NORMAN, Okla. -- There were questions abound as Oklahoma’s 2013 season opened on Aug. 31. Three Saturdays later, several questions have been answered and some potential holes look like they could become strengths. Here is a look at five players who have stepped up for the Sooners in their first three games:
Cornerback Zack Sanchez: Not much was expected from the redshirt freshman, especially after an average showing in the spring. He arrived in the fall with renewed focus and took advantage when Cortez Johnson missed the season opener due to suspension. Sanchez hasn’t relinquished the starting job opposite Aaron Colvin and has played extremely well thus far. The Texas native isn’t afraid to get involved in the running game and has provided solid coverage. He ranks third on the team with 15 tackles including .5 for loss along with two pass breakups and two passes defensed. If Sanchez continues to play well, the Sooners will have yet another solid cover man to help deal with Big 12 offenses.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips: If Phillips can provide consistent penetration in the middle of OU’s three-man front, he can single-handledly transform the Sooners' defense. Phillips has all the skills and is starting to match his upside with production. His numbers aren’t eye-popping but if he continues to play this way, he’ll demand double teams and open playmaking opportunities for teammates. He has five tackles including one tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and half a sack. Phillips could be a critical piece that allows Geneo Grissom, Charles Tapper, Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and the rest of the Sooners' defense to get one-on-one situations in pass-rush scenarios.
Guard Nila Kasitati: Offensive line was never a position of need and was considered a strength with five starters returning. It didn’t matter to Kasitati who has forced himself into the lineup with his physical play and nasty attitude at guard. His emergence helps to make the Sooners’ offensive interior arguably the deepest group on the entire roster. His healthy return from a knee injury last season has also allowed Bronson Irwin to spend some time at tackle and improved the overall depth along the offensive line.
Linebacker Eric Striker: The sophomore is all over the field. All the time. It’s hard to watch the Sooners' defense play without noticing No. 19. Whether he’s blitzing on the edge, pursuing a running back or dropping in coverage, Striker is around the football. He has 10 tackles including one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries this season. He could be a important piece as defensive coordinator Mike Stoops designs defenses to stop Big 12 offenses.
Safety Quentin Hayes: Hayes went unnoticed throughout the offseason despite a strong spring. Many expected the Sooners to play multiple true freshman in the secondary but Hayes and Gabe Lynn are having none of that. Hayes has brought athleticism, range and coverage skills that OU didn’t have at the safety spot in 2012. He has 12 tackles including .5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.