The Sooners have a few storylines to watch on both sides of the ball this spring
Oklahoma opens its 2020 spring practice as the frontrunner to win the Big 12, but coach Lincoln Riley’s squad has plenty to work on over the next month to get ready for the upcoming season. For the fourth year in a row, the Sooners will have a new starting quarterback. Redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler is a heavy favorite to claim the job, but Tanner Mordecai will get a chance to push for the No. 1 spot. Getting Rattler comfortable in the high-powered attack is a priority this spring, along with developing some of the weapons at receiver. The defense took a step forward in coordinator Alex Grinch’s first year in Norman and more progress should be expected in 2020. However, the question marks for this unit are more significant than the ones on offense. Every level will be under the spotlight this spring, as more depth and overall production is needed to push for a national title.
5 Storylines to Watch During Oklahoma's Spring Practices
1. Getting Spencer Rattler Ready
With Jalen Hurts out of eligibility, Oklahoma will have its fourth starting quarterback in four years. However, while a “quarterback battle” is technically set to unfold, redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler is a heavy favorite to take the first snap. Rattler ranked as the No. 11 overall prospect and a five-star recruit in the 2019 signing class and played in three contests in a redshirt year in 2019. The Arizona native completed seven of 11 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown and added another 23 yards on the ground last year. Tanner Mordecai played in six games as Hurts’ backup last fall and threw for 207 yards and two scores on 16 completions. Again, while the words “quarterback battle” will be utilized here, this is Rattler’s job to lose. This spring is all about getting him acclimated to the starting role.
2. Wide Receiver Development
CeeDee Lamb capped off a terrific career in Norman by catching 62 passes for 1,327 yards and 14 scores last fall. Over three years with Oklahoma, Lamb caught 173 passes for 3,292 yards and 32 touchdowns and averaged a robust 19 yards per reception. Charleston Rambo returns as the top statistical option after grabbing 43 catches for 743 yards and five scores last fall. This spring is all about getting the next wave of receivers ready to assume more of a workload in the passing game. Jadon Haselwood (19 catches), Theo Wease (seven), and Trejan Bridges (seven) ranked as top-100 recruits in last year’s class and have to step up to assume Lamb’s role in 2020. Bridges is currently suspended for the first four games of 2020, but Wease and Haselwood are slated for a huge role. Incoming freshman Marvin Mims and transfers Obi Obialo (Marshall) and Theo Howard (UCLA - if healthy) will be a factor this fall.
3. Restock the Defensive Line
Oklahoma’s defense took a step forward under new coordinator Alex Grinch last season. After giving up 33.3 points a contest last year, the Sooners lowered that total to 27.3 in 2019. Additionally, this unit held teams to 5.63 yards a play – down from 6.1 in 2018. Grinch’s defense also led the Big 12 in rush defense and gave up fewer big plays than it did the previous year. Exceeding last season’s performance starts up front with finding a replacement for standout nose guard Neville Gallimore. He’s not the only loss, as the line must replace two players that provided depth in Marquise Overton and fellow nose guard Dillon Faamatau. The return of LaRon Stokes (4.5 TFL) alleviates some of the concerns, but junior college recruits Josh Ellison and Perrion Winfrey are expected to make an instant impact on the interior. Standout end Ronnie Perkins is suspended for the first four games, so this is a key spring to build depth off the edge. Marcus Stripling and Isaiah Thomas are two players to watch at end, with 2020 recruit Reggie Grimes arriving this summer to compete for snaps.
4. New Faces at Linebacker
The Sooners are losing only one starter at linebacker, but it’s a big one. Kenneth Murray departed for the NFL after a terrific junior campaign, leaving a massive void in the middle of Oklahoma’s linebacker unit. DaShaun White could slide to the middle to replace Murray after recording 51 stops (3.5 for a loss) as a sophomore last season. Caleb Kelly is back to full strength after playing in only four games due to a knee injury last season. The California native has accumulated 160 tackles (11 TFL) and five sacks in his four years on campus. Kelly should rejoin the starting lineup in 2020, with Nik Bonitto the favorite to claim the third spot. Jon-Michael Terry (16 tackles) also returns after missing eight games due to injury last season, with former safeties Jamal Morris and Robert Barnes moving to linebacker this spring to add depth. In addition to finalizing the starting role, Grinch needs to develop more overall depth at this position. The development of sophomore David Ugwoegbu and redshirt freshman Joseph Wete is worth monitoring this offseason.
5. Sorting Out the Secondary
After finishing 111th in pass efficiency defense in 2018, Oklahoma climbed to No. 83 last fall. While cornerback Parnell Motley is a huge loss and more depth needs to be found overall, there’s reason for optimism here. The return of Tre Norwood from a season-ending injury adds depth and competition to the nickel spot. Jaden Davis showed flashes of promise as a freshman cornerback last fall and will team with senior Tre Brown to form the starting duo. Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell are back to man the safety positions, with Justin Broiles, Woodi Washington and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Criddell providing depth. As mentioned above, depth has been an issue here, but the 2020 class could bolster the secondary. Freshmen Bryson Washington, Joshua Eaton and DJ Graham and junior college recruit Justin Harrington provide an influx of talent and competition for the defensive backfield.