Offensive returner ready to take next step: Hate to state the obvious here, but David Ash needs to take one big step in the right direction this spring. After playing in only three games last seasonr due to concussion issues, Ash will be cleared for full practice participation and wear a green no-contact jersey. His return to the weight room this winter was encouraging, but he has a brand-new offense to master and has a new quarterbacks coach for the third straight season. He needs to get comfortable and confident once again this spring.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Plenty to choose from, but cornerback Antwuan Davis stands out. Former coach Mack Brown was very tempted to throw the freshman from Bastrop, Texas, on the field in 2013 but held off. Great measurables, track speed and a fiery competitiveness make Davis a second-year guy capable of fighting his way into a role in this secondary.
Most significant position battle: We outlined that in this post, but it’s worth repeating: kicker and punter. With consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award finalist Anthony Fera gone, Texas faces some big question marks at both spots. New special teams coach Chris Vaughn wants to see all his options in action and put each kicker and punter through pressure situations to see who comes out on top.
Key midterm enrollee: This is a shorter list than usual this year, as only three signees joined the program in January. But tight end Blake Whiteley will be the most interesting to watch. The Arizona Western Community College transfer has everything you’d want in the size department -- 6-foot-5, 245 pounds -- and was a 1,000-yard receiver during his high school days. Texas hasn’t had a feared pass catcher at that spot in a long time.
Question that could be answered: Which players can hang with the new brand of Texas football? That’s been the critical question throughout offseason workouts, and Strong and his staff will get much more definitive answers in the next month. Those who can keep up will stand out. Those who can’t might not be on the roster much longer. Expect some attrition after spring ball ends, as is often the case with new regimes.
Question that won’t be answered until fall: The quarterback job. It’s possible USC transfer Max Wittek does not reach a final decision on his destination until April or May, and freshman Jerrod Heard arrives not long after that. Both will make a run at the job (if Wittek chooses UT), and we won’t know where things stand with Ash’s long-term health until he starts taking hits again. He won’t see any in spring ball, that’s for sure. Texas coaches are excited about having Ash for two more seasons, but they’ll also put a high value on competition.
Isn't it about time we see more Pac-12 vs. SEC nonconference matchups in the regular season?
Texas A&M and UCLA certainly think so, as they've inked a home-and-home series for 2016 and 2017. UCLA will come to Kyle Field in 2016, and Texas A&M will return the visit to the Rose Bowl in 2017.
It's rare that we see a Pac-12-SEC matchup in the regular season and even rarer when they play home and home. LSU and Oregon met a few years back in Arlington, Texas, and Tennessee and Oregon just completed a home-and-home series.
But to see Texas A&M and UCLA going on the road to face each other is a refreshing sign, not to mention a sign of things to come in the College Football Playoff era. We're sure to see more of these types of matchups with strength of schedule being weighted so heavily by the selection committee.
Here's a look at some of the higher-profile nonconference games on tap the next few years involving SEC teams:
- Alabama vs. West Virginia, in Atlanta
- Ole Miss vs. Boise State, in Atlanta
- LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Texas
- Tennessee at Oklahoma
- Clemson at Georgia
- Arkansas at Texas Tech
- Auburn at Kansas State
- Alabama vs. Wisconsin, Arlington, Texas
- Texas A&M vs. Arizona State, in Houston, Texas
- Oklahoma at Tennessee
- South Carolina vs. North Carolina, in Charlotte, N.C.
- Auburn vs. Louisville, in Atlanta
- Texas Tech at Arkansas
- UCLA at Texas A&M
- Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech, in Bristol, Tenn.
- LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Green Bay, Wis.
- Texas A&M at UCLA
- Florida vs. Michigan, in Arlington, Texas
- Purdue at Missouri
- North Carolina State at LSU
- Georgia Tech at Ole Miss
The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.
On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.
Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:
When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.
Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.
2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.
The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.
With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.
3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.
Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.
We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.
4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.
The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.
We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.
5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.
The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.
A vacant sign would be the best representation of the Sooners backup quarterback spot with Blake Bell's move to tight end and Kendal Thompson's decision to transfer to Utah.
“It’s opened that window of opportunity for him to get those reps, and I’m sure it will be the most a guy like that’s been able to get [at OU],” head coach Bob Stoops said. “But watching Justice work out, he fits the part of being here and belonging, so we’ll be excited to get him those snaps and seeing how he does.”
Questions about Thomas tend to revolve around his ability to juggle his football and baseball duties. He was solid while running the scout team last fall but will have to manage his time well to excel behind center this spring.
“Coach Pete [Hughes] and Josh [Heupel], they’ve already communicated really well through the winter,” Stoops said. “We want him to have success at both and I know they want him to have it too. So we’ll do the best we can to manage it. So far, it hasn’t been a problem.”
Three practices into the spring, the Sooners feel positive about the progress of Hansen and Thomas alongside Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who is ineligible to play this fall but has already made a strong impression in crimson and cream.
“Justice being here, Cody being involved in spring practice, those guys have done a lot of good things,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “They’ve taken their understanding to a new level and [are] spreading the ball around. We’re going to need more than one quarterback to play well for us to win games. Those guys have made some good strides in three days.”
No battle for a backup spot on the depth chart is more important in Norman, Okla., this spring. The nightmare scenario for the Sooners would be watching an injury to Knight derail what could have been a national title run in the fall.
“It’ll be a big part our team’s success, is those guys coming around and getting a really good and consistent feel of what we want them to do at the quarterback position,” Stoops said. “It’ll really important that we do a good job with them and make sure they work hard in the spring.”
- The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch answers five burning questions about Iowa State this spring.
- Texas Tech running Kenny Williams is playing both ways this spring, reports the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. Redshirt freshman Josh Outlaw has been moved from guard to tackle this spring.
- Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill chose the Cowboys because he could play football and run track, according to this profile by The Oklahoman's Cody Stavehagen.
- Ex-Oklahoma running back Roy Finch showed scouts he can be an NFL player by running a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, the Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports. Damien Williams has no hard feelings with the Sooners after being kicked off the team late last season. Williams was allowed to run in OU's pro day. Former OU cornerback Aaron Colvin, who tore his ACL at the Senior Bowl, is hoping to be sprinting again by April 23.
- Former Oklahoma State linebacker Shaun Lewis is ready to make an impression at his pro day, The Oklahoman's John Helsley writes.
- The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin says former TCU QB Casey Pachall has as much mental toughness as any QB in the draft.
Assistant head coach/defensive line
Rumph must get this question a lot: What’s it like at Alabama?
Actually, the inquiry probably sounds more like this: No, what’s it really like at Alabama?
And it’s probably safe to say he gets lots of questions about Nick Saban, too.
“He has a method to his madness and you can’t knock it,” Rumph said. “Whatever you want to say about it, you can’t knock it. Because it works.”
What’s the secret to Bama’s success? This will sound cliché, of course, but Rumph believes much of what makes the difference comes down to two big things: Accountability and attention to detail.
At Alabama, those are the core standards. At Texas, it’s a must if you want to play for Rumph.
“If I tell you that you need to walk one mile,” Rumph said, “and you walk a half mile, I’ve got issues with that. I think that’s the difference for some programs.
“We say get behind the line. Everybody better be behind the line. We say run 10 yards. You better run 10 yards. Not eight, not nine. A lot of places that aren’t successful are that nine yards, that ‘He ran hard but he only ran nine yards, he didn’t run 10 yards.’ I see the same thing here. We tell those guys it’s attention to detail. It’s about the little things, about doing your job.”
It’s like a dam, he says. All it takes is one little crack that goes overlooked and, over time, the dam busts.
Crimson Tide players had to be dedicated to doing things the right way every single time. When you do a squat in the weight room, Rumph said, it better be the best squat ever. You better dominate that squat, and then do it again. That’s how you build toward big things.
“Stop being so result-oriented,” Rumph said. “I tell my guys, don’t worry about making 10 sacks. Don’t worry about 20 sacks. Just the process to get there.”
Even with Alabama’s gigantic turnaround under Saban, Rumph proudly says Texas is the “best university in the universe.” How quickly the Longhorns regain their national prestige will depend on how quickly the players buy into what Rumph and the coaches are demanding.
As he put it: “We want to make the most feared statement in college football: ‘We play Texas next.’”
Defensive backs/special teams
When you dedicate eight years of your career to being a recruiting coordinator in the SEC, you learn a few things along the way.
Four years of those duties at Arkansas and four more at Ole Miss gave Vaughn a wealth of knowledge about how to win a kid over. The key, he says, is knowing that convincing the recruit is a small piece of the pie.
Recruiting is a game of relationships, a lesson that Vaughn learned over and over and was reinforced by his 13 years of working with former head coach Houston Nutt.
“We all sound like car salesmen, of course, because we want to sell our university and what we believe in,” Vaughn said. “But it’s the mom and dad, the grandmother, the uncle, that when all the schools come in, they see through what’s on the side of the helmet or what type of shoes you’re wearing or the people sitting in the stadium.
“They just want to know somebody is going to take care of their baby. I think that’s one thing I really learned from Houston: You’ve got to build relationships with the family. At the end of the day, that young man is going to ask a family member close to them, ‘What do you think?’”
Vaughn, who will recruit southeast Texas and Louisiana for Texas, has ties all over the South from his past gigs. Those should pay dividends in the instances when the Longhorns staff looks outside the state for talent.
One talent Vaughn always likes to see when he’s out evaluating recruits: Wrestlers.
Back in his days at Godby High in Tallahassee, Fla., Vaughn was runner-up in the state wrestling championship. He was an undersized 195-pounder in the 220-pound class, and he didn’t lose often.
“If a guy is a good wrestler, as a football player, that carries a little weight with me,” he said. “If he’s good, I know he’s dedicated, know he’s a hard worker, know he loves to compete and doing the little things are important to him.”
And when it comes to recruiting, those little things can make all the difference.
As a result, Petty will go into his senior season as the clear-cut favorite to repeat.
But is there anyone else in the league capable of threatening his reign?
That receiver -- Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett -- could become Petty’s biggest challenger, especially if the Wildcats emerge as contenders for the Big 12 title. Despite missing two games because of injury, Lockett finished third in the conference in receiving yards (1,262) and receptions (81) last season. He led the league in receiving yards per game and became virtually uncoverable late in the season, when quarterback Jake Waters also found his passing stride. Lockett torched Oklahoma for 278 receiving yards and three touchdowns, then hauled in another three touchdowns two games later in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Michigan.
Lockett, however, isn’t the only player who could push for the award, especially if quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Davis Webb build on the way they played at the end of their freshman seasons.
In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Knight shredded two-time defending national champ Alabama while leading Oklahoma to a stunning 45-31 victory. Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and finally performed the way the Sooners thought he would when he beat out favorite Blake Bell for the starting job before the season.
Webb was just as impressive in Texas Tech's victory over double-digit favorite Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Webb completed 28 of 41 passes and threw for four touchdowns, tying a Holiday Bowl record. He finished with the league’s third-best Adjusted QBR behind Petty and second-team All-Big 12 performer Clint Chelf.
The league’s top five rushers from last season are out of eligibility. But after taking over for injured starter Johnathan Gray, Texas' Malcolm Brown showed he could be a reliable workhorse running back able to move the chains. In his final three games last season, Brown rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards. With Gray’s health in question as he attempts to return from a ruptured Achilles' tendon, Brown could open the 2014 season as the primary back again.
In addition to Petty, Baylor has two other big-time playmakers coming back in receiver Antwan Goodley, who led the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns last season with 13, and running back Shock Linwood, who was sixth in the Big 12 in rushing in 2013 with 881 yards despite being Baylor’s third-team running back.
There are several dark horses to watch as well, including Gray, Oklahoma running back Keith Ford and West Virginia running back Rushel Shell.
But we put the question to you via a poll: Who is the biggest threat to Petty repeating as Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year?
Fans and recruits could circle the date on their calendars, young players and new coaches saw it as the first opportunity to make a lasting impression.
This spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy raised eyebrows when the Cowboys announced their “Orange Blitz” open practice session would replace their traditional Orange-White spring game. TCU has rarely held a traditional spring game under Gary Patterson, with the Horned Frogs preferring intra-squad scrimmages.
Patterson values the opportunity to watch other team’s spring games on television but refuses to give other coaches that advantage over his team and doesn’t view the event as essential for the Horned Frogs program. TCU has not finalized its plan for this spring, but a traditional spring game seems unlikely.
Although his program normally holds an event, OSU opened the spring with a young, battered roster, which was the main reason for Gundy’s decision to shun a spring game this year. For Gundy, engaging fans with a spring game had to take a backseat to the overall development of the young players in the program during the 15 practices the Cowboys will hold in March and April.
“At some point I have to make a decision based on what's best for our team first and then our fans and people that follow us second,” Gundy said earlier this week.
Other Big 12 coaches point to health concerns as obstacles to holding a traditional spring game featuring two separate squads.
“Spring games are always a trying time due to depth at certain positions,” said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who will hold KU’s spring game on April 12. “Concern for injuries is always an issue, not being able to field two entire competitive teams is a problem.”
Postponing the spring game can become a real option, particularly after losing a large class of seniors off the roster thus crippling the overall depth of the program until February signees arrive in the summer. Quarterbacks end up switching teams in the middle of the game, a lack of available linemen waters down the quality of the action and fears of a season-changing injury can cloud these spring finales.
“Everyone says, ‘Well I would love to have a draft and have my guys go on each side of the ball,’” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You can’t, you don’t have the personnel. Sometimes you have so many injuries or you may be thin that you can’t afford to have a spring game and get somebody hurt. Some other years, when we are a little bit down, I don’t want to take a chance on it. It is all great until someone gets hurt and blows a knee out, and then it is, ‘Why did I do that?’”
The Sooners are one of the Big 12 programs that are all-in on the spring game, selling tickets to the event, televising the action and creating a game-like atmosphere at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But even OU dumbs down the efficiency of the actual football in the game, sitting starters and simplifying schemesto avoid lurkers, such as Patterson, who are aiming to gain useful tidbits on the Sooners that they can use in the fall.
Even with all those drawbacks, the spring game remains valuable for the majority of the conference, with several Big 12 coaches pointing toward the game-like atmosphere, not to mention the recruiting value, of the traditional spring game as assets too useful to ignore.
“I think it's great for the fans,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You only get six home games in the regular season, sometimes we only get five some years. So to have another game at Jones Stadium so that everyone can come back and tailgate, have some festivities, I think it's great for the university and great for the fan base. And I like to see our players when the lights come on. Anybody can do it in practice, but when the lights come on and there's some pressure and people are watching, let's see how you perform."
Kansas State won’t kick off its spring drills until April 2 but will hold its spring game on April 26. Head coach Bill Snyder believes the tradition of the spring game outweighs any cons.
“The positive attributes of having a spring game for us include tradition, for our young people and our fan base, the benefits it provides our local community and the experience our players get by playing in front of a large crowd,” he said.
Charlie Strong is convinced his team can still get quality work done with a traditional spring game. The Longhorns will hold their version on April 19, with UT’s new head coach convinced it will be just another day for his players to get better.
“The most important thing is that the spring game is another opportunity to get out on the field and coach your team,” Strong said. “It's another practice, more reps and more video to look at as you get ready for the season. It is the final spring practice and having a chance to go in the stadium with a great crowd gives you an opportunity to see how the team responds to that as well."
Realistically, while opinions about the spring game vary when it comes to its value in terms of developing the current roster for the upcoming season, its recruiting value cannot be understated. There is no better spring event to put all the positives of the program on full display and intrigue potential recruits to make a special trip to campus.
“When you can bring players in and see people in the stands cheering and excited, it really helps,” Kingsbury said.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M has only had a week's worth of spring practice. There are still many months to come until the Aggies are even close to naming a starting quarterback, but the battle to become the next signal-caller in Aggieland is in full swing.
How did it look after five practices?
"I've seen a bunch of guys that are pretty good," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "There's a great competition."
Each of the three candidates -- senior Matt Joeckel, sophomore Kenny Hill and freshman Kyle Allen -- have been able to rotate turns working with the first team throughout the early practices and each have made progress, according to Sumlin.
"Kenny is a lot more focused right now and is doing some good things. The young guy [Allen] has come in and is making strides every day. You don't expect him to be where those guys are at this point."
While each has their strengths, you won't find any with the scrambling ability that their predecessor, Johnny Manziel, had. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner's elusiveness separated him from other quarterbacks. Joeckel, Hill and Allen better resemble the prototype that fits the offense Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital have spent the last six years working in.
"These types of quarterbacks that we have here are similar to what I had at West Virginia and Oklahoma State, and you've just got to utilize their strengths and take advantage of what they do best," Spavital said. "They're obviously probably going to be more pocket-passer guys, but I think some of them are mobile enough to maybe get some things out there on the perimeter."
Each quarterback is at a different stage in terms of how much of the offense they've been given, Sumlin said. For Joeckel and Hill, that's an advantage. For Allen, who has been on campus since January as an early enrollee who signed with the 2014 recruiting class, inexperience is the primary hurdle right now.
"He's got to learn the offense," Sumlin said of Allen. "We have to put him in a position where he can be successful with not giving him the whole menu and letting him play in a style that benefits him and where he's comfortable. Realistically, Matt should have everything. Kenny should have a little less than everything and [Allen] should have a lot less than both those guys at this point. We're a third of the way through [spring]. He shouldn't have everything. He'll get more and more as we go and we'll be able to assess a little bit more. After five practices I think all of those guys are right where you thought they'd be."
This week, as the Cowboys opened up spring drills, Gundy explained why he chose to hold an “Orange Blitz” open practice for the public instead of the “Orange-White” spring game.
“We need to practice. We need that practice,” Gundy said. “We’re a young football team and there’s not a lot of maturity. So we think it’s best for our team and I think it’s best for the fans, and that’s why we established at an early stage what we want to do.”
Oklahoma State will also be without several key players recovering from injury, including offensive tackles Devin Davis (knee) and Brandon Garrett (leg) and running back Desmond Roland (shoulder).
“We have a number of players that won’t be with us from an injury standpoint,” Gundy said. “Some of them because medically we don’t feel they’re ready. Others, I don’t want to push it in the spring.
"In a spring game you have to divide teams up and you got to almost have two-deep on each team before you start switching jerseys, and it becomes an unattractive game for the fans. So I thought it would be best for us to have another practice, and also give our fans a better opportunity to see the things they want to see -- the young quarterbacks, the running backs, some young receivers, those linebackers that are young, the junior college transfers. That setting, in our opinion, is better than a watered-down spring game."
On top of the injuries, the Cowboys will field one of the youngest teams in the Big 12, if not the country, next season. According to ESPN Insider Phil Steele, Utah State is the only FBS program with fewer returning starters than the Cowboys, who bring back just nine total starters.
“We’re young in areas and a little bit limited to open things up in the spring from a play standpoint,” Gundy said. “We have a lot work ahead of us just to play catch up.”
All told, coming off a 10-3 season, Oklahoma State faces the enormous task of replacing its starting quarterback in Clint Chelf; its top three receivers in Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore; and all six of its all-conference defenders in linemen Calvin Barnett and Tyler Johnson, linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, and defensive backs Justin Gilbert and Daytawion Lowe.
“What that means is we have a lot of young players we have to bring along in the next few weeks,” Gundy said. “But we also have to be a little careful how we handle them from a rep standpoint, and bring them along slowly. And we need every practice we can get.
"Oklahoma State is fine. We're fine. We just have a lot of young players."
- Texas will conduct a study examining the potential completion of south end zone of Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium. In other words, the Longhorns may be aiming to take back Texas A&M's title of "biggest stadium in Texas."
- Four anonymous Texas high school coaches ranked Baylor ahead of Texas in the pecking order of the state's best college football programs.
- Kansas is bringing back the spread under new offensive coordinator John Reagan, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jeff Deters.
- Coach Paul Rhoads is raring to get going with his new Iowa State coaching faces after a "crazy" offseason, writes the Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch. Spring ball has allowed the Cyclones to move on from a rough 2013 season, according to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse.
- Texas Tech Kliff Kingsbury said with a guaranteed 10-year contract, he'd never punt again. Red Raiders defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt gives the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams five players who have caught his eye so far this spring.
- The Oklahoma State coaches have begun the rebuilding process after being decimated by graduation, writes the Oklahoman's John Helsley. The Cowboys added several junior-college kickers to the roster, reports the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines.
- Former Oklahoma linebacker Corey Nelson tells The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey that he's 100 percent after suffering torn pectoral last season. OU's pro day was this morning. Kersey also caught up with former Sooner QB Drew Allen, who is also hoping to get a shot in the NFL.
- Former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett could be a value pick for the Dallas Cowboys if Verrett's shoulder injury causes him to drop in the draft, according to Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com. The Cowboys were at Verrett's pro day at TCU last week.
When Duane Akina announced in January that he wasn’t returning for a 14th season at Texas, the response from Longhorns fans and ex-players was understandable disappointment. He was, after all, the coach who helped make Texas “DBU.” Akina, who’s now coaching at Stanford, embraced that tradition like nobody else.
But when it comes to pride and passion for Longhorns defense backs, Bedford might be the perfect successor. He played cornerback at UT from 1977-81 and developed into a starter and a captain.
Get Bedford talking about Texas’ legacy in the secondary and he’ll go full-on historian, even mentioning that he caught up with two former “DBU” members -- Johnnie Johnson and William Graham -- while recruiting their sons at a recent junior day.
“‘DBU’ started with those guys. Raymond Clayborn, Johnnie Johnson, William Graham, Derrick Hatchett, Glenn Blackwood, Ricky Churchman, that’s when it started,” Bedford said. “Fred Akers came here and turned things around, said we’re going to play man-to-man, and almost every guy I played with went to the NFL. Jerry Gray, Mossy Cade, Craig Curry, Fred Acorn, Jitter Fields; the list goes on and on and on.”
Mack Brown and Akina kept it going, producing 14 All-Big 12 defensive backs and 11 who played in the NFL last season. They made sure today’s players knew and respected those DBs who came before them.
Bedford intends to keep that tradition going. This means an awful lot to him.
“We’re not just ‘DBU,’” he said. “We want to make it Linebacker U and D-Line U, whatever it takes to get the best players in the state of Texas to come here and get this program back to the top where it belongs.”
He felt like he’d won the lottery when he found out he was coming home to Texas, and it’s easy to see Bedford is excited about selling and signing the next generation of Texas defensive backs.
“This is the place to live in the state of Texas, just like this university is the best university in this state,” Bedford said. “Why would you not want to live in Austin, Texas, and go to the University of Texas? I just don’t know who would do something else.”
Believe it or not, Jean-Mary has more ties to the state of Texas than even he might’ve realized.
He played linebacker at Appalachian State for the legendary Jerry Moore, a Texas native who played at Baylor and was head coach at Texas Tech.
His defensive coordinator there was Ruffin McNeill, who went on to coach at Texas Tech for 10 years before becoming head coach at ECU. Jean-Mary’s position coach when he arrived at App State was George Edwards, who later coached linebackers for the Dallas Cowboys and is now the Vikings’ defensive coordinator.
And his roommate and best friend during those college years? Dexter Coakley, the future three-time Pro Bowler for the Cowboys.
So, yes, he’s picked up some knowledge about this state along the way thanks to those friendships.
“It almost feels like I was born and raised here,” Jean-Mary said.
A self-described college football junkie, Jean-Mary said following Strong and Bedford to Texas was a no-brainer because he understood the magnitude of coming to a program like this one.
He’s proud of what he accomplished in four years at Louisville. Jean-Mary knows he left a program that’s build to succeed in 2014 and beyond. But coaching at Texas -- and staying with Strong -- was too good to turn down.
“At the end of the day, you only get so many opportunities to really coach at a tradition-rich school like this and feel like you can take your next step in your career as an individual coach, but also helping a team take the next step as a program,” he said.
Jean-Mary inherits a group of linebackers that could return every contributor from 2013, though five of those players -- Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, Dalton Santos, Tevin Jackson and Timothy Cole -- are recovering from injuries. He likes this group’s potential and depth once everyone gets healthy, and his expectations are simple.
“We all come from the same school of defense: We want to have smart, tough and dependable guys,” Jean-Mary said. “We’re not going to be too complex, but we do want to have guys who can handle different situations.”
And whatever situations Jean-Mary finds himself in at Texas, he’s glad he has more than few Texans he can call for advice.
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.
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.”
Initially, two junior college transfers, Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor, were the early candidates expected to compete for the position.
But with versatile talent across its offensive line, Texas A&M had other options to explore as well. So far, the Aggies have done just that in experimenting with yet another candidate: sophomore Germain Ifedi.
"With the two new JC guys and then moving Ced [Ogbuehi] to left [tackle], we've actually experimented with a little Germain Ifedi at right tackle," Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He thinks he's skinny anyways at 324 [pounds]."
The 6-foot-5 Ifedi was the Aggies' full-time starter at right guard last season, his first as a starter after redshirting in 2012.
The Aggies like having versatile offensive linemen and have utilized them as such in the past. Last season, Jake Matthews played left tackle but spent two games at right tackle. Ogbuehi played right guard and right tackle previously before making the switch to left tackle this spring. Jarvis Harrison, who is sitting out spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, has been the left guard but also spent two games at left tackle last season.
So it should come as no surprise that the Aggies are mixing and matching to see what works best.
"We've created a little bit more energy during practice with those guys up front and a bunch of new guys out there anyway moving positions and trying to earn them," Sumlin said. "Whenever you have something like that, the energy level is always pretty good, I think."
While Harrison has sat out, Garrett Gramling -- who started two games at left guard last season -- has worked at left guard this spring. When Ifedi has practiced as the first-team right tackle, veteran tackle Joseph Cheek has seen time at right guard with the first group.
"He's a big dude in there now," Sumlin said of Gramling. "He's all of 6-6 and 315-320 pounds and really gives us some flexibility at guard to be able to move Germain around and Cheek. People forgot Cheek is still here. We've got some guys around that give us some quality depth in the offensive line."
When it comes to Gennesy and Eluemunor, Sumlin has also liked what he has seen and the work that offensive line coach B.J. Anderson has done with the entire offensive line.
"Coach Anderson has done a good job of putting them with the twos so they can get used to their technique because when they get up there with the ones, things are happening real fast," Sumlin said. "Guys get a little bit worried. Avery is really, really athletic. Jermaine is a lot more athletic than I thought he would be. Those two guys are great additions. It just takes some time."
Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Keith Ford could be ready to take the next step in the Sooners' offense. OU needs someone to fill the void left by departed running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, who combined for 4,824 career rushing yards in crimson and cream. Ford earned himself some carries as a freshman, but fumble troubles put him in the doghouse for a portion of his first season. This spring, Ford could lock down a major role in the offense with his power, decisiveness and quickness.
Redshirt freshman to watch: Defensive tackle Charles Walker was an unknown with an underwhelming offer list when he signed with OU in February 2013. But Walker was one of the guys who repeatedly earned praise during discussions of scout-team stars last fall. At 6-2 and 289 pounds, Walker moves like a much smaller man and could force his way onto the field with his play this spring and provide young, quality depth along the defensive line.
Most significant position battle: The battle to replace two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin should be entertaining. There is no clear favorite among a group of talented cornerbacks that includes Stanvon Taylor, Cortez Johnson and Dakota Austin. This spring provides the opportunity for someone to step up in Colvin’s absence and become a trustworthy cover man on the perimeter of OU’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, the Sooners could be forced to account for a weak link in the secondary, particularly if none of the freshman arrivals in the summer (Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green) proves they can slide into Colvin’s spot.
Key midterm enrollee: Linebacker Devante Bond already is making an impression during his short time at OU. An outside linebacker with pass rush skills, Bond isn’t going to replace Eric Striker in the Sooners lineup. Yet if he proves to be one of the best pass rushers on the squad this spring, Stoops could pair him with Striker to give Big 12 quarterbacks headaches this fall.
Question that could be answered: Will Trevor Knight build on his Sugar Bowl MVP performance? The sophomore ended his first season with a bang, leading OU to a upset win over Alabama. This spring will show if Knight is hungry for more and striving to play at a championship level every Saturday this fall, or if he could return to the inconsistency that hampered his play in 2013.
Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will get the majority of the carries in OU’s backfield this fall? Even if Ford has an exceptional spring, there’s no guarantee he can hold off the talents of incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the summer. The lone certainty is that there will be a bunch of talented options for running backs coach Cale Gundy.
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