Four days into fall camp, the Oklahoma Sooners are still working through questions and changes on offense heading into the season. There have been some shake-ups at wide receiver and offensive line since 2011, but Sooners head coach Bob Stoops is confident new players will seize the opportunity to step up and make an impact for a team that hopes to be in the hunt for a national championship.
With last year’s team leader Ryan Broyles in the NFL, junior Kenny Stills becomes the Sooners’ veteran receiver. He had 786 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 – and he’s also the only active OU receiver with any Division I receptions.
Juniors Trey Franks and Jaz Reynolds contributed last season but were indefinitely suspended in May for violating team rules. Reynolds was the team’s third-leading receiver behind Broyles and Stills, and Franks led the team in kick return yardage. Both players were reinstated for fall practices, but Stoops has said they and suspended defensive back Quentin Hayes will all miss “considerable games” once the season starts. WR Kameel Jackson, who was suspended at the same time for academic reasons, will not return.
By all accounts, the leader to fill the No. 2 spot is highly-touted freshman receiver Trey Metoyer. The former five-star recruit failed to qualify academically in 2011, but he spent a semester at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia to get back on track and enrolled at OU in time to become one of the stars of spring practice.
The receiving corps got another big boost when former Penn State wideout Justin Brown announced he would transfer to Oklahoma. Brown had 517 receiving yards and two touchdowns for the Nittany Lions last season and provides much-needed depth at the position.
Also in line for playing time is JUCO transfer LaColtan Bester. Out of East Mississippi Community College, Bester was one of the top JUCO receivers last year. He snagged a scholarship offer from Oklahoma when the Sooners suspended Reynolds, Franks, and Jackson, and has made a case for playing time since joining the squad.
The Sooners had hoped JUCO All-American Courtney Gardner would also be able to come in and immediately contribute, but he’ll have to wait a year after being ruled academically ineligible. The receiver did not complete a necessary course in time to qualify for this season but will redshirt and have two years of eligibility remaining.
Gardner isn’t the only transfer who struggled to qualify at OU. Offensive lineman Will Latu, a JUCO standout from California’s College of the Canyons, signed with Arkansas State last week after failing to become eligible to play for the Sooners.
Oklahoma has considerable experience on this year’s O-line, but it probably could’ve used an extra player like Latu, especially after losing former starting center Ben Habern, who announced his retirement last week due to neck and back issues. Before ending his football career, Habern was a preseason All Big-12 pick and was named to the watchlists for the Lombardi, Outland, and Rimington Trophies.
Junior Gabe Ikard will replace Habern at center, as he did last season when Habern was out with a fractured forearm. Sophomore Adam Shead, who filled in for Ikard at left guard last year, will take over that spot full-time in 2012.
Three-year starter Tyler Evans returns at right guard, while Lane Johnson, who started all but one game at right tackle last season, is getting work on the left side. Sophomore Daryl Williams backed up at right tackle in 2011 and could claim that spot this season.
If the starters stay healthy, the line should be in good shape, but with the unexpected shifts, depth will be an issue. Sophomore Tyrus Thompson will probably play behind Johnson at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Nila Kasitati, who underwent a successful heart procedure last week, has been cleared to play and is in line to be one of the top reserves, along with junior Bronson Irwin. True freshman Ty Darlington will be available to back up Ikard at center. He faces questions about his size, but Habern has praised the youngster’s athleticism and says he’s ready to play.
The team will be without redshirt freshman lineman Dylan Dismuke, whose career is over after suffering a severe knee injury. Dismuke has accepted a medical exemption from OU that gives him the same financial aid as a football scholarship but does not count against the Sooners’ roster.