Here are five questions the Oklahoma Sooners face going into spring practice.
1. What difference will Mike Stoops make?
New (old) defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has a tough task ahead of him this season, repairing Oklahoma’s secondary. During Stoops’ first tenure in Norman, the Sooners never ranked below 10th in total defense, so Stoops has a track record of developing stout defenses and individual talent. The biggest challenges for the Sooners will be stabilizing the safety position and finding another cornerback to replace Jamell Fleming. Senior Demontre Hurst is a lock at the other corner position and junior Aaron Colvin is a lock at safety. Junior Tony Jefferson is a lock to start on defense, but where is the big question. Jefferson ideally would be lined up at the nickel position, a hybrid linebacker of sorts, but if the Sooners can’t find a dependable safety, Jefferson would likely move there, allowing Joe Ibiloye to play the nickel position. At corner, junior college transfer Kass Everett is a possibility, as is junior Gabe Lynn, who was torched in the Sooners’ loss to Texas Tech last season. Mike Stoops has proven he is a defensive whiz, and the Sooners have plenty of talent on that side of the ball. The key will be for Stoops to take that talent and mold it into the ferocious defense OU fans have missed since 2004.
2. How will OU replace Ryan Broyles?
One doesn’t simply replace the NCAA all-time leader in career receptions. Talents like Ryan Broyles don’t come around the corner everyday, but the Sooners have an enormous amount of talent at the wide receiver position that will possibly do more than make up for the loss of Broyles. A trio of juniors, Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds, and Trey Franks, will be key to developing the foundation of the receiving corps, along with sophomore Kameel Jackson, who showed flashes of brilliance in his first season in Norman. Five wide receivers are joining the group, headlined by freshman Trey Metoyer, who was originally part of the 2011 signing class for OU, and junior college transfer Courtney Gardner. Both are big, physical receivers, the likes of which OU hasn’t had the luxury of for quite some time. Joining those two are Sterling Shepard, an Under Armour All-American, and Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, both U.S. Army All-Americans. There is no doubt Broyles will be missed. The questions is, for how long?
3. Where will a pass rush come from?
Frank Alexander finally showed up in 2011, becoming the dominant pass rusher everyone knew he could be. Ronnell Lewis also became a monster on the defensive line with his ability to rush the quarterback. Both are gone now, and Oklahoma needs someone to step into the shoes left by those two. Monday, head coach Bob Stoops said senior RJ Washington had really impressed during the winter months. Washington seemed to finally be coming on at the end of last season, after several unproductive seasons as a backup. The Sooners will need him and fellow senior David King, as well as sophomores Chuka Ndulue and Geneo Grissom, to be strong up front. Junior college transfer defensive end Chaz Nelson has also garnered a lot of praise from Stoops, and figures to play a prominent role in the defensive end rotation in 2012.
4. Can OU have depth at running back?
Last year, the problem was the number of running backs Oklahoma had vying for playing time was too high. By the end of the season, the number was too few. Six running backs began the season for Oklahoma last year, and after transfers and injuries, the total was down to just two. Roy Finch and Brennan Clay stayed on, while Jermie Calhoun and Jonathan Miller transferred, and Dominique Whaley was lost for the season with a broken ankle. Brandon Williams transferred at the end of the season. OU’s depth at running back is certainly questionable, but Whaley is expected to return by the start of the season. OU is also bringing in junior college transfer Damien Williams, a player who is ready to step in and take some of the load behind quarterback Landry Jones. The Sooners also signed Alex Ross, an Oklahoma native, to boost the depth at running back. Stoops has also been very high on redshirt freshman Danzel Williams, who Stoops says is one of the best athletes on the team.
5. Can Landry Jones finally prove doubters wrong?
The biggest question of all is one that may not seem very obvious to most. However, the groan that came from a lot of Sooner fans when quarterback Landry Jones decided to return to school for his senior season made this a bigger issue than necessary. Jones is obviously a great quarterback. However, he has yet to win over a lot of fans due to his sometimes erratic performance and inconsistent play. There is no questioning the fact Jones struggled down the stretch of the 2011 season when Ryan Broyles was out with a torn ACL. Throw in the success of Blake Bell in the Belldozer formation and you have a recipe for an uprising against Jones as the starter. Jones will remain the starter as long as he is at OU unless he gets injured, and it’s OU’s wins and losses that will determine his legacy, not his stats.