Dallas Colleges: Nila Kasitati
After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.
BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM
- QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- RB: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- WR: Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- WR: Tony Pierson, Kansas
- WR: Daje Johnson, Texas
- WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- LT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- LG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- C: Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- RG: Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- RT: Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- DE: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
- DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
- DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
- WLB: Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- SLB: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- NB: JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- FS: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- SS: Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- CB: Kevin White, TCU
MAX OLSON'S TEAM
- QB: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
- RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
- WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- WR: Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- IR: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- LG: Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State
- RG: Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- RT: Troy Baker, Baylor
- DE: Devonte Fields, TCU
- DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor
- DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- OLB: Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- ILB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
- OLB: Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
- SS: Sam Carter, TCU
- FS: Terrell Burt, Baylor
- CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM
- QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
- RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas
- WR: Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- WR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- LT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
- LG: Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- C: Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- RG: Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- RT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- Nose: James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- Tackle: Travis Britz, Kansas State
- OLB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- ILB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
- ILB: Paul Dawson, TCU
- OLB: Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- SS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- FS: Chris Hackett, TCU
- CB: Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.
As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.
- 1. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
- 2. OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
- 3. OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- 4. DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- 5. OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- 6. WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- 7. WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- 8. TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- 9. RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
- 10. DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
- 11. DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- 12. CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- 13. SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- 14. FS Chris Hackett, TCU
- 15. LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
- 1. WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- 2. DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- 3. DE Cedric Reed, Texas
- 4. OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- 5. DT Malcom Brown, Texas
- 6. DT Chucky Hunter, TCU
- 7. CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- 8. CB Kevin White, TCU
- 9. OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- 10. SS Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- 11. C Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- 12. LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- 13. CB JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- 14. OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- 15. WR Daje Johnson, Texas
- 1. DE Devonte Fields, TCU
- 2. WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- 3. DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- 4. QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- 5. LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- 6. CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
- 7. SS Sam Carter, TCU
- 8. LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
- 9. DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
- 10. OT Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- 11. CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
- 12. RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
- 13. C BJ Finney, Kansas State
- 14. OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- 15. OLB Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
- Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
- Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
- Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
- Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
- Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
- Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
- Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
- Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
- Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
- Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
- Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
- Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
Some Sooners will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the 2014 squad. This week we’ll count down the five most important players on offense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production. On Tuesday we continue with No. 4.
No. 4: Guard Nila Kasitati, junior
2013 role: Kasitati played in all 13 games, starting seven at guard. He brings versatility and a nasty streak to the offensive line. Various injuries have hampered him for a good portion of his career but when he stays healthy, he’s an impact player.
Expected 2014 role: Kasitati should start along the interior and should allow offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh to find OU’s best five offensive linemen thanks to his ability to play guard or center. He should be an anchor of the offensive line that sets the tone with his nasty streak in the running game.
Why he’s important: Kasitati is versatile, athletic and tough. He’s been a productive player when healthy. As OU continues to try to be more physical along the offensive line, Kasitati could be the guy Bedenbaugh turns to as the example of what he’s looking for. The junior’s importance is all about the tone he can set for the line and offense in general.
If he was missing: The Sooners have experienced playing without Kasitati and his loss wouldn’t be a season-changing absence but it’s very difficult to replace his mindset and aggressive instincts. OU has other talented guards including Adam Shead, Dionte Savage and Tyler Evans who can fill the void but Kasitati’s attitude would be difficult to match or replace.
No. 5: FB Aaron Ripkowski
Now, in our weekly poll, we’re asking for your opinion: Who has the league’s best offensive unit regardless of position?
We’re going to exclude the quarterback position, since that’s more about one player than the collective strength of an entire unit.
Sorry, Bryce Petty.
Antwan Goodley, who produced 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Baylor will also be adding arguably the deepest and most talented signing class at the position in the country, headlined by ESPN 300 receiver K.D. Cannon.
The Bears, however, aren’t the only ones loaded at receiver.
Texas Tech features the dynamic receiving trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. D.J. Polite-Bray emerged over the spring as a downfield burner on the outside. The Red Raiders have also added their top overall recruit from last year to the rotation in Devin Lauderdale, who was forced to attend junior college for a year after failing to initially qualify. Four-star slot receivers Byron Daniels and Ian Sadler will be joining the squad in the summer.
As deep as the Bears and Red Raiders are at receiver, there might not be a positional group in the Big 12 as deep as West Virginia’s running backs.
In their backfield, the Mountaineers have Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring in from Pitt, set Pennsylvania’s state high school career rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher from 2012) and Dustin Garrison, the team’s leading rusher from 2011 who had a tremendous spring following a string of injuries the previous three seasons. If that weren’t enough, four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams will be arriving in Morgantown this summer.
While not as deep, Texas’ three-headed monster in the backfield is more proven than West Virginia’s, though not without questions. Johnathan Gray is coming off an Achilles injury, and Joe Bergeron was barred from the team during the spring due to academics. But when together and healthy, the threesome of Malcolm Brown, Gray (both All-Big 12-caliber runners) and Bergeron is as fearsome as any in the country.
Last fall, the Texas backs ran behind the most experienced offensive line in the Big 12. This season, that distinction belongs to the Sooners, whose offensive line unit caps the poll.
All told, Oklahoma boasts 107 career starts along its offensive line, headlined by senior tackle Daryl Williams and guard Adam Shead, who have been starting since their redshirt freshman seasons. Guard/center Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson are also returning starters on an offense that placed second in the Big 12 in rushing last season.
So who does have the best offensive unit in the Big 12?
Baylor's or Texas Tech’s wide receivers? West Virginia's or Texas’ running backs? Or Oklahoma’s offensive line?
Heading into 2013, virtually no one viewed Duke as a possible threat in the ACC. But with the third-most career offensive line starts returning in the country, the Blue Devils won their first ACC Coastal Division title.
Of course, offensive line experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee a winning team.
And the lack of it doesn’t preclude success, either.
Baylor ranked 98th nationally in offensive line experience last year and wound up winning its first Big 12 title. Oklahoma State ranked 109th and won 10 games.
Yet examining an offensive line’s experience can be a useful indicator in determining how a team might fare.
Michigan State was ninth in career offensive line starts going into last season and won the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl. Florida State was one spot behind the Spartans and captured the national title.
No team, actually, entered 2013 with more offensive line starts than Texas, which led the nation with 124. For all their issues elsewhere, which included losing starting QB David Ash for the year, the Longhorns still had a chance to win the Big 12 on the final day of the regular season.
Underscoring the strength of its veteran offensive line, Texas ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing and second in fewest sacks allowed.
This year, Oklahoma is the Big 12 leader in career offensive line starts coming back, and one reason why many people are picking the Sooners to open in the top 5 of the polls.
Guard Adam Shead and tackle Daryl Williams are entering their third seasons as starters. Oklahoma also will be returning guard Tyler Evans, who, before tearing his knee twice in successive years, was a three-year starter. Tackle Tyrus Thompson and guard Nila Kasitati also have a lot of starting experience, and round out what could be Oklahoma’s most imposing offensive line since 2008.
The team with the second-most returning starts up front in the league? That's Iowa State.
Because of injuries, the Cyclones had to use nine different starting offensive line combinations last season. But now, they return 87 career starts along the line, including six players with at least eight career starts. Four year-starting center Tom Farniok leads the way with 35 career starts. He joins Texas center Dominic Espinosa and Kansas State center B.J. Finney as the only three offensive linemen in the Big 12 with at least 30 career starts; Espinosa and Finney both have 39.
Below is a breakdown of career offensive line starts returning across the entire league, from most to least:
Tyler Evans 29, Adam Shead 28, Daryl Williams 24, Tyrus Thompson 16, Nila Kasitati 7, Ty Darlington 1, Dionte Savage 1, Derek Farniok 1
Iowa State: 87
Tom Farniok 35, Jacob Gannon 12 ,Brock Dagel 11, Oni Omoile 9, Jamison Lalk 8, Daniel Burton 8 ,Ben Loth 2, Jacob Dunning 1, Ben Boesen 1
Texas Tech: 75
Le'Raven Clark 26, Jared Kaster 13, Rashad Fortenberry 13, Alfredo Morales 13, James Polk 7, Baylen Brown 3
Kansas State: 70
B.J. Finney 39, Cody Whitehair 25, Boston Stiverson 6
Spencer Drango 22, Troy Baker 15, Desmine Hilliard 13, Blake Muir 12 (Hawaii), Pat Colbert 2
Aviante Collins 22, Joey Hunt 13, Tayo Fabuluje 12, Halapoulivaati Vaitai 7, Jamelle Naff 2, Patrick Morris 1
Dominic Espinosa 39, Kennedy Estelle 8, Sedrick Flowers 1, Kent Perkins 1
West Virginia: 45
Quinton Spain 26, Mark Glowinski 12, Marquis Lucas 4, Tyler Orlosky 3
Oklahoma State: 38
Daniel Koenig 22, Chris Grisbhy 8, Brandon Garrett 4, Devin Davis 2, Zac Veatch 1, Paul Lewis 1
Ngalu Fusimalohi 12, Mike Smithburg 8, Pat Lewandowski 6, Damon Martin 5, Zach Fondal 3
Offense (projected starters in bold)
QB: Trevor Knight (So.), Cody Thomas (RFr.), Justice Hansen (Fr.)
RB: Keith Ford (So.), Alex Ross (So.), Daniel Brooks (So.)
Ford exits spring as the favorite to start in the backfield, but he didn’t take the job and hide during 15 spring practices. Ross was one of the stars of the spring as he continually made plays during scrimmages, and Brooks was one of the standouts during the spring game. OU has several talented options at running back and is poised to add two top freshman runners in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
FB/TE: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.), Dimitri Flowers (Fr.), Blake Bell (Sr.)
OU uses fullbacks and tight ends in similar ways as both positions spend their meeting time with tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ripkowski is one of the unsung heroes on the entire roster. He played a critical role during the team's strong finish to the 2013 season. Flowers has stepped on campus ready to make an impact with his versatility and football IQ after enrolling in school early. Bell has moved over from quarterback and looks poised to make an impact as a pass catcher with his size and athleticism. It’s a talented and versatile group that is likely to get overlooked this fall but could be the foundation of any success the team has on offense.
WR: Sterling Shepard (Jr.), Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (RFr.), Jordan Smallwood (RFr.), Austin Bennett (So.)
Shepard should be one of the Big 12’s top receivers if Knight continues to develop as a passer. OU badly needs someone to emerge alongside Shepard if it hopes to have a strong passing game to help make the 2014 version of the offense more balanced than the 2013 version. There’s talent on campus but nobody separated themselves during the spring, opening the door for a freshman like Michiah Quick to step on campus and into the lineup this fall.
C: Ty Darlington (Jr.)
G: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.), Tony Feo (Sr.), Adam Shead (Sr.), Tyler Evans (Sr.)
T: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Josiah St. John (Sr.)
Darlington has been groomed to replace All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and could slide into the starting lineup with ease. Nonetheless, adding competition at this position would help the Sooners. OU is fairly deep at guard and tackle which should allow competition for playing time to help everyone improve. Williams is the anchor of the entire offensive line and should be one of the Big 12’s top tackles this fall. The Sooners should have one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.
DE: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), Matt Dimon (So.)
DT: Jordan Phillips (Jr.) or Chuka Ndulue (Sr.), Jordan Wade (So.)
LB: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.), Eric Striker (Jr.), Jordan Evans (So.), Devante Bond (Jr.)
Striker could be the Big 12’s best pass rusher, Alexander has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s best before his career is over, Evans could take a major step forward as a sophomore and Bond impressed as a junior college transfer this spring. If Shannon returns to good standing after missing part of spring due to personal issues, this is a good, experienced group. OU’s linebackers are one of the main reasons its defense could be the most athletic and versatile in the conference this fall.
CB: Zack Sanchez (So.), Julian Wilson (Sr.), Dakota Austin (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)
Here’s where things get interesting for the defense. Wilson returns as the starting nickelback and a productive veteran in the secondary. Sanchez is solid and took his game to another level this spring as he strives to be the type of coverage cornerback that teams don’t want to test. But the Sooners need someone to step up on the opposite side of the field with Austin ending the spring as a starter but remaining untested. No matter who wins the job, they will be picked on repeatedly until they prove they aren’t the weak link of the secondary. Defensive back is one of the few unsettled and unproven spots on the entire roster.
S: Quentin Hayes (Sr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)
Hayes was quietly one of the better safeties in the Big 12 in 2013. He was productive with 75 tackles and solid in coverage. Byrd and Thomas have matured and started to develop as sophomores and should be key contributors this fall. Nonetheless, freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in an earn a role this summer. If Parker is as good as advertised, OU will go two deep with talented options.
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.
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.
Gabe Ikard won’t be around to anchor Oklahoma’s offensive line for the first time in four years, but the overall depth and quality of the group could take the unit to new heights.
Injuries at the end of the season have sidelined guard Adam Shead and tackle Tyrus Thompson, both of whom have extensive playing experience, giving several younger linemen the opportunity to get additional practice snaps this spring.
“We’re missing a guy or two but we have some guys that have played a lot of football,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We have some backups that haven’t played a ton but have seen some action and they’re going to get a bulk of the work in spring ball. It’s an opportunity for them to grow and mature and prove they belong on the football field.”
Tackle Daryl Williams is the experienced veteran of the group and guards Nila Kasitati and Dionte Savage along with tackle Derek Farniok return after starting games in 2013. This spring is the chance for guys like tackles Sam Grant, after a recent move from tight end, and Josiah St. John to make an impression before six offensive line signees arrive this summer.
“I think we’re definitely light-years ahead of where we were last year,” junior center Ty Darlington said. “We’re getting to get a lot of guys reps, which is awesome -- a lot of guys that probably normally wouldn’t get reps are getting reps, and that’s good. I think we’re definitely making some progress.”
As the guy slated to replace Ikard, Darlington is clearly the man in the spotlight. He saw spot duty behind the All-American and three-time All-Big 12 interior lineman during his first two seasons on campus and is excited for the next step in his career.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “This is why I came here, to be able to step into a role. Gabe was great to me for two years. He really took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. He was a great friend on and off the field. Now he’s gone, and I’ve got to step up and fill that void as the center and in a leadership position. I’m excited for it.”
It went largely overlooked but Ikard was the main reason the Sooners could play musical chairs at quarterback n in 2013. The senior handled all the calls and brought a calm and consistent voice to the offense while Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson took turns behind center. It’s those areas where Ikard could be missed most.
But Darlington feels his mentorship under Ikard and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will pay off as he steps into the starting lineup.
“I’m more confident than I’ve ever been as far as just understanding the whole scheme of football,” Darlington said. “I learned so much in the past year with Coach [Bill] Bedenbaugh. I’m continuing to learn a lot more. From fronts to coverages and blitzes, we’re learning so much as a group. I feel like I’m definitely better than I’ve ever been as far as the mental part of the game.”
If Darlington can step in for Ikard without a letdown, the Sooners offensive line could cement its spot among the Big 12’s best for the second straight season and be the foundation of what might be a special season.
1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.
3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.
4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.
5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.
7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.
8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.
9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.
10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).
Unlike previous campaigns, Oklahoma’s offense was not the envy of the rest of the Big 12 this season. The Sooners running game was second to none and provided a foundation that allowed OU to stay in games, control the ball and create opportunities in its passing game. But it’s lack of explosiveness through the air, leading to poor offensive balance, made this year’s offense one of the worst in Norman, Okla. in recent memory. Yet the Sooners limited turnovers and mental mistakes while running the ball well enough to earn 10 wins, which should quiet critics considering a double-digit win season was unexpected heading into the season.
Quarterback: C+. Where are all the Landry Jones haters now? A quick glance at the Sooners passing stats (186.67 ypg, No. 99 in FBS) makes this grade seem way too high. But a quick glance at the win column makes everything clear. OU never got consistency from the position, as Blake Bell and Trevor Knight each had their moments of success and failure. Bell was the starter in Sooners’ losses to Texas and Baylor, and looked uncomfortable in both games, but played a key role in road wins at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. And Knight showed flashes of big-time upside but also showed the inexperience of a redshirt freshman. Through it all the Sooners found a way to get 10 wins and the quarterbacks played a key role in that success. A significant drop off from Jones yet OU finished the regular season with the exact same record Jones led them to as a senior.
Running back: A+. Who knows how the Sooners’ season would have ended up if it wasn’t for a talented and deep group of running backs led by Brennan Clay. The senior led the Sooners with 913 rushing yards, averaging 5.78 yards per carry, but Damien Williams (553 rushing yards) and Roy Finch (347 rushing yards) joined him as quality threats in the backfield. The Sooners running backs brought a physical running style and game-breaking ability which helped offset OU’s ugly passing attack.
Receiver: B-. The quarterbacks shouldered a bunch of the blame for OU’s passing troubles, but the Sooners receivers deserve their share of the burden. Jalen Saunders performed like an “A” student and Sterling Shepard wasn’t far behind. After those two playmakers, the Sooners receivers left plenty to be desired. Lacolton Bester had good moments but wasn’t the constant threat that Saunders and Shepard were in 2013 and the overall depth seemed nonexistent as young players such as Durron Neal never emerged as difference makers at the receiver spot.
Offensive line: A-. OU rushed for nearly 3,000 yards yet didn’t feature a single 1,000-yard rusher, speaking volumes for the offensive line. The only reason the Sooners’ starting front didn’t get a A+ was lackluster efforts against Texas and Baylor, helping to contribute to OU’s only losses. Center Gabe Ikard was the anchor and star of the offensive front, but tackle Daryl Williams made an overlooked but valuable contribution as the other all-Big 12 level performer on the squad. Tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Nila Kasitati, guard Bronson Irwin and guard Adam Shead each played well while helping pave the way for OU’s running game and limiting opponents to 15 total sacks.
Overall: B-. The lack of balance keeps this grade from being higher but OU averaged more than 31.8 points and 5.84 yards per game, ranking them in the top half of the Big 12. The Sooners running game was superb and overcame the passing game struggles while protecting the football. OU's offense is not an national championship-level offense, but it's not as bad as it appeared at various times either.
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.