Oklahoma Sooners: Football Recruiting
Earlier this week, I wrote about how Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are facing tougher challenges recruiting against in-state programs such as Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor, but there are plenty close to the situation who still have big expectations for the Sooners and Cowboys in the Lone Star State.
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HOUSTON -- On-again, off-again rain couldn’t put a damper on the Houston Nike Football Training Camp on Sunday, and three athletes -- safety Deionte Thompson, tight end Jordan Davis and offensive tackle Jerry Tillery -- earned golden tickets to compete at The Opening this summer in Oregon.
Seven players left The Kinkaid School practice facility with MVP honors at their respective positions: Skyler Bonneau (quarterbacks), Remus Bulmer (running backs), Gary Haynes (wide receivers), Erik McCoy (offensive linemen), Nikolas Daniels (defensive linemen), Spencer Choka (linebackers) and Deontay Anderson (defensive backs).
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Quarterback Kyler Murray, linebacker Malik Jefferson, wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge, offensive lineman Patrick Vahe (Texas commit) and defensive backs Justin Dunning (Texas A&M commit), Will Sunderland Jr and P.J. Mbanasor. all earned golden tickets after stellar performances at DeSoto High School. Murray, Jefferson, Lodge, Vahe and Sunderland were named camp MVPs of their respective positions.
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This year, the immediate impact from the incoming freshman class could be much greater. Collectively, the league signed 11 defensive players ranked in the ESPN 300. And several could vie for time from the moment they step on campus.
But who among them will make the biggest impact? There are some notable contenders.
Nigel Bethel II was the gem of the Texas Tech recruiting class, and he fits the profile of an instant-impact recruit. A four-star signee out of Miami whom Tech flipped from the University of Miami late in the recruiting window, Bethel II brings a level of speed the Red Raiders just don’t possess elsewhere on defense. Given that two-year starter Bruce Jones is gone, the opportunity for playing time at corner is there for Bethel, too.
Playing-time opportunities are also there for Oklahoma State linebacker Gyasi Akem. The Cowboys graduated three key linebackers, including starters Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. With the lone returning starter, Ryan Simmons, moving to the middle this spring, the Cowboys have a hole on the weak side. Akem, who was Oklahoma State’s top defensive signee, has the closing speed and physicality to help fill it.
Steven Parker II, Oklahoma's top defensive recruit, also might carve out a role rather quickly. The safety out of Jenks, Okla., could help the Sooners replace another safety from Jenks (Gabe Lynn). Oklahoma has some other intriguing young defenders vying for time at the back end of their defense, notably Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. But Parker has the potential to make an immediate impression.
West Virginia, meanwhile, returns both its starting cornerbacks in Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a true freshman. But it won’t be easy keeping Dravon Henry off the field. Henry, the top-ranked player from the state of Pennsylvania this year, had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State before picking the Mountaineers. He is a ball hawk who will bring a playmaking reputation to the West Virginia secondary when he gets his chance. That might come sooner, rather than later.
Henry, Parker, Akem and Bethel are all elite prospects. But the top-rated defensive signee in the Big 12 this year is Texas defensive end Derick Roberson, who was the No. 78 overall recruit in the ESPN 300. Even though he’s still slight, Roberson can get after the quarterback. The Longhorns are in terrific shape at one end with returning All-Big 12 performer Cedric Reed. Roberson has the skill set to break into the rotation on the other side in the fall.
Among a few others, any of the five above could make a huge splash next season. So we put it to you in a poll: Of Akem, Bethel II, Henry, Parker II and Roberson, which true freshman defender will have biggest impact in 2014?
The Pro Impact team, led by LSU commit and the No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300 Kevin Toliver II and defensive back Derwin James Jr., a Florida State commit, upset River City, which featured FSU quarterback commit De’Andre Johnson and South Carolina commit Sherrod Pittman, 23-14.
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RB Jones wants to travel
The battle for Ronald Jones II, one of the state’s top running back recruits out of McKinney North, rages on as he should be hitting the road in the next few months.
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It has been two years since a tight end caught more than three passes in a season at OU, although Trey Millard filled a tight end/fullback role in 2012 and 2013, catching 30 passes in 2012 and 11 passes in 2013.
“The Sooners are hopeful a strong receiving threat emerges this season with Blake Bell, Taylor McNamara, Connor Knight and Isaac Ijalana competing for time at tight end. OU has used players in the role of tight ends, with Millard and Aaron Ripkowski filling the void, during the past two seasons. But a passing threat like Gresham has escaped its grasp.
When you're young you want to blame it on other things. As I've matured I've realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those [eleven] here.” -- Oklahoma TE Taylor McNamara
“There’s just not a lot of Jermaine Greshams running around,” coach Bob Stoops said. “You have to have the right people and they have to be experienced, so when they go on the field they have to be better than another personnel grouping you might have out there.”
The Sooners’ depth at receiver made wideout-heavy personnel groupings in passing situations the right move during the past two seasons with OU preferring to have Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard working the middle of the field instead of a bigger threat.
As OU builds the offense around Trevor Knight, the desire for a versatile threat at tight end increases thanks to Knight’s run-pass skills.
“It makes it more versatile as an offense,” McNamara said of the use of versatile tight ends. “If you have them in there and don’t know what personnel to put out there, you can run it and throw it so it’s a benefit, for sure.”
And McNamara is hoping to be that guy.
The junior’s development has been overshadowed by Bell’s move to tight end and Ijalana’s recent arrival from the junior college ranks but the California native stepped on campus with plenty of accolades of his own. A four-star signee and Army All-American, a lot was expected from McNamara but he will enter his redshirt sophomore season without much fanfare. Yet, after briefly wondering if OU was the right place for him, McNamara decided he was willing to shoulder the blame for his lack of an impact during his first two years in Norman, Okla.
“When you’re young you want to blame it on other things,” he said. “As I’ve matured I’ve realized, anywhere you go, they want to play the best players, get the best 11 on the field. And I think I can be one of those  here.”
His progress as a redshirt freshman brings hope that he can fulfill the promise he brought with him as an early enrollee in the spring of 2012. After a strong showing in bowl preparations, McNamara’s lone catch in crimson and cream is a four-yard reception in the Sooners’ Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
“The whole year I was working to get better,” he said. “Eventually I got good enough to help the team and get to play a little bit. Getting to play at all was a blessing, it’s a lot more fun when you’re involved.”
This spring is a critical time for McNamara, who at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds brings good size and could become the receiving threat the Sooners have been searching for in recent years.
“I’m here to play,” McNamara said. “I don’t want to sit my whole career here. I want to make an impact.”
Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.
So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:
QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley
The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.
QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard
Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.
3. Texas Tech
QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant
Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.
QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley
The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.
5. Kansas State
QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett
The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.
6. Iowa State
QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage
Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.
7. Oklahoma State
QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales
Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.
8. West Virginia
QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White
The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.
QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson
Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.
QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell
Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.
Television, the internet and social media have all helped out-of-conference programs invade California looking for recruits, but nothing has aided those programs more than good old-fashioned effort, according to Fresno (Calif.) Central East assistant coach Tony Perry.
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Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?
Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas
Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.
The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.
That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.
And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.
If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.
Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.
Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State
The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.
After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).
Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.
On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.
K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.
The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
4-star: QB/WR Chad President (Temple, Texas/Temple)
3-star: ATH Blake Lynch (Troup, Texas/Troup); WR Devontre Stricklin (Waco, Texas/Midway)
Other: ATH Louis Brown (Burton, Texas/Burton); OT Maurice Porter (Missouri City, Texas/Navarro College)
The skinny: Baylor’s domination securing top-flight WRs has continued with the 2015 class.
Other: OLB Bobby McMillen (Naperville, Ill./Naperville)
The skinny: The Cyclones secured their first commitment in McMillen just days after signing day.
The skinny: Coach Charlie Weis is still looking for his first pledge for the Class of 2015.
3-star: QB Alex Delton (Hays, Kan./Hays)
The skinny: The Wildcats have only one commitment, but it was a critical get. K-State whiffed on QBs in the 2014 class, making the position a top priority for 2015. The Wildcats can rest easy with the speedy Delton on board.
4-star: OG Joshua Wariboko (Oklahoma City/Casady); DT Marquise Overton (Jenks, Okla./Jenks); TE Bobby Evans (Allen, Texas/Allen); DT Du'Vonta Lampkin (Houston/Cypress Falls)
3-star: S Jamile Johnson Jr. (Dallas/South Oak Cliff)
The skinny: Oklahoma’s recruiting momentum following the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama has carried over into 2015, as Overton committed the day after. The Sooners will have to fight to keep Wariboko, the other gem of the class so far. He has offers from almost every power program in the country, including Florida State, LSU and Texas.
Other: OG Johnny Wilson (Midland, Texas/Midland Christian); QB John Kolar (Norman, Okla./Norman North)
The skinny: The Cowboys are off to a sleepy start in 2015, but they did get a much-needed pledge from a QB with only two on scholarship on the current roster. Oklahoma State might add another QB in this class.
3-star: DE Breylin Mitchell (Round Rock, Texas/Round Rock); WR Jarrison Stewart (Mesquite, Texas/Horn); OLB Alec Dunham (Coldspring, Texas/ Coldspring-Oakhurst)
Other: ATH Tony James (Arlington, Texas/Bowie); DT Joseph Broadnax (Dallas/Bryan Adams); ILB Semaj Thomas (Fort Worth, Texas/Southwest); OT Cody Ford (Pineville, La./Pineville)
The skinny: TCU has worked quickly with its 2015 class, picking up seven commitments already. Mitchell was being pursued by OU before pledging to the Horned Frogs.
4-star: OG Patrick Vahe (Euless, Texas/Trinity); RB Jordan Stevenson (Dallas/South Oak Cliff)
3-star: DT Bryce English (DeSoto, Texas/DeSoto); CB Jalen Campbell (Corpus Christi, Texas/Flour Bluff); S Johnny Shaw (Orange Texas/West Orange-Stark); OT Ronnie Major (Huntsville, Texas/Huntsville)
Other: S DeShon Elliott (Heath, Texas/Rockwall-Heath); OT Toby Weathersby (Houston/Westfield); DE Charles Omenihu (Rowlett, Texas/Rowlett)
The skinny: Charlie Strong and his staff have hit the pavement running in Austin, filling out the class with a Big 12-high nine commitments, including three players on the ESPN Junior 300 list.
4-star: QB Jarrett Stidham (Stephenville, Texas/Stephenville)
Other: RB Corey Dauphine (Port Arthur, Texas/Memorial); OG Lio Lafaele (Corona, Calif./Riverside Community College)
The Skinny: Kliff Kingsbury collected Texas Tech’s biggest recruiting victory in years by hauling in Stidham, ranked as the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the class. Stidham had offers from virtually every blue-blood program in the country, and he gives the Red Raiders a foundation piece at a key position.
4-star: S Kendrell McFadden (Hollywood, Fla./McArthur); WR Jovon Durante (Miami/Jackson)
3-star: WR Kahlil Lewis (Miramar, Fla./ Miramar); RB William Cameron (Sanford, N.C./Southern Lee); OG Matt Jones (Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard); Stone Wolfley (Morgantown, W.Va./Morgantown); ATH Jordan Adams (Reisterstown, Md./Franklin)
Other: S Kevin Williams (Pompano Beach, Fla./Blanche Ely); S Sheldrick Redwine (Miami/Killian); ATH Jacquez Adams (Reisterstown, Md./Franklin)
The Skinny: The Mountaineers are off to a blistering start to their 2015 class, with quality and quantity. McFadden and Durante, who had offers from Alabama and Florida State, are both on the ESPN Junior 300 list.
MIAMI -- Athlete Torrance Gibson, the No. 11-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, is a jack of all trades. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound prospect threw for 1,864 yards as a junior with 19 TDs and only three interceptions. Gibson also rushed for 1,032 yards with 10 more scores. In addition to his impressive numbers, he’s arguably the best wide receiver on his 7-on-7 team, the South Florida Express, which features other top receivers such as Da'Vante Phillips and Calvin Ridley.
Though Gibson has many talents, there is only one position in which he feels like he can fully utilize his abilities.
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To the 'bag:
Rusty in Denver writes: Thanks for totaling the position rankings at the end last week. I thought that was a good summary. I do think you missed out on two key aspects for the coming season: schedule and coaching. As a K-State fan, I would push us up for the coaching staff, but take us back down for our schedule. Thoughts?
Trotter: Glad you enjoyed the series, Rusty. But I wasn’t trying to predict records, which obviously coaching and schedule play a big part into. I only wanted to focus on the position groups, and where every team stood relative to the rest of the league. When we try to predict how each team will finish in the league down the line, coaching and schedule obviously will be factored in.
Trotter: OU could be favored in every game on its schedule, which obviously would give them a decent chance of running the regular-season table. But the Sooners also have a recent history of dropping games as double-digit favorites, as well (TCU ’05, Colorado ’07, BYU ’09, Texas Tech ’11, Texas ’13). This has a chance to be OU’s best team since 2008. And they are a legitimate threat to make the College Football Playoff. But they won’t get there unless they can avoid the double-digit land mine.
Trotter: I disagree with your put down of the Iowa State WR corps. Bundrage has proven he can make big plays, Lazard was one of the top-rated WR recruits in the country and Bibbs is the Big 12’s best returning receiving tight end. But the point about the QBs is very valid. Iowa State always seems to find its answer at QB at the end of a season, only to restart its search the next. I don’t know if Rohach is the answer. Maybe he is. Or maybe it’s a healthy Richardson. Or perhaps it’s Joel Lanning. Whoever it is, that quarterback will have some weapons to work with next season. The key will be finding -- and sticking with -- that right quarterback.
Trotter: Well, there’s no doubt that getting through that first year in coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme is going to help. But I don’t know that I’d term the Tech defense underrated at this point. The Red Raiders gave up 41 points or more in their final four regular-season games, and while the Holiday Bowl showing was impressive, losing the likes of Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush, Will Smith, Terrance Bullitt, Tre' Porter and Bruce Jones is going to hurt. I do like the potential athleticism of this defense, though. And they do have the chance to surprise, particularly if some of the juco transfers up front pan out.
Trotter: It’s possible receivers Ian Sadler or Byron Daniels work their way into the rotation, but I think cornerback Nigel Bethel II will make the biggest impact. The Red Raiders just don’t have a corner on their roster with the speed or playmaking potential of Bethel. He might not start right way, but he will play. And ultimately he will end up starting, perhaps sooner rather than later.
Trotter: Basically, Gibson was a partial qualifier last season, which means he can’t join the team in an official capacity until this summer. Ultimately, since Gibson redshirted, it won’t matter much. Provided he keeps his grades up, he will still have four years of eligibility left once he joins the team.
No. 1: Running back
Why it’s important: It’s critical for the Sooners offense to be balanced. Lack of balance hampered OU’s offense in 2013 but Trevor Knight’s Sugar Bowl performance gives the passing game hope. Now it’s important to find a quality running back who can keep defenses honest.
Sophomore Alex Ross: He brings a terrific size/speed ratio at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but he needs to improve his performance in all aspects of the position. This spring is his opportunity to show he deserves some carries in 2014.
Sophomore David Smith: This spring is Smith’s opportunity to prove he can make an impact as a running back. With two top freshmen poised to join the program in the summer, it could be the most important spring of Smith’s career.
Freshman Joe Mixon: The ESPN 300 running back is extremely versatile and could end up being used a lot of different ways in the fall.
Freshman Samaje Perine: Another ESPN 300 running back, Perine will bring a physical, slashing style to the program in the summer.
Best-case scenario: Ford and Ross wage a competitive battle to sit atop the depth chart after the spring. The duo could complement each other well and this spring might be the first glimpse at their potential together. Ideally all three running backs show they can help the Sooners because you can never have too many running backs.
Worst-case scenario: Ford continues to fumble, Ross continues to struggle to be a complete running back and Smith doesn’t look like he can make an impact. That opens the door for Mixon and/or Perine to skyrocket up the depth chart in August.
1. TCU: TCU has been tenacious defending the pass since joining the league, and even without potential first-round pick Jason Verrett, that shouldn’t change in 2014. Sam Carter was the only non-senior to earn first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors in the secondary last season, and Chris Hackett was one of the best underclassman defensive backs in the league last year. Derrick Kindred is primed to step into TCU’s third safety spot after playing a key role in the rotation. The Horned Frogs also add the nation’s No. 3 juco safety in Kenny Iloka. Throw in senior Geoff Hooker, and the Horned Frogs have an impressive five-man rotation at safety. At corner, Kevin White was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and will take over for Verrett as the primary corner. The Horned Frogs have several options at the other corner, including incoming three-star recruit Nick Foster.
2. Texas: After playing the nickel role last year, Quandre Diggs will settle back at cornerback in place of Carrington Byndom. Opposite Diggs will be the ultra-athletic Duke Thomas, who was so good in spring ball last year, he forced the coaches to move Diggs to nickelback. Together, Diggs and Thomas could give the Longhorns the best cornerback tandem in the league. Antwuan Davis, who redshirted in his first year, was an ESPN 300 signee and figures to play a big role somewhere in the secondary. Josh Turner (37 appearances) and Mykkele Thompson (12 starts in 2013) each bring a lot of experience at safety.
3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma graduates the heart and soul of the secondary in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who gutted his way through an array of injuries last year. But if the Sooners can find an adequate replacement for him, the Big 12’s best pass defense statistically in 2013 should be stout again. Julian Wilson (nickelback), Zack Sanchez (cornerback) and Quentin Hayes (strong safety) all return as starters, though Hayes could be pushed by Ahmad Thomas and incoming freshman Steven Parker for time. Hatari Byrd, an ESPN 300 signee last year, should step into the vacant spot at free safety. Cortez Johnson will try to fend off Stanvon Taylor, who played as a true freshman, for Colvin’s spot in the only real uncertain area of this secondary.
4. Kansas State: The Wildcats will miss All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman, but his cohort, Dante Barnett, was one of the best young safeties in the league last year. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles and first with four interceptions. Randall Evans also returns after leading the team in pass breakups and gives the Wildcats a versatile defensive back. As usual, Bill Snyder will also be looking for some juco impact. He should get it in Danzel McDaniel, who was the No. 4 juco CB recruit in the country. Cornerback Jesse Mack also could prove to be a key juco signee. If both players pan out, this could become one of the better defensive backfields in the league.
5. West Virginia: The bad news is the Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst pass defense last year. The good news is they bring back three starters. Karl Joseph has started the last two seasons at free safety, though he could slide to the strong side with Darwin Cook gone. Joseph has All-Big 12 potential, and he needs to elevate his game for the West Virginia defense to take another step forward. Veteran K.J. Dillon could be the front-runner for the job alongside Joseph, though Jeremy Tyler and Jarrod Harper will also be in the mix. West Virginia also brings back both starting cornerbacks in senior Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a freshman. The Mountaineers also signed Keishawn Richardson, the No. 8 juco CB, and Jaylon Myers, the No. 9 juco safety, for depth. Cornerback Dravon Henry, an ESPN 300 signee who had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, could play immediately if one of West Virginia’s veterans struggle.
6. Kansas: The Jayhawks return all five starters from their secondary, including last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, strong safety Isaiah Johnson. Returning cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver, were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections and give the Jayhawks one of the better corner duos in the league. Free safety Cassius Sendish started every game and had 12 tackles in Kansas’ only Big 12 victory in 2013, over West Virginia. Nickelback Courtney Arnick started in six games as a redshirt freshman. If this group collectively improves, Kansas could field a solid defense in 2014.
7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who might be selected high in the first round of the NFL draft after a stellar combine performance. The Cowboys welcome back one of the best young corners in the league in Kevin Peterson, who was terrific as a sophomore in coverage opposite Gilbert. Ashton Lampkin has experience, and he will likely fill the other corner spot unless someone else emerges. Lyndell Johnson, who made a transition from linebacker to safety last season, will take over full time at strong safety. The Cowboys will need someone else to emerge at the other safety in place of departed veteran starter Daytawion Lowe. Deric Robertson, Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry, all from the 2013 recruiting class, are possibilities.
8. Texas Tech: How the Red Raiders retool here will be on one of the bigger spring storylines in Lubbock. Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson were thrown in the fire as freshmen last year, and they will be counted on to fill bigger roles. The gem of the incoming recruiting class, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, could be asked – and has the capability – to play right away. The Red Raiders have to replace both starting safeties, including freshman Tanner Jacobson, who is going on a Mormon mission. To compensate, Tech signed six safeties, including Josh Keys, the No. 5 juco safety in the country, who had offers from Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Getting strong safety J.J. Gaines back from a season-ending injury will be a boost, too.
9. Baylor: The Bears are one of several teams in the league that were decimated in the secondary by graduation. Baylor loses four of its five starters, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon. Safety Terrell Burt is the only returning starter, leaving the other four spots up for grabs. The Bears signed juco corners Tion Wright and Chris Sanders to help fill the void. Both are already on campus and will be battling Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tyler Stephenson for a starting job. Orion Stewart, who backed up Dixon as a redshirt freshman, will likely step in his role, and fellow sophomore Kiante’ Griffin will be the favorite to take over at the nickel.
10. Iowa State: Cornerback Nigel Tribune was the only true freshman to play for the Cyclones last year, and he received votes as Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Tribune, however, is the only returning starter. Veteran safety mainstays Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield are gone. In response, the Cyclones will look for Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, the Nos. 6 and 7 juco safety recruits, respectively, to step in immediately.
Spring Game Wrap-Up
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
TBD North Dakota State Iowa State TBD Florida State Oklahoma State TBD Louisiana Tech Oklahoma TBD North Texas Texas TBD West Virginia Alabama TBD Stephen F. Austin Kansas State TBD Samford TCU TBD Central Arkansas Texas Tech