OU battles: Top true freshman

There will be a small handful of first-year players on the field this year. Who will shine?

Preseason camp nears for the Oklahoma Sooners, who are looking to rebound from what can only be described as a disappointment.

There’s new blood to lead the Sooners. On offense, Lincoln Riley begins his first season with Oklahoma and his first as a major conference coordinator. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops plans to work from the box this season and has two new assistants helping to mold the defense.

What happens on the field will be more important than what happens on the sideline, though. Oklahoma still has a few battles yet to be decided. Over the next week, Sooners Illustrated will examine those battles.

True freshman battle - Ricky DeBerry vs. Will Sunderland vs. Rodney Anderson vs. Neville Gallimore vs. P.J. Mbanasor

Who will have the greatest impact as a position player?

Case for Neville – Gallimore comes in to camp as likely a primary back-up at defensive end – behind Charles Tapper in a three-linebacker set. We’ve heard good things about D.J. Ward, but after last season, a littlecaution on player optimism isn’t a bad thing. Either way, he might be the most athletically gifted of the incoming freshmen. He’s capable of playing inside or outside on the defensive line. He’s the only guy on this list that can play two positions.

Case for Ricky – There hasn’t been much talk of DeBerry during offseason workouts, a little might have to do with his later arrival. More might have had to do with shoulder surgery this summer. He is still the most highly rated of all the incoming freshmen and has tremendous upside that was flashed in his abbreviated senior season.

Entering camp, he’s probably right next to Obo when it comes to the depth chart – either a primary back-up to one spot to the secondary back-up to both.

Case for Will – As far as incoming back-ups are concerned, Sunderland might have the best chance to crack the starting lineup. Although this spot could be reserved for Kahlil Haughton or Prentice McKinney in place of Sunderland. All three have obvious talent – and were touted by Bob Stoops as the best safety class he’s had at Oklahoma.

In front of them? A pair of safeties who have yet to live up to their full potential.

Case for Rodney – There’s a logjam in front of Anderson to a starting spot, but he’s in a position where he’ll be included in the rotation – so long as he’s healthy. Combine him with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and Oklahoma probably has the top running back trio in the Big 12 – maybe even more. Mixon and Anderson are unproven though, but neither lack in potential or talent (at least in glimpses).

Don’t be surprised to see Anderson in the running back rotation very early. He’s third on the depth chart right now if he comes back full healthy for the start of camp.

Case for P.J. – Built in the new mold that Oklahoma is looking for in a corner back, Mbanasor is long and physical at the line of scrimmage – something the Sooners desperately needed last season.

Mbanasor just needs time to adjust to the college game. There’s not much standing in his way. Outside of returning starting Zack Sanchez and Jordan Thomas, Mbanasor might be competing just with JuCo transfer Will Johnson for the No. 3 cornerback spot.

Verdict – While it’s obvious that the most impactful true freshman will be kicker Austin Seibert, that’s not what this conversation is about.

Anderson will play – and maybe score a handful of touchdowns by the end of the season. Gallimore will see time in the rotation and maybe flashes of what he could become as soon as next year. Same with DeBerry.

One freshman safety will make an impact. Question remains: Which one?

But it’s Mbanasor who will make the most impact. He’ll come in to camp not far from a starting spot and really with the short distance to a consistent role.

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