Dallas Colleges: Dannon Cavil
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.
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.
Schedule: The Sooners begin spring ball Saturday, the first of 15 NCAA-allowed practices. OU will hold its spring game April 13.
What's new: What’s not? Bob Stoops brought in three new assistants, seven defensive starters are gone, and for the first time in six years, the Sooners have a quarterback competition. After back-to-back three-loss seasons, this is lining up to be the most important -- and most intriguing -- spring of the Stoops era in Norman.
All eyes on: The quarterback derby, which will be the dominant storyline of the spring. Junior Blake Bell, sophomore Kendal Thompson and freshman Trevor Knight are all vying to replace four-year starter Landry Jones. Bell is the favorite because of his age and experience in the “Belldozer” package, but insiders around the program believe Knight is capable of unseating him. Whatever happens in the spring, don’t expect a starter to be named. Stoops waited until the fall to declare Sam Bradford his starter in 2007, and figures to do the same here.
New faces: The Sooners welcome four mid-semester enrollees, and all four have a chance to make immediate impacts. Toronto native Josiah St. John, the No. 1 junior-college offensive tackle in the country, figures to be no worse than a key backup. Wide receiver Dannon Cavil, who grew up a Texas fan, has great size and should vie for a rotation spot at outside receiver. Defensively, Ahmad Thomas will be given every opportunity to start at safety, and defensive end D.J. Ward, the top player coming out of the state of Oklahoma, could boost a defensive front that ranked 108th nationally in tackles for loss last season.
Question marks: With only 11 starters back, the Sooners have plenty. On top of the quarterback battle, OU must overhaul virtually the entire defense, with All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin the only returning impact defender. Defensive tackle and back safety are especially tenuous. The Sooners have only three defensive tackles on the roster to practice with at the moment, and no one other than Colvin has a down of experience at back safety. Mike Stoops will have to be creative just to get through the spring, until reinforcements arrive over the summer.
Don’t forget about: Wide receiver Trey Metoyer, who was the star of last spring as a true freshman. Metoyer, however, failed to carry that momentum into the fall, lost his starting job and eventually fell out of the rotation. A new year and new quarterback should re-energize Metoyer, who has all the tools to become a dominant outside receiver.
On the mend: Guards Tyler Evans and Nila Kasitati, who are both coming off season-ending knee injuries. Both, however, are hoping to be at least limited participants in the spring, which would spur them into summer workouts.
Oklahoma's top commits have all signed their letters of intent and are locked in to becoming future Sooners. Here's who Oklahoma's bringing in from our ESPN 300, the list of the nation's top 300 prospects:
- No. 27: Keith Ford, RB, Cypress, Texas
- No. 137: D.J. Ward, DE, Moore, Okla. (signed in December, early enrollee)
- No. 178: Cody Thomas, QB-PP, Colleyville, Texas
- No. 199: Stanvon Taylor, ATH, Tulsa, Okla.
- No. 240: Dannon Cavil, WR, San Antonio, Texas (signed in December, early enrollee)
- No. 284: Matt Dimon, DE, Katy, Texas
- No. 293: Hatari Byrd, S, Fresno, Calif.
Not many surprises for the Sooners, though Dimon had some power issues at his high school and couldn't get his letter of intent to the Oklahoma coaches until 8:48 a.m. Oklahoma's class is at No. 20 in the ESPN class rankings, the same spot it began the day. Byrd also made headlines last month when word surfaced that coaches had told him he's likely going to be able to start at safety from the moment he gets on campus. Very interesting stuff. Oklahoma signed a lot of high-quality defensive talent in this class, as you can see, and Taylor is likely to play cornerback for the Sooners.
Mostly a drama-free day across the Big 12 on the recruiting trail.
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