Oklahoma Sooners Football: 5 Spring Practice Positional Battles to Watch
Oklahoma Looks to Build Upon Late-Season Success
The Oklahoma Sooners shook off a late-season stumble against the Baylor Bears to close the 2013 season in fine fashion. A victory over hated in-state rivals Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Bedlam Series was followed by a surprising win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
During a four-game winning streak to close the season, the Sooners found their quarterback of the future. Freshman Trevor Knight did just enough to beat the Cowboys to close the regular season. He stamped his name into Sooners lore by dismantling the Alabama secondary to the tune of 348 yards and four touchdowns on 32-of-44 passing in the Sugar Bowl. The victory gave Oklahoma momentum going into the spring.
The Sooners return a bevy of talent. Young talent. Several recruits from the 2013 class saw action last season. This experience should bode well for Oklahoma in 2014 and has fans thinking of a Big 12 title and a national championship run.
Before fans start planning for that, there are some positions of concern the team must address this spring.
Oklahoma must replace key contributors at safety, wide receiver, center, running back and cornerback. The Sooners have a roster full of capable players ready for the challenge. The concern will be the lack of experience some of these players have. The schedule has some early challenges. The Tennessee Volunteers come to town the second game of the season. Oklahoma then travels to Morgantown to face the West Virginia Mountaineers. The young roster will need to grow up before the annual Red River Rivalry match up with the Texas Longhorns Oct. 11.
Here is a look at five important positional battles Sooners fans should follow this spring.
Replacing a three-time First Team All-Big 12 performer in Gabe Ikard will not be easy. Ikard was the on-field leader for the Sooners offense. Junior Ty Darlington will get the first chance at doing so. Darlington was a four-star recruit coming out of Florida in 2012. He has playing experience, appearing in three games last season. If Darlington does not pan out the Sooners will have to turn to Alex Dalton. The true freshman comes in highly touted as the No. 6 center in the country. This will be a position to monitor closely.
4. Running Back
Oklahoma had the luxury of turning to four senior running backs last season. Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Damien Williams and Trey Millard provided stability in the backfield while the coaching staff sorted out the quarterback situation. Their departure leaves a void in the backfield in 2014. Keith Ford looks to be the front-runner. Ford saw limited action last season as a true freshman. He will try to separate himself from Alex Ross and incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. A good showing in the spring should get Ford the lion’s share of the carries this season.
3. Wide Receiver
Oklahoma quarterbacks lost a security blanket in Jalen Saunders. The diminutive wide receiver hauled in a team-high 61 passes last season. Sterling Shepard followed up a sensational freshman season with an even better sophomore campaign. Shepard was second on the team with 51 catches. He exercised his dominance against Oklahoma State and Alabama, hauling in 14 passes for 175 yards. He is the No. receiver. The big question is who lines up with Shepard? Oklahoma's other receivers have minimal experience. Durron Neal had 13 catches last season while sophomore Derrick Woods had two. Freshmen receivers Michiah Quick, Jordan Smallwood, Dallis Todd and Dannon Cavil are all highly-touted and will have a chance to make their mark this spring.
Two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin has moved on to the NFL. Whoever replaces him will have big shoes to fill. Cortez Johnson will be first up. Johnson saw limited playing time last season, but at 6-foot-2, he is the big corner all teams covet. Stanvon Taylor and Marcus Green are also in the mix. Taylor saw some action last year while Green is a true freshman with good size.
Gabe Lynn has graduated, leaving a hole at one of the safety positions. Oklahoma has options, but they are all young and inexperienced. Hatari Byrd played some safety last season when Lynn was injured. He figures to get the first shot at winning the job. Ahmad Thomas is another option. Thomas has the size and speed to play the position. His 215 pound frame is capable of delivering bone-crushing hits.
One player to watch at spring practices is Steven Parker. The true freshman is a four-star safety who could make it hard for Sooners coaches to keep him off the field.
See if the Sooners can enjoy the same type of success in 2014 that they had last season by getting your Oklahoma football tickets before they run out.