Sooners return experience, firepower to offense in 2009.
NORMAN, Okla. --
The calendar read January, yet the moment felt so much like February
that the question made perfect sense.
Bob Stoops had just announced that Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham,
Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams were bypassing the NFL Draft to
remain in school when a reporter asked, "Bob, have you ever had a
better signing day this?"
The Oklahoma coach smiled at the irony of the question, looked at the
ceiling and said, "No, I guess not."
No indeed. Rare are the days, whether they fall during February's
national signing period or not, when a coach knowingly retains the
services of a Heisman Trophy winner, three All-Americans and four
All-Big 12 players.
But more than playing accolades, Stoops knew that the group of four
also represented a pair of team captains (Bradford and McCoy) and the
cornerstone on which a team can be built.
Now the Sooners look toward 2009 with a good chunk of its Big 12
Championship and BCS title game team still intact. New faces will
be introduced along the offensive line, at wide receiver and in the
secondary, but those are manageable holes, the kind often opened by
That turnover was anticipated and recruiting and playing
time were allocated in such a way as to mitigate them.
At all of those positions, younger players are poised to step forward.
The stage is set then for Oklahoma, the only program to win back-to-back
Big 12 crowns, to shoot for an amazing fourth in a row while also
battling for its fifth BCS Championship Game appearance in Stoops' 11
|| The Offense
For the glass-half-empty folks, the talk with focus on the offensive line
and wide receiver, and even the negative Nellies can be forgiven for such
With four starters gone from the line and two at receiver, they are
positions worth watching.
Still, the glass-half-full crowd will point to the likes of Bradford, Chris
Brown, Ryan Broyles, Matt Clapp, Gresham, Williams and a bevy of
running backs and wonder why anyone would worry.
The 2008 offense was arguably the most potent in the history of college
football and it would be hard to expect that standard early in the season.
Still, there is a reasonable expectation that those who return can play
at an even higher level and that those who will assume more prominent
roles are gifted enough to put up another set of big numbers.
returns as one of the most accurate quarterbacks ever to
play the college game. He'll spend the off-season honing his ability to
read defenses while also looking to add strength and weight.
the Sooners will focus on Bradford's backups.
Gone is Joey Halzle, who was in that role for the last two seasons, but
back is Landry Jones
, who redshirted last season. Jones' attributes
aren't totally unlike those of Bradford and coaches will look to get him
snaps as opportunities present themselves.
The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster will be true
freshman Drew Allen
, who enrolled at OU in January.
|| Running Backs
Bringing back one 1,000-yard rusher is nice. Bringing back two is
unheard of, but that is precisely the situation at Oklahoma.
spent most of the season as the team's top rusher, but
was injured on the opening kickoff of the Big 12 Championship game
and did not play again. He finished with 1,002 rushing yards, but was eclipsed over those final two games by Chris Brown
, who ended the
season at 1,220.
The return of those two alone would be enough to keep most coaching
staffs happy, but Oklahoma also returns its No. 3 rusher from a year ago
in Mossis Madu
, who piled up 475 yards and six touchdowns.
The only other running back who played in 2008 was Justin Johnson
he will be back for his sophomore season. He'll be joined by redshirt
freshman Jermie Calhoun
and true freshman Jonathan Miller.
The fullback position is strong with Matt Clapp
and Brody Eldridge
of whom have been All-Big 12. Marshall Musil, a player similar in style
and stature, is a true freshman with promise.
Oklahoma lost a couple of fixtures in Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel
Johnson, who, by catches, finished No. 2 and No. 9, respectively, in
career receptions at OU.
That means the Sooners will look to new faces at the outside positions.
Candidates include juniors Brandon Caleb
and Adron Tennell
sophomores Dejuan Miller
and Jameel Owens
. The latter two were part
of a decorated receiver recruiting class in 2008.
In the slot, elusive Ryan Broyles
returns. It is not out of the question that
Broyles could move to the outside.
The coaching staff will experiment
with running back Mossis Madu in the slot this spring. The outcome of
that work could determine what kind of flexibility exists.
Newcomers at receiver include junior college transfer Cameron Kenney
and high school product Jaz Reynolds.
The tight end position is in capable hands with Jermaine Gresham
pre-season favorite for the Mackey Award, Brody Eldridge, junior Erik
and sophomores Trent Ratterree
and James Hanna
freshman Gabe Ikard joins the team in the fall.
|| Offensive Line
With four starters, all of whom were invited to the NFL Combine, gone,
there will be an overhaul across Oklahoma's offensive line.
The cornerstone is tackle Trent Williams
. An All-Big 12 player at right
tackle last season, he will move to the left side for the 2009 season. He
was considered by some the top performer on last year's offensive line.
Look for Donald Stephenson
also to compete at that position.
At Williams' vacated tackle spot, Cory Brandon
and LSU transfer Jarvis
will be among those hoping to land the starting job.
At left guard, OU is looking to replace two-time All-American Duke
Robinson. Brian Simmons
, who made a start at left guard last season, is
one candidate while Colorado State transfer Brian Lepak
is another. The
coaches hold Simmons in very high regard and view him as a returning
starter in some ways due to his immense amount of playing time.
The right guard spot could wind up in good hands, literally. Stephen
played sparingly last season as a true freshman and has been
projected as a bright prospect since the day he signed. Alex Williams
another who figures to make a push.
The center position presents another opportunity. The Sooners are faced
with the prospect of replacing four-year starter Jon Cooper. There is no
way the team can match that kind of experience, but redshirt freshman Ben Habern
and transfer Brian Lepak are bright prospects.
Oklahoma signed a pair of junior college recruits in the February signing
period and both have the potential to get on the field this season. Jeff
Vinson is a tackle while Tavaris Jeffries is a guard. From the high school
ranks, OU added Josh Aladenoye and Tyler Evans. Their roles will be
determined once they are on campus.
There is no disputing the quality and experience that the Sooners lost
from their offensive line. Those players were part of two, and in some
cases, three Big 12 Championships. The mitigating factor is the quality
of what remains to step forward. The coaching staff likes the current cast
and the opportunity for another bumper season.
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Coming on Thursday...
Preview the 2009 Oklahoma defense and special teams. |
2009 OU Spring Football Central