It's impossible to foretell the future, but every football coach gets excited about the new possibilities and improvement that spring always brings. In fact, any player could explode on the scene in spring, much like Roy Williams did in Stoops' first year.
Upon the arrival of Stoops and company, Williams was thought to be a pretty good, but not great, talent that had frankly underachieved. A week into spring ball the new staff actually wondered if Williams would ever play.
Suddenly, in week two, Williams said everything just started to make sense. He was now playing with confidence and was comfortable in knowing what his assignments were, as well as understanding how all the parts worked together. In the span of two short weeks, Williams went from an insecure future to a possible star.
We don't know who will blossom beginning in mid-March, but here's our list of a baker's dozen 'best bets' of newcomers and younger players that should emerge to make a huge impact in six weeks, and on into next fall (listed alphabetically):
1) Jeremy Beal (DE/LB). You know you're going to be good when coaches fight over where you'll play. Beal will start out at defensive end, but don't be surprised if Brent Venables steals him for a few days and inserts him at middle linebacker, just for grins.
2) Sam Bradford (QB). He may not start, but he looked good enough in December practices to play next year, as well as give the coaches a huge sigh of relief with his throwing skills and ability to move the chains. He will be a pleasant surprise to any Sooner fan who mistakenly believes that he was recruited to be a backup.
3) Quinton Carter (DB). What a difference a year makes. Carter marks his one year anniversary at Oklahoma this month, and for a true freshmen he was amazing. By the end of fall his confidence was allowing him — like Roy Williams, to become the headhunter of the secondary. It may be another year or two before Carter can dominate the game like Williams, but he is well on his way. You know you're better than good when Bobby Jack Wright pays you a complement, and lately BJW has been saying good things (behind Carter's back naturally) about this Las Vegas safety.
4) Auston English (DE). The whispers are growing that English is continuing to hit the weights and transform himself into a wreaking ball defensive end. English is now pushing 255 pounds and it will be interesting to see if his speed holds at that weight. If so, that can only be good news for Chris Wilson, who has to find depth to counter the one position hit hardest by graduation.
5) DeMarcus Granger (DT). Yeah, we know — he played last year. But late in the year Granger began to 'feel his oats' and that's a fairly strong statement for this 300 pound block of granite inside. It's a good thing the Sooners have more depth along the O-Line this spring, they'll need it.
6) Jermaine Gresham (TE). Two passes defined his freshman year. The first - a drop in the opener; the last — the critical 3rd and 18 first down against Nebraska. We expect to see much more of the latter as the 6-foot-6 Gresham continues to refine his routes and blocking skills.
7) Mossis Madu (RB). We don't know where he'll play, but this dynamic talent is coveted by both the offensive and 'D' staffs. Several times this fall Madu showed well enough in practice that he was almost taken out of redshirt status.
8) Gerald McCoy (DT). Yes, he could have played last year but at the time was not consistently better than those on the field. But by late in the season, Gerald began to shows signs of domination that were expected of him back in August. Sooner fans will not be disappointed as McCoy continues to develop and becomes a force by next fall.
9) DeMarco Murray (RB). Like Williams, Murray got off to a slow start with a nagging injury that sapped both his talent and desire. However, in bowl preparations Murray was well and showed coaches exactly why he was rated as one of the top backs in the country last year. If Murray continues on this tear, we have a new contender at tailback. Murray brings speed, he may be the fastest payer on the team now that he is well, and moves to the position.
10) Mike Reed (LB). Defensively, Reed may be the key component in spring. Coaches agree that he is not yet in 'Smitty shape' but few are upon arrival. Between the hash marks, he can be a force, one coach said this week. Obviously, with JC players it does not happen overnight and there will likely be a few rough days ahead. But if fans are patient here, Reed could be 'the man' by September.
11) Ryan Reynolds (LB). There will be a huge welcome back party for Ryan as his skills and leadership should make Oklahoma as good, or better, at linebacker by late spring. Reynolds' was exceeding expectations when he earned playing time as a true freshman. An ACL last spring cost him a starting role in 2006, but gave him a redshirt year instead. If you know Reynolds, you can be certain that the time was not wasted. As a reminder, he regained full speed by December and was showing everyone what we missed in '06.
12) Adrian Taylor (DE). A month ago there were concerns that persistent back pain signaled a possible and unfortunate Jeff Lebby situation. However, in the past few weeks reports are much more optimistic and Taylor could be cleared to turn in loose this spring. At 6-foot-4, 295, he is the fastest of the D-Linemen.
13) Phil Loadholt (OL). You won't need a name on the back of this jersey, as Loadholt looks something like the upper deck. Give Phil some time to catch up with James Patton's system and watch the fur fly next fall.
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