Who Could Step Up in '09?

When a team returns the type of talent that the Sooners manage to bring back year after year, including a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Sam Bradford, devastating forces on the defensive line like Gerald McCoy, as well as hard-hitting linebackers such as Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds, it's fairly easy to pick a most important player simply based on that talent.

But it's important to have those players that everyone might not expect to play as big a role in the grand scheme of things actually to play those roles.

Here are a couple of offensive players that many might not expect to step up as big as I believe they will:

1. Senior wide receiver Adron Tennell:
He's one of the top two wide receivers on the depth chart, but when putting his name up next to Ryan Broyles', most wouldn't pick him as the go-to-guy. After playing 12 games during the 2006 season as a true freshman, Tennell suffered an ACL injury against Texas Tech in 2007, which sidelined him for the rest of that year. And with playmakers like Manny Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias on the outside a year ago, he didn't see much action on the outside. But as a senior, expect him to be a key target for Bradford.

2. Freshman center Ben Habern:
He has tough shoes to fill, as he comes in after the former anchor of the offensive line, center Jon Cooper, vacated the role following last season. And all the off-season questions have been about how the offensive line will fare. But Sooner fans, he has impressed in the spring, and he will continue to impress in the fall. Look for Habern to provide a solid frame in the center of what will be a pretty good offensive line at the end of the year. The versatile Brody Eldridge is currently filling in for an slightly injured Habern in practices, and it looks like he will now be considered in the mix for that spot as well.

Now, here's a couple of the defensive players that many might not expect to step up as big as I think they will:

1. Sophomore strong safety Sam Proctor:
He was expected to be a key contributor last year as summer turned into fall, but he didn't quite make it into the starting safety spot. However, he saw action on special teams, and this year coaches hope he will be able to fill the void left behind from safeties Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. With his talent and quickness, Proctor will be a solid force in the secondary.

2. Junior free safety Quinton Carter:
The statistics say the Sooner defense returns starters in all but two positions. But ask the coaches and they'll say they actually return starters in all but one position. With his experience and the playing time he received a year ago, Carter is virtually a starter, albeit a relatively unknown starter to most of the Sooner faithful. But Sooner fans will know him after this year, after he helps Proctor, along with the corners, senior Brian Jackson and junior Dominique Franks, to solidify the secondary position into one of the best in the nation.


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