The University of Oklahoma will once again be well represented at the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual gathering of NFL executives, coaches, scouts and some of college football’s top pro prospects officially kicks off today at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Headlining the contingent of former Sooners in Indianapolis are a trio of 2013 team captains – CB Aaron Colvin, C Gabe Ikard and FB Trey Millard. Record-setting receiver and return man Jalen Saunders rounds out a quartet of Oklahoma players who were in New Orleans as the Sooners ended the season hoisting the Sugar Bowl trophy with a 45-31 win over Alabama.
According to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who saw the Sooners in person for a historic win at Notre Dame, center may be the second-most important position on the offensive line in today’s NFL behind only left tackle. With that in mind, the fact that Mayock listed Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard as his No. 5 prospect at center would seem to bode well for this Oklahoma City native.
Ikard leaves Oklahoma with an extremely decorated career. On top of winning the Wuerffel Trophy and Selmon Spirit Award, he shared OU’s own Don Key Award with Millard, which Oklahoma coaches describe as the highest honor an OU football player can receiver while playing for the Sooners. Ikard was also a finalist for the Rimington Trophy and the Campbell Trophy. He was named a Capital One Academic All-American of the Year in addition to being a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award.
The anchor of Oklahoma’s offensive front, Ikard didn’t permit a sack all season and was part of an offensive line that paved the way for the Sooners to rush for 223.9 ypg, the best mark of the Bob Stoops era. For his exemplary play on the field, Ikard was named a First-Team All-American by the AFCA, CBS Sports, and Walter Camp. He was named a Second-Team All-American by the Associated Press and Athlon Sports along with being named a Third-Team All-American by Phil Steele. Ikard was also named a Consensus All-Big 12 First Team player.
Here’s more from Mayock on the importance of the center position and the evolution of NFL offensive lines:
“I think we're seeing is that in the old days, the defense always line their best pass rusher up against the left tackle with the theory being it's the blind side of the quarterback, the offense would have to protect the blind side, and in the old days they lined up that way every snap every game.
“Now we are seeing defenses getting much more creative, moving guys around, trying to get mismatches wherever they can, overload wherever they can,” Mayock continued. “And sometimes they will put somebody over against a left tackle that they know can't win because they don't care. They will figure, we will try to overwhelm the right side.
“So having said all of that, it's gotten a lot closer, the left tackle and the right tackle. The right tackle better be able to pass protect but I also think if you talk to any of the Peyton Manning, Tom Brady type of quarterbacks that are drop‑back quarterbacks, the thing that bothers them the most is immediate pressure up the middle.
“I think the center and that interior offensive line has become more important and the center, because on top of that, they are calling the protections and coordinating the lines. I would say that left tackle followed by center and then right tackle, but it's getting closer and closer to all five up front.”
Aaron Colvin finished the 2013 season as a consensus All-Big 12 First Team player and semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award. Colvin was invited to the Senior Bowl, but suffered an ACL injury during practice in Mobile, Ala. However, he will still be attending the Combine for interviews with teams. Over his Oklahoma career, Colvin accumulated 234 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 23 PBU and five interceptions. Colvin’s toughness will surely impress NFL scouts, as he played through a variety of painful injuries during his senior campaign. While it’s unclear how much Colvin’s injury will impact his draft status, Sooner fans know this Oklahoma native will be a productive pro no matter where he hands.
Another play coming off an ACL injury is multi-purpose performer Trey Millard, who suffered a season-ending injury vs. Texas Tech on October 26. Millard is much further along in his rehab and will be an intriguing pro prospect because of his versatility. An accomplished pass catcher and blocker, Millard also owns the ability to line up as a single back to carry the ball. Whether you label him an H-Back, fullback or tight end, there’s also little doubt about his value as a special teams performer with a strong football IQ.
Millard finished the season named to the All-Big 12 First Team by the coaches despite missing the second half of the season. He was also named to Phil Steele’s All-Big 12 Second Team. For his performance in the classroom, Millard was named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team and Capital One Academic All-District. In addition, he shared OU’s Don Key Award with Ikard. Millard finished his career with 1,209 total yards on just 163 touches, averaging 7.4 yards gained, with 13 total touchdowns.
Perhaps the one individual with the best shot at improving his draft stock in Indianapolis is Jalen Saunders. Called an “igniter” by Sooners’ co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, Saunders displayed a penchant for producing big plays at opportune times during his two seasons in Norman. A solid showing in the 40 could enhance his reputation as an all-around playmaker.
The Fresno State transfer racked up All-Big 12 Second team honors from the coaches and Phil Steele as a senior. In addition to his prowess at wide receiver, Saunders may be even more known for returning punts. He was named a Third-Team All-American by Athlon Sports, All-Big 12 First Team by ESPN and Phil Steele, and All-Big 12 Second Team by Athlon Sports. He also won two separate Big 12 Player of the Week honors: Offensive Player of the Week at Oklahoma State and Special Teams Player of the Week vs. Iowa State.
In addition, Saunders was invited to the Senior Bowl where caught two passes for 10 yards and returned two punts for 24 yards. For his career, Saunders caught 123 passes for 1,558 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons at Oklahoma. His career totals (spent 2010 and 2011 at Fresno State) are 203 catches for 3,085 yards and 26 touchdowns. While at OU, he returned 25 punts for 396 yards and three touchdowns.
In addition to the aforementioned foursome of former OU players invited to Indianapolis, running back Damien Williams will also be at the Combine. During two seasons in Norman, he accumulated 1,499 rushing yards and scored 18 touchdowns.
While the next wave of Sooners prepare to embark on their NFL careers, it’s also worth highlighting the accomplishments of Oklahoma players who are already well established in the professional ranks.
Frank Alexander started in three games for the Panthers. For the season, he recorded 15 tackles, a sack, and two pass deflections. This former OU defensive end was a fourth-round pick in 2012.
St. Louis Rams
Former OU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford missed over half of the season due to a knee injury. However, in seven games, he still managed to throw 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also threw for 1,687 yards and completed 60.7 percent of his passes, numbers that equated to a 90.7 rating. The Oklahoma City native was the first overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Wide receiver Ryan Broyles played in six games, starting three of them, before he missed the rest of the season due to an Achilles injury. Broyles was second-round pick of the Lions in 2012 after setting the NCAA for career receptions with the Sooners.
Former OU offensive lineman Chris Chester started all 16 games for the Redskins alongside fellow OU alum Trent Williams. He entered the league as a second-round pick of Baltimore in 2006.
Tight end Jermaine Greshman started all 14 of the games he played in for the Cincinnati Bengals. He recorded 46 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns, helping lead the Bengals to an AFC North title. The Ardmore, Okla., product was a first-round selection of the Bengals in 2010.
Tight end James Hanna played in 16 games, starting half of those, and caught 12 passes. He was a sixth-round pick of Dallas in 2012.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Davin Joseph started all 16 games at guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second straight year. A first-round selection of the Bucs in 2006, he has played in 100 regular season NFL games (99 starts) for Tampa Bay.
Linebacker Travis Lewis appeared in 12 games for the Detroit Lions, recording six tackles. He was a seventh-round pick of the Lions in 2012.
Phil Loadholt started all 15 of the games he appeared in at offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, paving the way for fellow OU alum, Adrian Peterson. Loadholt has started 78 games for the Vikings after joining the squad as a second-round pick in 2009.
New Orleans Saints
Former OU linebacker Curtis Lofton had a productive season for the New Orleans Saints. He recorded 82 total tackles and 43 assisted stops and 2.0 sacks as New Orleans returned to the playoffs. He entered the NFL as a second-round selection of Atlanta in 2009.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DT Gerald McCoy finished the 2013 season with 35 total tackles (15 assisited) and 9.5 sacks. He started all 16 games for the Buccaneers and was named to his second Pro Bowl. In Week 11 against Atlanta, he recorded 3.0 sacks.
In his third NFL season in the NFL, DeMarco Murray eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time, accumulating 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns, owning an impressive 5.2 yards-per-carry average. He was named to his first Pro Bowl at the end of the season. He started all 14 of the games he played in and in week three against St. Louis he rushed for a season-high 175 yards.
Adrian Peterson was named to yet another Pro Bowl in 2013, the sixth of his career. He finished with 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing two games this season. He also reached the 10,000-yard milestone for his career. In week 13, the NFL’s 2012 MVP ran for a season-high 211 yards against Chicago.
Kansas City Chiefs
Donald Stephenson appeared in all 16 games for the Kansas City Chiefs this season, starting seven of those contests at right tackle. He was a third-round pick of Kansas City in 2012.
Former OU offensive lineman and Top 5 pick Trent Williams was named to his second Pro Bowl this season. He started all 16 games for the Redskins after entering the NFL as the fourth overall selection of Washington in 2010.
It was also a banner year for several Sooners who made their NFL debuts in 2013. Here is a look at Oklahoma's rookies from 2013.
Despite going undrafted, former safety Tony Jefferson proved his worth during his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals. Jefferson played in all 16 games while starting twice. He totaled 24 tackles and recovered a fumble.
Lane Johnson was selected fourth overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 NFL Draft. He made his NFL debut on Sep. 9 and became the first rookie offensive lineman to start at tackle on opening day for the Eagles since 1999. He started all regular season games and one playoff game. He was part of an offensive line that helped lead block for LeSean McCoy, who totaled a franchise-best 1,607 yards.
Stacy McGee was selected in the sixth round (205th overall) by the Oakland Raiders in the 2013 NFL Draft. He played in 15 games during his rookie year, starting five of those. He recorded 20 total tackles on the season (14 solo, 6 assisted), 0.5 sacks, and recovered a fumble.
New Orleans Saints
Kenny Stills was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the fifth round (144th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft. He led all NFL receivers by averaging 20.0 yards per catch in 2013. He played in all 16 regular season games, starting 10 of those. For the season, he totaled 32 catches for 641 yards with a long of 76 and five touchdowns. In week 8 against Buffalo, he racked up 129 yards and two touchdowns on just three catches.