Oklahoma opens spring practice on March 5 with the annual Red-White game set for April 9.
The Sooners will also hold pro day on March 9 for all departing players. But there are questions abound regarding the Sooners’ outlook for next year. Even coming off an 11-2 season, the Big 12 championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff, the Sooners still have holes that need to be filled.
Over the next week, Sooners Illustrated’s Justin Hite and Bob Przybylo take a look at five major questions surrounding Oklahoma. Here’s one of Hite’s most pressing questions:
How does Oklahoma fix its return woes?
Two years ago, Oklahoma fans got bored watching receiver Sterling Shepard call for fair catch after fair catch. The Sooners had just 13 punt returns the and amassed less than 100 yards. Shepard was a little better this season, but Oklahoma never had a punt return longer than 27 yards and averaged just 7.5 yards per return.
Alex Ross went from one of the more dangerous kick returners in the entire nation two years ago. But because of injuries and a severe lack of blocking last year, Ross averaged 21.5 yards per return. By comparison, Ross averaged 31.2 yards per return last year.
Oklahoma clearly lacked a punch in its special teams, and it showed in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, who dominated the Sooners on the ground but also got game-changing plays from its special teams units.
Ross is likely back as the team’s kick return, but the Sooners will be looking for a new punt returner. There are plenty of options: Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon, Michiah Quick and Jarvis Baxter – maybe even transfer Geno Lewis. Oklahoma isn’t necessarily looking for anyone in particular. The Sooners will be trying to find playmaking ability.
Mixon, Quick and Baxter all have a little bit of experience returning punts.
Blocking might be the only thing that can help Oklahoma on kick-off returns based just on the nature of it. Punt returning is always a bit more about creativity. There’s no clear frontrunner, but one should emerge by the end of spring practice.