Can Blake Bell win the starting quarterback job this spring?
Even though Oklahoma finished 10-3 and made an appearance in the Cotton Bowl last year, coach Bob Stoops wasn’t satisfied. As a result, the Sooners had a shakeup on the coaching staff, with three new faces coming aboard for 2013. Bill Bedenbaugh was hired away from West Virginia to coach the offensive line, Jay Boulware was brought in to coach tight ends and special teams, while Jerry Montgomery comes from Michigan to coach the defensive line. With the new coaches coming aboard and the loss of a handful of key contributors, this spring is all about getting everyone on the same page. And with a wide-open Big 12 title picture in 2013, Oklahoma is still positioned to be a factor in the conference championship.
Oklahoma Sooners 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 10-3 (8-1)
Spring practice dates: March 9-April 16
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 4
Passing: Blake Bell, 9 of 16, 107 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Receiving: Damien Williams, 176 car., 946 yards, 11 TDs
Receiving: Jalen Saunders, 62 rec., 829 yards, 3 TDs
Tackles: Aaron Colvin, 61
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue, 5
Interceptions: Aaron Colvin, 4
Redshirts to watch: DL Jordan Wade, RB Alex Ross, DL Charles Tapper, WR Derrick Woods, TE Taylor McNamara, QB Trevor Knight
Early Enrollees to watch: P Jed Barnett (JC), WR Dannon Cavil, S Ahmad Thomas, DE D.J. Ward
JUCO Transfers to watch: P Jed Barnett, DT Quincy Russell, OL Dionte Savage, OL Josiah St. John
Aug. 31 UL Monroe
Sept. 7 West Virginia
Sept. 14 Tulsa
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Notre Dame
Oct. 5 TCU
Oct. 12 Texas (Dallas)
Oct. 19 at Kansas
Oct. 26 Texas Tech
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 7 at Baylor
Nov. 16 Iowa State
Nov. 23 at Kansas State
Nov. 30 Bye Week
Dec. 7 at Oklahoma State
Offensive Strength: Outside of finding a new quarterback, there’s not much for the Sooners to be concerned about on offense. The backfield is deep and talented, led by Damien Williams and fullback Trey Millard. Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard and Trey Metoyer are a capable trio at receiver, while the offensive line returns four starters.
Offensive Weakness: It’s only one position, but it’s a big one: Quarterback. Is Blake Bell the answer under center? We’ll find out this spring.
Defensive Strength: With only four returning starters on defense, the Sooners don’t have a glaring strength. Even with the loss of cornerback Demontre Hurst and safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris, the secondary should rank in the top half of the Big 12 next season.
Defensive Weakness: The front seven is easily the biggest concern for Oklahoma in 2013. There’s very little in the way of proven depth on the line, and Tom Wort must be replaced at linebacker.
Spring Storylines Facing the Sooners
1. The quarterback battle. All eyes in Norman will be on the Sooners’ quarterback battle this spring, as Blake Bell hopes to hold off Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson for the top spot. Bell has shown promise in limited work but most of his snaps have come on running plays. Can Bell consistently beat defenses with his arm? The Sooners have one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps returning for 2013, so if Bell proves he can be the No. 1 quarterback, this offense will be dangerous once again.
2. Who replaces Lane Johnson at left tackle? Oklahoma’s offensive line allowed just 1.2 sacks per game last season and led the way for rushers to average 4.8 yards per carry. With four starters back, this unit is in good shape for 2013. However, the one departure is left tackle Lane Johnson, a likely top-15 pick in the NFL Draft. The Sooners could turn to a couple of different players to replace Johnson, with junior college recruit Josiah St. John likely to get a long look from new line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. If St. John isn’t the answer on the left side, Tyrus Thompson, Daryl Williams or Derek Farniok will compete for the open job. Even though center Gabe Ikard suffered a hand injury in spring practice, Oklahoma isn’t worried about the interior of the line, especially with Tyler Evans returning from a torn ACL that caused him to miss all of 2012.
3. Restocking the defensive line. Just how thin is Oklahoma’s line this spring? Just three defensive tackles will participate in practice, and with more 3-4 looks likely to be implemented this spring, there will be an adjustment period for this unit. Chuka Ndulue is a solid end, but who will fill the voids at tackle? Is junior college recruit Quincy Russell one of the answers? How about redshirt freshman Jordan Wade? If the Sooners struggle to sort out the line, stopping the run could be an issue in 2013.
4. Addressing the holes in the secondary. In an offensive-minded league like the Big 12, it’s not easy to rank inside of the top 30 in pass defense. But that’s exactly what Oklahoma accomplished last season, finishing second in the conference in pass defense and 12th nationally in pass efficiency defense. The secondary suffered some hard hits through the draft and graduation, as cornerback Demontre Hurst and safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris all depart. Aaron Colvin will be the leader of the secondary after earning first-team All-Big 12 honors last season, but this unit needs a big year from Gabe Lynn, Kass Everett, Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes. This unit isn’t as dire of a concern as the defensive line, but there could be some growing pains early in the year as the Sooners mix and match to find the right combination at cornerback and safety.
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