Last season, no school felt the sting of the NFL Draft quite like the Oklahoma Sooners. Among the players departing Norman were three wide receivers (first-rounder Mark Clayton, second-rounder Mark Bradley and third-rounder Brandon Jones), four defensive backs, (Brodney Pool, Antonio Perkins, Donte Nicholson, and Michael Hawkins), linebacker Lance Mitchell, and All-Americans defensive end Dan Cody, and offensive tackle Jamaal Brown. If that was not talent and experience to replace, the Crimson and Cream also lost Heisman Trophy Quarterback Jason White who led the Sooners to two straight BCS Championship Games.
Behind first-time starting quarterback Paul Thompson, an offensive line replacing three starters, and an inexperienced defense, the Sooners struggled to move the ball and lost the opening home game to TCU, 17-10. Scout.com five-star prospect, Rhett Bomar, replaced Thompson and led Oklahoma to victories in two of the next three games.
With a third straight trip to the BCS Championship game all but lost, the Sooners season hinged on the Red River Shootout game with arch-rival Texas. Oklahoma's bid to spoil the Longhorns' season was not to be as All-American Adrian Peterson was injured and carried the ball on the three times for 10 yards and OU was crushed by Texas 45-12.
From the day following the loss to Texas, Oklahoma has been building to 2006. Bomar improved his play with valuable game experience in the second half of 2005 and played well this spring. Helping Bomar will be the return of a healthy Adrian Peterson. The junior is among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy this season. Backup running back Kejuan Jones and fullback J.D. Runnels are gone, but five-star recruit Demarco Murray arrives in the fall to help in the running game.
A big key for the Sooners will be replacing three starters along the offensive line. There is some experience due to the rash of injuries in 2005. Senior Chris Messner and Sophomore Brannon Baxter won the starting tackle jobs this spring, but all three spots along the interior of the offensive line will be won in fall camp. J.D. Quinn and Duke Robinson have the inside track on the guard positions, but will compete with junior college signees Brandon Walker and Sherrone Moore. Center will be a major question as Chad Roark left the team and Jon Cooper missed time this spring with injuries.
There are plenty of talented targets for Bomar to spread the ball to in the passing game. Sophomore Malcolm Kelly led the Sooners in receiving last year with 471 yards. Fellow sophomores Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson are among the leading receivers but will have to step up their games as speedy freshman Adron Tennell arrives this fall. At tight end, sure handed Joe Jon Finley is expected to have another productive season for the Sooners but will be pushed by incoming freshman Jermaine Gresham.
On defense, Oklahoma returns a talented quartet of pass rushing defensive ends. Larry Birdine missed last season due to injury. He returns along with Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, C.J. Ah You, Calvin Thibodeaux and Alonzo Dotson. At defensive tackle the void left by Dusty Dvoracek could be filled by either 2005 Scout.com five-star prospect DeMarcus Granger or fellow five-star prospect, Gerald McCoy. The Sooners will boast one of the best defensive lines in the country in 2006.
At linebacker, starters Zach Latimer and Rufus Alexander return. Ryan Reynolds was expected to start at strong side linebacker, but injured his knee this spring and will likely be held out for 2006. The good news for Sooner fans is that 2004 four star prospect Chris Patterson looks to be finally make his way to Norman following two years of junior college. Others competing for the remaining linebacker spot will be Demarrio Pleasant and Lamont Robinson.
As with most years, the OU secondary will feature plenty of talented athletes. This spring the Sooner coaching staff moved freshman All-American Reggie Smith from safety to cornerback. Smith was the star of the spring game and appears to be poised for a break-out season. Returning starter D.J. Wolfe manned the corner spot opposite Smith this spring and looks like one of the premier cover men in the Big 12. Jason Carter claimed the starting strong safety spot this spring.
Expectations are high in Norman following a down year in 2005. With the premier defense in the country, the run at another BCS Championship will come down to the play of Bomar at quarterback and the ability of the offensive line to open holes for Peterson. The schedule sets up favorably with tune up home games vs. UAB and Washington before a tough road game at Oregon and an open week prior to the clash with Texas. Should the Sooners leave Dallas with a win, a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game should be expected.
Around the Big 12: Oklahoma
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