It’s been close to two months since a Big 12 team played football, but teams all across the conference are getting ready to go back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills will once gain be the order of the day as college football players everywhere don their gear to go through practices.
It’s time for us to turn our attention to what those practices might mean. We’re giving a preview of each team in the conference and exploring the questions they’ll try to answer in the coming weeks.
Next up is a team that will be attempting to make conference history this season by winning their fourth Big 12 title in a row, the Oklahoma Sooners.
This spring will be Lincoln Riley’s first as head coach at Oklahoma. The biggest difference that’s made so far? For one, Riley hired a new strength and conditioning in Bennie Wylie, who’ll be responsible for making sure the Sooners are in championship form come August.
Inexperience can be found on both sides of the ball, but there’s no shortage of blue chip players in Norman. If they have a good spring, some of that talent just might grab a starting spot.
PRACTICE BEGINS: SAT, March 10
SPRING GAME: SAT, April 14.
LOCATION: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (Norman, OK)
Rarely does a team replace a Heisman-winning quarterback and have a former five star recruit waiting in the wings. That’s what Lincoln Riley has in junior Kyler Murray.
Officially, there is a quarterback controversy at Oklahoma. It would be hard, however, not to see the electric Murray becoming the eventual starter, especially given the blazing fast speed that was on display at times in 2017. The question remains as to whether he can develop as a passer.
He’ll get competition in that regard from third year man Austin Kendall. Kendall is a pro-style quarterback out of North Carolina who redshirted last season and has the makings of a Division I player if he can win the job.
Riley’s second most urgent concern this offseason is along the offensive line and at tight end. The most likely candidates to take over two vacated positions on the line are underclassmen – center Creed Humphrey is a redshirt freshman, as is tackle Adrian Early. They will probably have to compete, though, with senior Jonathan Avlarez and sophomore Erik Swenson.
At tight end, sophomore Grant Calcaterra caught three touchdowns as a freshman in 2017 and probably has the inside track. A receiver out of high school, Calcaterra has showcased the same kind of athleticism and pass-catching ability as predecessor Mark Andrews.
The Sooners will also look to find a new player at the H-back position. Senior Carson Meir is the proven blocker, but redshirt freshman Jeremiah Hall could be line for playing time if he makes progress.
Defensively, Oklahoma will be somewhat young next season. They might only have one senior starter and project to have only two or three on the entire two deep.
That might not be a bad thing, especially considering some of the top end talent that’s been assembled in Norman.
The secondary is probably priority number one for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. After their struggles last year, several players will get the opportunity to show they deserve to start.
Tre Norwood came on late as freshman, so tentatively pencil him in to start at cornerback. The same can probably be said of Robert Barnes, who did well last year at safety.
Parnell Motley will hold down a cornerback spot and Jordan Parker returns from a season-ending injury to provide depth. Brendan Radley-Hiles, a five star recruit out of Florida, could feasibly also find some playing time in the defensive backfield.
Senior Khalil Haughton could be in line to take over at strong safety, a move that would provide the Sooners with veteran leadership on defense.
On the interior of the defensive line there’s experience, but the outside will have to be sorted out in spring ball. Juniors Kenneth Mann and Mark Jackson might be the next men up and have an advantage on the edges. Two of Oklahoma’s early enrollees, five star Jalen Redmond and Ronnie Perkins, could be future stars and will look to come in and impress right away.
There’s also a linebacker spot to be filled. Last season, injuries forced then-freshman Kenneth Murray to middle, but he’s expected to go to the weak side. The middle will be open for redshirt sophomore Jon-Michael Terry, who’s received praise this offseason and could be more suited to the position than Murray.
On special teams, Oklahoma was average overall last season, so that unit might get some work this spring. Shane Beamer, who was hired from Georgia to be the assistant head coach for the offense, has experience coaching the third phase of the game.
Despite the return of some starters, the Sooners have plenty to replace this spring. Are those replacements on track to be better than what walked out the door? It is difficult to imagine the offense improving upon last year’s campaign and the jury is probably out on the defense right now. There’s definitely plenty of upside to go around, however, if Lincoln Riley and his staff can bring it along.