You’ve made it another year. Spring practice is over. The dog days of summer are in the books. It’s time for Oklahoma to get back to work.
The Sooners officially kick off practice Thursday morning. And although expectations are about as high as can be for the 2016 squad, there are still some lingering questions out there.
Sooners Illustrated looks at five storylines you need to watch in the next month.
There is going to be plenty of talent for OU in the defense, but where will be the leaders? You can replace the ability of Charles Tapper, Dominique Alexander, Eric Striker and Zack Sanchez, but their vocal leadership and leading by example is not something you find every day. The secondary seems locked down, but there are questions at linebacker and defensive line. Usually things sort of work themselves out, but how long will it take for all the pieces to gel together?
This coincides with the linebacker issue. The Sooners are replacing three-fourths of the starting linebackers from 2015 at a position where depth has been a huge concern before. If you look at OU’s 2016 class, linebacker was the strength. So is it too early to expect guys like Mark Jackson, Caleb Kelly to make a serious impact right out of the gate? They’re the future of OU at linebacker, are they good enough to already be the present?
Interior offensive line
Flipping the script from last year. This time it’s not about the tackles, but the interior guys. Orlando Brown and Dru Samia have it locked down at tackle, and Jonathan Alvarez seems like a natural fit at center. But who will be to his left and to his right? There are favorites out there like Cody Ford and Ben Powers to go with Alex Dalton and Jamal Danley (both trying to overcome setbacks) and then another juco transfer like Ashton Julious. Options a-plenty, but whose ready to make the leap?
Breakout year for Mixon
Or maybe more accurately, how in the world is Lincoln Riley going to figure out how to use Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon this season? Riley found his groove with OU’s two-headed rushing machine in the latter half of the season so we’ll see if he comes out of the gates firing this time around. With OU playing such a tough first month of the schedule, the running game is going to be even more important as the offensive line searches for the five guys who will hold down the fort.
What do you do when that chip on the shoulder that drove you and the team for a full season seemingly goes away? That’s the question surrounding Baker Mayfield. After having a lights out season in 2015 to answer all critics, nobody is doubting the ability and leadership of Mayfield. He has thrived in the underdog role, but nobody sees Mayfield or the Sooners in that role in 2016. When you get 24 of 26 first-place votes, when you’re a Heisman Trophy candidate, you’re the hunted and not the hunter.
***Sooners Illustrated will obviously explore even more storylines throughout the month***