Long-time assistant Brent Venables finally found the right spot to become a head coach - Oklahoma. The former Sooner assistant returns to Norman after a successful run as Clemson's defensive coordinator from 2012-21. Although Venables has never been a head coach, his previous knowledge of Oklahoma, track record on defense and ability to recruit should help him seamlessly slide into the top spot. However, the first-year coach stepped into a tough spot in some regards, as the Sooners lost a couple of quarterbacks to the transfer portal and have room to improve along the offensive line and on defense.
Oklahoma's streak of consecutive Big 12 titles ended at six in 2021. However, even with some roster and coaching turnover, the Sooners still have more than enough talent to get back into the mix in '22. How quickly can Venables put all of the pieces into place?
For every new coach, the to-do list after the initial press conference is pretty standard. The head coach has to recruit, add through the transfer portal, implement scheme changes, build a staff of quality assistants and coordinators, discuss potential NFL draft impact with juniors and work on any facility or support staff requests. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
While every coach has those goals in mind, it’s never too early to look at some of the personnel concerns surrounding a program and a new coach for the upcoming year.
Here’s an early look at five personnel question marks for Venables to address in 2022:
Oklahoma Football: 5 Priorities for New Coach Brent Venables in 2022
1. Scheme Development + QB
New offensive play-caller Jeff Lebby returns to his alma mater after successful stints as a coordinator at UCF (2019) and Ole Miss (2020-21). He ranks among the top assistant hires for the 2021-22 carousel but will also have his hands full this offseason. The Sooners lost two elite talent quarterbacks to transfer in Spencer Rattler (South Carolina) and Caleb Williams (TBA), but used the portal to land Dillon Gabriel (UCF), who played under Lebby in Orlando in ’19. The combination of Lebby and Gabriel should help Oklahoma’s offense retain its normal high-powered production, but there will be a scheme transition on this side of the ball. Could the Sooners add another quarterback through the portal to push Gabriel?
Related: Early Big 12 Predictions for 2022
2. Develop the Receivers
The Sooners lost three key receivers – Jadon Haselwood, Mario Williams and Mike Woods III – from its 2021 offense. Those three players accounted for 109 catches, 1,179 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. On the good news front, Marvin Mims (32 catches for 705 yards) is back for ’22. In addition to getting Gabriel comfortable in his new surroundings, Lebby and receivers coach Cale Gundy have to bring along some of the young talent at this position. Theo Wease and Drake Stoops are experienced, but this offseason is a good time to get Cody Jackson, Jalil Farooq, Trevon West and others ready to contribute.
3. Address the Offensive Line
Assistant Bill Bedenbaugh is one of the top line coaches in college football. However, Oklahoma’s front didn’t have its best season in 2021. The Sooners allowed 33 sacks, and in their two losses, averaged only 3.7 yards per rush. This group also needs to get a better push in short-yardage situations. Guard Marquis Hayes and right tackle Tyrese Robinson departed to the NFL, leaving three starters – left tackle Anton Harrison, center Andrew Raym and guard Chris Murray – back for ’22. This group could look a little different by the end of spring, however. Cal transfer McKade Mettauer could push for time at guard, and Tennessee transfer Wanya Morris should be more comfortable in his second year on campus.
How fast can Bedenbaugh get this group back on track?
4. Reload the Defensive Front
Venables is one of the top defensive minds in college football, so his impact should be felt right away on this side of the ball. Also, hiring Todd Bates away from Clemson in a co-coordinator/defensive tackles assistant role was a huge boost to the staff. The trenches will miss Isaiah Thomas, Perrion Winfrey and edge rusher Nik Bonitto next fall, but Jalen Redmond (eight tackles for a loss) is a good place to start the reloading effort. Kori Roberson, Isaiah Coe, Josh Ellison, and transfers Jeffery Johnson (Tulane) and Jonah La’ulu (Hawaii) are likely to join Redmond in the effort to restock the interior, with Reggie Grimes, Marcus Stripling and Ethan Downs the early leaders for time off the edge.
Brian Asamoah is a significant loss at linebacker, but this unit is still in good shape with DaShaun White, Danny Stutsman and David Ugwoegbu back for ’22.
5. Secondary Concerns
Improving the pass defense is a must after Oklahoma ranked seventh in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense and surrendered 26 touchdowns through the air last year. With those numbers in mind, it should be no surprise Venables and his staff have been active in the portal accumulating defensive backs. Trey Morrison (North Carolina), CJ Coldon (Wyoming) and Kani Walker (Louisville) are all set to arrive in time to compete for ’22 snaps. Playing time is available at safety after Pat Fields transferred to Stanford and Delarrin Turner-Yell departed for the next level. D.J. Graham, Woodi Washington and Jaden Davis top the list of returners at cornerback, but there’s certainly room to improve. The staff will also find ways to deploy Billy Bowman and Key Lawrence into the mix next season.
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