NORMAN, Okla. -- It doesn't seem all that long ago that Blake Bell was turning the Iowa defense into swiss cheese, Belldozer style. But today, the Sooners will turn the page on the 2011 season in earnest with the start of spring drills.
Here's a preview of what to look for before the Red-White Game on April 14:
1. Mike Stoops returns: OU fans have been clamoring for a Mike Stoops return to defensive coordinator for years. Now that he's back, what will he change? One bet is to simplify a secondary that appeared confused too many times last season.
2. Who will be the nickelback? Speaking of secondary, one of Stoops' first objectives will be deciding on a nickelback. The Sooners would prefer to play Roy Williams look-alike Tony Jefferson there. But can they afford to? Unless someone else steps up at free safety (Bennett Okotcha, Quentin Hayes, Javon Harris?) the answer is, no.
3. Replacing Ryan Broyles: After Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury, the OU offense fell into a tailspin, averaging just 26 points its final four games. The spring will be valuable for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to retool the offense minus Broyles, which shouldn't be too difficult considering the incoming firepower at wide receiver.
Three position battles:
1. Left tackle: The Sooners have two options here. Attempt to swing agile former quarterback/tight end/defensive end Lane Johnson from right to left tackle; or go with Daryl Williams, Tyrus Thompson or junior-college transfer Will Latu, who is set to join the team in the summer. The best bet is that the Sooners will experiment with both scenarios in the coming weeks.
2. Cornerback: As the loss to Texas Tech proved, OU won't win the Big 12 if it can't unearth a field corner to play opposite Demontre Hurst. The Sooners will give junior-college transfer Kasseim Everett every opportunity to win the job, but it might be too soon to count out Gabe Lynn, despite a rocky sophomore season.
3. Defensive end: OU's two best defenders (Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander) last season were both ends, meaning position coach Bobby Jack Wright has his work cut out to come within the ballpark of matching last year's production. The good news is that Wright has plenty of pieces to work with, including Geneo Grissom, who was heralded as a redshirting freshman but endured some growing pains in his first year of eligibility. R.J. Washington and David King are the favorites to start, but don't count out junior-college transfer Chaz Nelson, whom insiders have been raving about since he signed with the Sooners.
Three players to watch:
2. QB Kendal Thompson: The battle to succeed Landry Jones might be Blake Bell's to lose, but one Sooners insider cautions that Thompson is a "darkhorse" to be OU's starter in 2013. Jones, Bell and Drew Allen all made strides from their true freshman seasons to redshirt freshman springs. To be a serious contender in '13, Thompson will need to do the same.
3. S Bennett Okotcha: If Okotcha is indeed the next Ed Reed, as wideout Kameel Jackson recently tweeted, the Sooners are in business. OK, so maybe Jackson was exerting a hint of hyperbole. But the premise that Okotcha impressed that much in winter workouts is welcoming news for a secondary in dire need of another back safety.
Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit questions to his mailbag and look for answers every Friday.