The inside scoop on the Sooners?
Over 12 years of spring football under head coach Bob Stoops, the Sooners have gone from very generous access to media and fans to almost no access to media and fans. This was the first spring in which no fans or media members could watch the Sooners practice until the spring game.
That said, the program appears to be very excited about several new faces at many important positions, yet also excited about what's coming back. That list of returners includes starting quarterback Landry Jones, who was the MVP of the Sun Bowl last season, wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who will be talked up for All-American honors this coming season, and running back DeMarco Murray, who has the ability to be one of the most electric runners in the nation.
The Sooners also have momentum on their side for the first time in several seasons, simply by winning their first bowl game since the 2006 Holiday. Further, karma may be on OU's side after losing so many players to injury last season.
Between Jimmy Stevens and Patrick O'Hara, and perhaps Bryce Easley, Sooner placekicking remains in flux. O'Hara closed last season starting after Stevens lost the job. But at the spring game, O'Hara missed his only chance, while Stevens made three kicks, but caromed his first one through off the left goalpost.
A crowd of 16,000-plus attended the spring game on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Still, considering OU's history and tradition, it was a small crowd, especially when contrasted with Nebraska, which brings in more than 70,000 to its spring game. One school of thought is Sooner football is off the radar. Part of the reason for that might be that only one day of spring football was open to media and fans: the spring game.
Bob Stoops said he thought the Sooner offensive line was much better this spring than last. Separated by a draft for the spring game, both lines, the Red's and White's, played a very clean game, committing no false starts and only two holding calls over a full four quarters in front of live referees.
WR Kenny Stills -- He will be a true freshman when the season begins, but as an early high school graduate, he's already on campus and has already completed his first encounter with Sooner spring football. He's 6-1, 175 pounds out of La Costa Canyon High in Encinitas, Calif., and he was the breakout receiver at the spring game, catching six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Other receivers return, but he's immediately in the mix as a hopeful No. 2 receiver to go along with Ryan Broyles at No. 1.
RB/FB Marshall Musil -- Musil sprang to the top of the depth chart at the fullback position, then carried the ball at the spring game 29 times for 92 yards. Afterward, Bob Stoops talked him up and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said, if he can pick up the blocking required at the fullback position, he could be OU's first fullback in 10 years to be a big part of the offense.
LB Tom Wort -- He tore an ACL during preseason drills a year ago at a time he was expected to earn playing time as a true freshman. He's now atop the depth chart at middle linebacker and, when the Red and White teams were drafted for the spring game, Wort was the second defender chosen, one spot behind two-time All-Big 12 linebacker Travis Lewis.
NG Jamarcus McFarland -- McFarland was the subject of a huge recruiting battle won by Oklahoma. He's been behind Gerald McCoy the last two seasons, but now has a chance to be a difference-making three-year starter.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"Marshall's a really good player. We've known that. Going against us on last year's scout team, we've always liked the way he runs, the way he blocks. You know, he's a bigger guy, he's going to do a lot for us, in different ways." – Stoops on fullback/tailback Marshall Musil.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: The Sooners are confident, hopeful and have a wealth of talent returning. That's saying something considering the team had three of the top four NFL draft picks -- QB Sam Bradford, DT Gerald McCoy and OT Trent Williams -- and four first-round selections in all (TE Jermaine Gresham).
The Sooners are just the kind of team that could have everything fall together and run away with another Big 12 Conference championship. Also, the secondary has been rebuilt, there are two new starters at the linebacker spots, and other potential trouble spots.
The hope is always that the Texas game decides the Big 12 South and the Sooners beat the Longhorns. Because a real good way to play for a national championship is win the Big 12 championship game, and the first thing you have to do to win it is get to it.
Still, there will be another force at work upon the Sooners and that's a very respectable schedule. There's only one weak team on OU's non-conference schedule and that's Utah State. Florida State, Air Force and Cincinnati, will require OU playing at a high level to prevail.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE:
It's a familiar story. Landry Jones is back after being named MVP of the Sun Bowl, and with the advantage of knowing he'll be the starting quarterback throughout the spring and the preseason. And he's got an All-American talent to throw to in Ryan Broyles and a similar talent at running back in DeMarco Murray. That might be enough to put up big numbers, but to become an explosive offense on par with other units quarterbacked by Sam Bradford and Jason White, the offensive line must come together, while Broyles gets some support from other receivers stepping forward, and a tight end -- probably Trent Ratteree -- must still develop.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE:
If Wort works out at middle linebacker the way WLB Travis Lewis thinks he will, the Sooners may actually get better at the position despite losing two starters from last year's squad. Yet even if that happens, they're going to miss the All-American McCoy on the line, while hoping they don't miss Adrian Taylor on the defensive line. Taylor is still recovering from surgery following a broken leg suffered at the Sun Bowl. The Sooners are also retooling their secondary. Good thing they have two very good defensive ends in Jeremy Beal, who opted to skip the NFL draft, and Frank Alexander. There's great talent in many positions, but much of it's new and it must still come together against a very strong non-conference schedule.
SCOUTING SPECIAL TEAMS:
If Broyles stays healthy, the Sooners are bound to have one of the best return games in the Big 12 Conference and the nation. The explosive junior receiver is a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball. Matt Moreland's back to kick off, though the Sooners brass still want more touchbacks out of him. The big question remains at placekicker, where Stevens will try winning the opening-day job a third straight season. Yet even if he does, the bigger question will be whether he can keep it or not. When OU last won the national championship, it had fantastic special teams, strong at every position. That still has to come together. Question marks remain.
LB Tom Wort -- He tore his ACL during preseason practices last August. It was a blow to the Sooners because they really thought he'd play, even as a true freshman. Currently, he's penciled in as OU starting middle linebacker.
QB Drew Allen -- He was highly recruited, and as a redshirt freshman finds himself right where Landry Jones was last year, with one exception. Jones was behind Sam Bradford, while Allen is only behind Jones. Jones is the presumed starter, though Allen is receiving an opportunity to make his case. Should he remain second team, as last year proved, the backup quarterback is a very important part of the team.
LB Ronnell Lewis -- Although not exactly a newcomer, Lewis seems like one. Atop the depth chart at the strong side position, where Keenan Clayton played last year, he's in front of Austin Box, a junior, who has him beat on experience. But Lewis has risen fairly quickly since making several highlight hits at last season's Sun Bowl.
--DT Adrian Taylor remains atop the depth chart at defensive tackle despite a grisly broken leg at the Sun Bowl. There has been no definitive word on his progress and he did not go through spring practice. Without the broken leg, Taylor would be an All-American candidate.
--OL Stephen Good suffered the only injury at the spring game, a sprained ankle. He's expected to recover quickly.
--RB DeMarco Murray played in his first bowl game at the Sun Bowl. This marked the first spring he went through spring drills. Though he sat out the spring game to avoid the risk of injury, he'll enter his senior season coming off a fully healthy offseason.