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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NORMAN, Okla. -- Blake Bell's transition to tight end has undergone a setback.
The former Oklahoma quarterback suffered a knee sprain this week and will miss the rest of the Sooners' practice, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.
The injury, however, is not expected to require surgery, and Bell should be ready to rejoin the Sooners on the field in time for the preseason in August.
Instead of transferring or backing up Knight, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bell asked to try out tight end this spring. Up until the injury, Bell had been impressing with his ability to get open down the field and catch the ball.
"Blake Bell has looked good," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told reporters earlier this week. "He scored a touchdown in one of our team deals. He's got great hands."
The schools jointly announced Friday that the matchup formerly called the "Red River Rivalry" will now be referred to as the AT&T Red River Showdown.
Next season will be the 109th meeting between the Longhorns and Sooners, who have been playing each other at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas since 1929.
For years, the game had been dubbed the Red River Shootout, until it underwent its first name change in 2005 to the Red River Rivalry to commemorate the 100th meeting between the programs.
AT&T became a sponsor of the game the following year.
- The NCAA uncovered no infractions connected to Sports Illustrated's allegations of Baylor assistant Kendal Briles committing a recruiting violation.
- The Bears are working this spring to replenish their depleted secondary, reports the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner.
- The Jayhawks know it might seem far-fetched, but they have the goal of fielding the best defense in the Big 12 next season, they tell the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jesse Newell.
- Kansas RB Darrian Miller is having to learn his third offense, the Lawrence Journal-World's Tom Keegan writes.
- From the B team to the spotlight, it's Oklahoma State receiver Jhajuan Seales' time to shine, writes The Oklahoman's Cody Stavenhagen.
- Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford did a Q&A with Sports Illustrated. Former Longhorns QB Colt McCoy is joining RG III in Washington.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel thought the Sooners' April Fool's joke involving tight end Blake Bell was in poor taste.
- Oklahoma receiver Jordan Smallwood has bounced back from surgery, reports the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig.
- The Daily (Va.) Press' David Teel speculates whether a West Virginia-Virginia Tech game could work in 2017.
- SportsOnEarth.com's Matt Brown calls Kansas State a sleeper to watch for the 2014 season.
- TCU coach Gary Patterson, who does not like having spring games, frequently watches tape of future opponents' spring games, according to TCU 360's Jordan Ray.
- Texas Tech linebacker Kris Williams has returned from ACL surgery to crack the depth chart, writes the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams.
What it could mean: Let’s settle down on the Trevor Knight hype. The Sooners, understandably, would want to slow down the hype machine on Knight, who has been called, in some circles, one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation. And it’s mostly based off one exceptional game.
Every time Heupel is asked about the quarterbacks behind Knight, he reminds everyone that Knight is approaching his redshirt sophomore season and is still a young player. It’s smart of Heupel to put a damper on expectations because it would be nearly impossible to match his Sugar Bowl performance on a weekly basis this fall, particularly since Knight is in line to make just the sixth start of his career against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops on the depth at safety: “We are playing a walk-on as our backup No. 2 safety, so there is going to be opportunities, and hopefully those guys will come in and produce for us. They are going to have to.”
What it could mean: Steven Parker, you better be ready to play. Parker, an ESPN 300 safety and one of the headliners of OU’s recruiting class, has the talent to make an immediate impact. Stoops' words show OU will need him to help right away. It’s not crazy to think he could work his way into the starting lineup but he should, at the very least, make an appearance on the two-deep this fall. Stoops didn't call Parker out by name, but Parker needs to be prepared.
Charles Tapper on the Sooners’ overall approach: “This is a new year, a new season and a new beginning. We have to keep that same chip we had on our shoulder all last year and just keep getting better.”
What it could mean: This could be the most important thing that was said so far this spring. The Sooners had a major chip on their shoulder heading into the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and Alabama paid the price in a 45-31 Sooners win. If OU players and coaches keep the same chip on their shoulder and same hunger they carried into the final stretch of 2013, they could make a national title run in 2014.
Mike Stoops on replacing Aaron Colvin at cornerback: “All three of them [Stanvon Taylor, Dakota Austin and Cortez Johnson] have improvement to make, but they are getting better. They are working at it and just need to be more consistent. There is too much up and down, one good play and one bad play.”
What it could mean: Freshmen Jordan Thomas and Tito Windham could have an opportunity to make an immediate impact, just like Parker. While the cornerback situation is not as dire at the safety spot, Thomas and Windham could play their way onto the field with strong summer and August performances. The three competitors this spring are inexperienced but talented, yet they clearly aren’t as consistent as Stoops would like to see.
Bob Stoops on leadership: “Daryl [Williams] has been awesome with the whole team and offense and has really taken hold of that in the weight room and in our workouts and here at practice.”
What it could mean: Any time Stoops is asked about leadership, Williams comes to his mind immediately. The OU coach is hoping Williams takes a role similar to Gabe Ikard, whose leadership was critical during the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl run. The similarities are striking, with Williams entering his senior season with a ton of experience and being considered the cornerstone of the offensive line. Whether it’s Williams or someone else, it will be critical for the Sooners to have good leadership and veterans policing the locker room if they hope to be in title contention this fall.
To the 'bag...
@Jake_Trotter both TCU QB commits have attended most of the spring practices. Chances Sawyer or Muelstein takes the reins right away? #mbagTrotter: Right away? Very little chance. The TCU coaching staff seems to be relatively content with the way Trevone Boykin has performed in the new offense this spring. Down the line, Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could get a shot, especially if Boykin struggles or the offense bogs down like it did last year. But I feel fairly confident Boykin will open as TCU's starter.
— mk (@mulloy_k) April 3, 2014
@Jake_Trotter going into the spring game at OU, who is the biggest sleeper we should pay attention to on offense?Trotter: I don't think there's any doubt that running back Alex Ross has created the most buzz this spring among the young offensive players not named Trevor Knight. The assumption around Norman was Keith Ford would swiftly win the starting job after contributing to the running back rotation ahead of Ross last season despite being a year younger. But Ross has turned heads in the Sooners' closed scrimmages, and is carving out a role in the OU backfield, whether he starts or not.
— Sean Holmes (@seanathon09) April 3, 2014
@Jake_Trotter @ESPN_Big12 A lot of big recruits have Tech pretty high on their list. What's the likelihood that Tech can grab some of them?Trotter: I got out of the business of predicting verbal commitments a long time ago. But I will say this: having Jarrett Stidham, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB, already on board is going to make a huge difference for the Red Raiders in a bunch of these battles. He will prove to be an invaluable recruiter, and should sway several high-profile prospects out there to give Texas Tech a second and third look it might not get otherwise.
— Stephen Borcik (@SBorcik) April 3, 2014
@ESPN_Big12 if Walsh starts against FSU and OSU loses do you see daxx or Rouldoph take the starting position first?Trotter: Odds are the Cowboys lose to the defending national champs no matter who they start at quarterback. I doubt J.W. Walsh would lose the job (assuming he starts) based on that one game alone. Daxx Garman has been impressive this spring, and I love the potential of Mason Rudolph. But it could take a while for either to unseat Walsh, whose experience trumps all right now.
— Gerald Tracy III (@GeraldTracyIII) April 3, 2014
@Jake_Trotter @ESPN_Big12 Other than Flowers, which OU freshman do you see having the most immediate impact next year?Trotter: The three guys I'd be watching for would be safety Steven Parker II, slot receiver Michiah Quick and running back Joe Mixon. The Sooners are in good shape at safety, but blue-chip true freshmen like Parker II have a history of playing immediately in the secondary in the Bob Stoops era. Sterling Shepard is going to need help at receiver, and Quick has the explosiveness to break into the rotation right away. Mixon was one of the best running back recruits in the country, and is probably too talented to redshirt.
— Carter J (@carterj1982) April 3, 2014
YK Lee in Fort Wort, Texas, writes: On College Football Live, comments were made that the Big 12 champ (if OU or Baylor) would be in trouble for the playoffs due to non-conference schedules. But no mention was made of Alabama's non-conference schedule, which includes an FCS team. Why does ESPN seem to have a bone to pick against the Big 12?
Trotter: Are we seriously going to do this every week? To recap from last Friday, here's who else Alabama has scheduled out-of-conference the last five years: West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State and Clemson. Alabama also plays in the toughest conference in college football. There's just no comparison between Alabama's schedule and Baylor's. And while I didn't see it, I'm sure the gist of the College Football Live segment was to point out that a one-loss Baylor has virtually no shot of advancing to the College Football Playoff against, say, a second SEC team with the same record, due to the Bears' lackluster non-conference scheduling, which includes just one opponent (Duke) from the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten or ACC up to 2019.
ImFasterThanYa writes: Will a Big 12 ref throw a flag when I run through the end zone after scoring a touchdown because it takes several steps for me to turn off the engines?
Trotter: Tyreek Hill could score as many touchdowns as Forest Gump did that one year for Alabama. As you imply, the Oklahoma State transfer can flat out fly.
Katie in Sugar Land, Texas, writes: I love the new Big 12, but I feel we need more rivalries. Texas-Oklahoma is a staple of the conference. But what else is there? After all, great rivalries are the major mark of a great conference.
Trotter: Bedlam has become a great rivalry. But you're right, conference realignment has pretty much destroyed all the other notable ones in the league (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska). This has really hurt the league, but what can be done? College football rivalries aren't forged overnight.
- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby made his thoughts on the possibility of paying student-athletes abundantly clear during a public lecture on Kansas State’s campus.
- True freshman Dimitri Flowers is drawing comparisons to Trey Millard, according to The Oklahoman's Ryan Aber. Coach Bob Stoops explains why he's a fan of Michigan State's hoops coach Tom Izzo.
- Nick Harwell is looking forward to being Kansas go-to receiver, the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jeff Deters writes.
- The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams breaks down Texas Tech's outside linebacker situation. Sophomore safety Keenon Ward has been turning heads this spring for the Red Raiders.
- The Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel examines Oklahoma State's QB quandary.
- Offensive tackle Adam Pankey is ready to step up for West Virginia, reports the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. The Mountaineers offense is still filled with question marks, according to the Daily Athenaeum's Greg Madia. Could West Virginia be playing a game in Charlotte, N.C., soon?
- The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch asks Iowa State wide receiver Quenton Bundrage five questions.
- Bridges over the Brazos River leading to Baylor's new football stadium are just about done, the Waco Tribune-Herald's Tommy Witherspoon reports.
- TCU 360's Samantha Calimbahin analyzes the draft stock of former Horned Frogs cornerback Jason Verrett.
- Texas coach Charlie Strong has been impressed with how QB David Ash has improved with every practice, according to the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger.
The Sooners created problems for Big 12 offenses with their speed and aggressiveness in 2013, but they didn’t bring the physical style that Stoops wanted at various times during the 11-2 season.
Run defense was a big factor in losses to Baylor and Texas last season. The Sooners allowed 510 combined rushing yards in those games, allowing 255 rushing yards in each loss and 4.47 yards per carry in those two outings. In the Sooners' 11 victories, the run defense allowed 116.27 rushing yards per game and 3.96 yards per rush.
Those struggles weren’t entirely unexpected. With the Sooners' move to a 3-4 defense, the natural move for the offense was to test the physicality of a defense that had one fewer defensive lineman on the field than it did in 2012.
A focus this spring has been on OU’s defense becoming more physical to handle the offenses that turn to their running game to help handle the speedy and aggressive Sooners defenders.
“There is some schematics, but I think a lot of it is just being more physical at the point of attack and learning how to play tight end sets,” Stoops said. “We never saw them two years ago, as you remember. It was all four and three wides; we never saw a tight end. Last year we probably saw a tight end 80 percent of the time, and the year before, 80 percent we did not see a tight end. So, it was a new evolution, learning how to play some of the power-run game in this defense.”
It’s all a part of the chess match. Tight ends make it easier to try to take advantage of OU’s 3-4 system and Stoops believes the position is starting to see a renaissance as defenses have adjusted to trying to defend the spread and get after the quarterback. A tight end adds another body along the offensive line, bringing more blocking power while at the same time pushing speedy pass rushers such as Eric Striker further from the quarterback.
“I think it is protecting the edges or along the edges and trying to know where you are coming from,” Stoops said about seeing more personnel packages that feature a tight end. “This defense gives you versatility and angles different in the ways that you can bring pressure. So, they were trying to widen the edges. Eric is such a good rusher and if you give him a small edge, as you saw in the bowl game, even against great players, he can create havoc. Now they try to push him out and make a little longer edges.”
Stoops expects to see more of the same this fall as offenses try to help offensive linemen who are at a disadvantage against OU’s pass rushers.
“That would be a thing that I would anticipate more of,” Stoops said. “I think a lot of football is evolving back to the tight ends. I may be wrong and I haven’t studied it, but we just try to defend what we get. It seems like the tight end is coming back.”
The chess match never ends.
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?
2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.
3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.
- Texas Tech tackle Rashad Fortenberry is grateful he gets one more season.
- Speedster Tyreek Hill is carving out a role in Oklahoma State spring practice.
- With Justin Gilbert gone, Kevin Peterson is now the veteran of the OSU secondary.
- In its final week of spring practice, TCU still offers little clarity in its QB battle.
- Iowa State DE Cory Morrissey is growing into a leadership role.
- Texas offensive tackle Kent Perkins is out for the rest of spring with a knee injury.
- With the NFL draft looming, former Texas DT Chris Whaley is still on the mend.
- Darian Miller is ready for a big year after missing Kansas' final four games last season.
- Kansas coaches, teammates expect WR Rodriguez Coleman to break out in 2014.
- Baylor's young receivers welcome the high standard set by their predecessors.
Running back Alex Ross: The opportunity to play is there for the taking if Ross wants to grab it. He joins Keith Ford as the main competitors for carries this spring. Coach Bob Stoops has singled out Ross as a playmaker in scrimmages thus far but it’s critical for Ross to make a strong impression before February signees Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer.
“I paid my dues and waited my time,” Ross said. “I felt like I needed time to get acclimated to everything around here. I feel like I’ve matured a little bit just in getting bigger and knowing what to do in my part.”
Defensive tackle Torrea Peterson: The senior played a solid role and contributed to OU’s success in 2013, even starting a game against Iowa State. Oklahoma is looking at one of its deepest defensive line units in years. If Jordan Phillips returns to good health and Jordan Wade continues to develop, OU has one of the best two-deep depth chart in the nation. Add Charles Walker, the star of the scout team last fall, and the defensive tackle spot is getting crowded. If Peterson continues to mature and improve, he could be able to secure himself a role but his margin of error is minimal.
Receiver Dannon Cavil: This spring is the 6-foot-4 Cavil’s chance to shine as the lone tall target in the receivers’ room. That changes this summer when three February receiver signees (Jeffery Mead, Mark Andrews and Dallis Todd) who stand 6-5 or taller will arrive.
Cavil is smooth and athletic and this spring will bring more opportunities than the summer or preseason camp. Now is the time for the redshirt freshman to lock down a spot in before other options begin arriving on campus and limiting his reps.
Cornerback Cortez Johnson: The junior headed into the summer of 2013 as an projected starter opposite Aaron Colvin. His sophomore season didn’t go as expected after Zack Sanchez started in his place due to Johnson’s suspension for the season opener and Sanchez never relinquished the starting spot. Johnson shouldered the blame for his subpar showing, saying he is focused on “taking more coaching and less talking” this spring. It’s important for Johnson to show he’s serious about changing his commitment to getting better because he brings excellent size (6-2, 205 pounds) to the cornerback spot.
“I’m just trying to bounce back from last year,” Johnson said. “I didn’t do so well and I’m just trying to be more consistent.”
Offensive lineman Josiah St. John: The senior is one player who was singled out by Stoops for his improvement during the offseason. A junior college transfer, St. John needs to show he can be solid competition for returning starters Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson at the tackle positions with an eye on being a solid third tackle. If he falters, Christian Daimler and Sam Grant are young tackles lurking with three additional tackle signees (Orlando Brown, Joseph Paul and Kenyon Frison) poised to arrive in the summer.
When asked about his defense this spring, the Sooners’ veteran coach left no doubt he was pleased about the progress of that unit.
A year ago the OU defense was in flux. It was obvious that changes were needed, but the search for an identity continued throughout the spring of 2013. OU eventually settled into a switch from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 look, and finished atop the conference in fewest yards allowed (350.2) and fewest passing yards allowed (212.6).
This season, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and the rest of OU’s defensive staff are using the spring to expand and improve their defensive system, tinkering to find the best way to deploy an athletic and young group of defenders.
“A year ago we weren’t in systems yet,” Bob Stoops said. “Now we’re not only in it, we’re expanding it and polishing it out. We’re giving these guys some roles of dropping and rushing. I’m starting to feel, with Mike and the defensive coaches, we’re getting our guys in the best spots, and I think it will really help us.”
Linebacker Eric Striker, a coaches' second-team All-Big 12 selection, has spent time working on his pass coverage skills at the nickelback position after finishing his sophomore season with 10.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. The ultimate goal is to put Striker in the best position to make plays as a junior while also developing his versatility as a defender.
“On normal yardage [downs] we probably rushed Julian (Wilson) twice as much as we did Eric,” Bob Stoops said. “We get in third down and Eric always rushed. First and second downs, it can be a little bit reversed. That’s all we’re saying, giving him more opportunities to do what he does best.”
Even with the success the OU defense had in 2013 as the foundation of a 11-2 season, Mike Stoops looks back on last season as a learning experience. Last spring was about finding a system and an identity. This spring is about expanding and improving the current system.
“I think you learn a lot and you can add,” Mike Stoops said. “We are so good at some things now that we can continue to tinker with different calls in how we want to do it. We continue to expand in little ways. We are not going to change a whole bunch. I think we will add more to our package as we go along.”
Yet they were easily the Sooners’ most productive position group in 2013.
OU returns all three starters with Frank Shannon, Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker set to remain key contributors in the Sooners defense this fall. This spring, all three players are a year wiser, a year stronger, a year better and poised to become even more important to the Sooners defense this season.
“They are just playing faster and better,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “The experience is so valuable. As good as those guys are, just playing the whole year in the system they understand it so much better. We have seen a lot of different schemes and hopefully we can react to plays better. I thought in games we were a little slow in adjusting and reacting to things just because we hadn’t experienced them before. Now we have a year under our belt to really dissect the good and the bad of it all and adjusting our personnel to match.”
While the ability to adjust will be key, the overall depth at the position could be better as well. Sophomore Jordan Evans is improving and could be the most athletic of the bunch and was exceptional when thrown into the fire with an eight-tackle performance against Texas Tech as a true freshman. Junior college transfer Devante Bond joins the roster, providing another pass rush threat in the mold of Striker and redshirt freshman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is another young player who could earn himself some playing time if he proves to be a pass rushing threat.
“It is good,” Mike Stoops said. “I like our depth outside, I think we have to continue to gain some depth inside. The new additions, Devante Bond has been good and Obo [Okoronkwo], it has been good to have him back out there. He has a lot to learn, but they are very athletic and very fast. The important part of this whole deal is gaining quality depth and I think we are starting to do that.”
Spring Game Wrap-Up
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
TBD North Dakota State Iowa State TBD Louisiana Tech Oklahoma TBD North Texas Texas TBD Stephen F. Austin Kansas State TBD Samford TCU TBD Central Arkansas Texas Tech 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State