OU youth getting its shot

Bowl practice is time for young players to shine. It's happening for OU in preparation for the AllState Sugar Bowl.

It was right around this time last year the Oklahoma football players on both sides of the ball started to plant the seed about an unknown redshirt freshman quarterback named Trevor Knight.

The Sooners were getting ready for the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M, and the early word from teammates was to watch out for Knight because he was going to be something special.

A year later now it's Knight who is the role of the teammate. Knight has emerged as one of OU's vital players, splitting time at quarterback with Blake Bell. He knows it all started because of the work he did last year.

"I remember when I was there last year, and I can't believe it's only been a year," Knight said. "It seems like it was forever ago. But it's just the starting spot to becoming a really good player. It's a big opportunity. You just have to take that and build on it from there and get better every single day."


All the talk for the defense has centered around the line and the secondary. It can't be on the linebackers because the young linebackers are already playing.

But the No. 1 name that was mentioned by nearly every single player and coach is defensive tackle Charles Walker.

The definition of an under the radar prospect, the Sooners snagged Walker last January from the likes of Houston, North Texas and New Mexico. OU knew what it saw in him and now it's starting to unleash that potential.

"I think Charles Walker on the defensive line has a great future ahead of him," senior center Gabe Ikard said. "He might be the most explosive guy we have on the team right now. If he is able to develop the skill work that Coach (Jerry) Montgomery has been able to develop in the guys that are playing right now, he could be an animal on the football field because he is extremely explosive."

That could mean more competition for time on the field with linemen. But Chuka Ndulue isn't worried about. He was just excited talking about the guys that could join him starting next season.

"I'm excited for that kid (Walker)," Ndulue said. "He is going to be something. We have a lot of guys coming up. When they get it figured out, because right now they are just doing it off raw talent and making plays.

"They are kind of like Tap (Charles Tapper). Just imagine a bunch of Charles Tappers running up and down the field. That's going to be good. I forgot about D.J. Ward, oh God, he's going to be good, too."

In the secondary, there wasn't one guy singled out. Gabe Lynn talked about the safeties with Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd, saying they have the tools to be big-time players.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez was quick to bring up how much L.J. Moore has improved and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops noted Dakota Austin has made tremendous strides. All ‘n all, the future looks bright for OU's defense.


OU has three legit options at quarterback, but a fourth certainly could emerge with redshirt freshman Cody Thomas, who was able to get significant reps this week.

"Cody is doing a great job and throwing the ball around really well," Knight said. "I'm excited for him to get a bunch of reps because this is an exciting time for him."

The offensive line was a different story. Seniors Gabe Ikard and Bronson Irwin both talked about how young guys are stepping up but were incredibly coy about who they were and at what position.

"We're trying some different guys on the offensive line, and I'm not going to tell you guys about that," Ikard said. "We have a couple of younger guys that we have moved around. One of them is looking really good at center. That's promising and that's good going forward."

No doubt when talking about youth in the offense, though, the focus goes toward wide receiver and the redshirt freshmen seasons of Dannon Cavil, K.J. Young and Jordan Smallwood.

Young was brought up by nearly every player in terms of somebody making huge strides. Smallwood, only recently cleared after suffering a broken foot in the summer, made the most of his limited opportunities.

No doubt OU wide receivers coach Jay Norvell is pleased about what he has coming back in the future.

"It's hard when kids are away from home their freshman year," said Norvell about Young. "He's made some mistakes, but I think, of late, he can kind of see the light. He's gotten a chance the last few days in practice to make some plays, and he's really stepping up.

"Smallwood gives us a different body type than we've ever had. He's just so big, so physical and so strong for a young guy, and he really creates matchup problems."

The focus is now on bowl preparation and the regulars are back to getting the majority of the reps, but Norvell said he loved the spirited competition of the first few days.

"It gives us a chance to see what next year's team is going to look like, and it's given them a chance to get coached hard and get a feel for the competition while the older guys are watching," Norvell said. "It's been a spirited couple of days and fun to watch the young guys compete."

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