall, there’s a chance opposing Big 12 defensive coordinators will accuse the Sooners of trying to get four more years out of the former All-Big 12 fullback by simply changing Millard’s jersey number and renaming him.

Striker is going to make life miserable for Big 12 quarterbacks: The junior picked up right where he left off after embarrassing Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio with three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He looked active, energetic and quick in the spring game, recording back-to-back sacks early in the third quarter. Striker was going against backup linemen, but there’s a good chance he’s going to be a pest to every Big 12 lineman he faces this fall.
We've been doing something different with the mailbag, including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...

Trotter: At this point, I think it's only a matter of time before Grant Rohach is named the starter. He was clearly the best QB in the spring game, and coming off the way he played at the end of last season, momentum is in his corner. I know the Cyclones are high on the potential of redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, and Rohach will have to perform once the season begins to keep the job, but at this point, it's difficult envisioning anyone other than Rohach starting the opener against North Dakota State.

Trotter: Texas' Cedric Reed, Kansas State's Ryan Mueller, Oklahoma's Charles Tapper, TCU's Devonte Fields and Baylor's Shawn Oakman. On the next tier, I'd have Oklahoma's Geneo Grissom, Texas Tech's Branden Jackson, Iowa State's Cory Morrissey and Oklahoma State's Jimmy Bean.

Trotter: My two darkhorse picks at this point would be Texas Tech and TCU. Schedule is a big part of this, and Tech gets Oklahoma and Texas at home, and Baylor in Arlington, Texas. If the Red Raiders could escape a September Thursday night clash at Oklahoma State, then they could be a factor. QB Davis Webb has made tremendous improvement since December, and he's going to have plenty of firepower surrounding him. Assuming Fields is back to his old self, the Horned Frogs will again be a formidable defense. The big question, as always, is, can they score enough points? But if Matt Joeckel can step in at QB and direct what is essentially the same offense he had at Texas A&M to respectability, TCU could be a handful.

Trotter: Charlie Strong can't get destroyed by Oklahoma. Can't enter any fourth quarter without a legitimate chance to win. Can't lose more than three games. If he avoids those three potholes, he has chance to take Texas a step forward. To me, that's the litmus test.

Trotter: Anytime a team loses its leading tackler, it hurts. Fortunately for the Sooners, they're deep at linebacker, and can absorb a key loss there better than they'd be able to at some other positions. Jordan Evans played well as a true freshman, and shined in place of Shannon in the spring game. A linebacking corps of Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Dominique Alexander, sack-master Eric Striker and Evans would still be stout. Of course, it would be even better with Shannon.

Trotter: That's a tough question. It was startling how much the K-State defense suffered when Ty Zimmerman wasn't on the field last year, but I have faith Dante Barnett is ready to assume a leadership role in that secondary and stabilize the defense. I have less faith right now in K-State's running backs. So far this spring, no one has really emerged from a crop of backs with almost no meaningful experience. The K-State attack has always been predicated on a strong running game, so this is no small issue. Maybe freshman Dalvin Warmack can jumpstart the position when he arrives this summer. But running back looks like the biggest question on a solid-looking team with not many questions elsewhere.
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners 15 practices answered some questions, but others remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman. We took a look at offense and defense earlier this week. We end the series on Friday with special teams.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard should be able to step up and fill the void left in OU's return game by the departure of Jalen Saunders.
Kicker

Pre-spring: Already considered among the nation’s best, Michael Hunnicutt is locked in as the Sooners’ starting kicker.

Post-spring: Not only should the Sooners feel great about Hunnicutt, he showed increased kicking prowess in the spring game. Long-range field goals have not been a strength for the 2013 Lou Groza Award semifinalist during his first three years, but he nailed two 40-plus yard field goals in the spring game, including a 53-yarder, although it was wind-aided.

Summer outlook: OU heads into the summer knowing it has one of the nation’s best kickers.

Punter

Pre-spring: Jed Barnett returns after his first season as OU’s punter, averaging 41.7 yards per punt.

Post-spring: Much like kicker, there's not much to see here. Barnett was solid during his first season and returns to give OU solid punting in his final year on campus. OU should exit the spring feeling good about both kicking positions.

Summer outlook: Barnett is a very solid punter and heads into the summer as the clear No. 1 guy. There’s no reason to think that will change.

Returners

Pre-spring: The Sooners lose all of their returners. Receiver Jalen Saunders was dynamic on punt returns and running backs Roy Finch and Brennan Clay were very productive kick returners. With that, there are plenty of questions about who will return kicks.

Post-spring:Receiver Sterling Shepard is in line to return punts. He was a superb punt returner in high school and has proven playmaking ability. Cornerback Zack Sanchez could also be an option as a punt returner this fall. Kick returns could be a good fit for running back Alex Ross or running back Daniel Brooks among several other young and talented options.

Summer outlook: OU will start finalizing its return game in August. Plenty of talented freshmen could get the opportunity, with Shepard looking like the lone frontrunner for any of the return positions.

“When we get our whole football team on here in the summer, that’s when I’ll identify and make final decisions on that,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said of potential punt and kick returners. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of guys who are busting their butts right now. We won’t make any final decisions until towards the end of fall camp.”

Punt/kick coverage

Pre-spring: OU’s coverage teams could improve after allowing 15.6 yards per punt return and 23.28 yards per kick return in 2013. But OU’s coverage overall was pretty solid and its coverage units allowed then-freshmen like Ahmad Thomas, Dakota Austin and Keith Ford to get their feet wet and contribute during their first seasons.

Post-spring: Much like the returners, Boulware will be looking to finalize these units after the freshmen arrive. One key to keep an eye on will be OU’s attempt to replace Trey Millard, who was a special teams monster during his four seasons. Freshman Dimitri Flowers appears ready to help replace Millard on offense but Boulware said he’s not certain if the early enrollee can match Millard’s contributions on special teams as well.

Summer outlook: Special teams coverage units can be a way for true freshmen to get their foot in the door. Boulware likes the overall speed and athleticism on the roster this spring, so adding additional, hungry freshmen into the mix should help OU be able to field some of the quickest and more athletic coverage units in the Big 12 in 2014. The battle for special teams spots should be interesting to watch and could provide a glimpse at the young guys who could be the future on offense and defense.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Spring Game Wrap-Up
Spring games across the country offer fans a first look at teams in the new season and a final chance for players to shine before summer camps.Tags: Spring Game, Wrap-Up, Jared Shanker, Edward Aschoff, Matt Fortuna, Austin Ward, Brandon Chatmon, Josh Moyer, Kyle Bonagura
VIDEO PLAYLIST video