- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
NORMAN, Okla. -- One area where the Sooners will suffer little attrition from 2012 is running back. Yes, Dominique Whaley has graduated, but Whaley didn’t contribute to the backfield after the first three games as he struggled to regain his agility from a broken ankle he suffered in 2011.
The rest of the backfield returns intact, and that includes Damien Williams. The former juco transfer had a breakout first season in Norman, leading the Sooners with 946 rushing yards while scoring 11 touchdowns and averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Williams would have easily surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier had an ankle sprain not slowed him in November.
Williams gives the Sooners one of the top returning backs in the league. OU also returns Brennan Clay, who proved to be a solid No. 2 back during his junior season. Filling in for Williams at Iowa State, Clay rushed for 157 yards while averaging 6.5 yards a carry. Clay also scored the game-winning overtime touchdown against Oklahoma State.
Both Williams and Clay have battled health concerns over their careers. But their combined presence should help keep them both healthy as seniors next season.
It will be interesting to see if another running back gets into the rotation. Whoever does might have the nod to take over as the feature back in 2014 when Williams and Clay are both gone. Alex Ross will certainly be in that mix after redshirting this past season. Ross was the No. 7 running back nationally coming out of Jenks (Okla.) High School last year, and impressed during his first fall camp.
Ross, however, will face stiff competition from incoming freshman Keith Ford, the No. 3 running back recruit this year. Ford ran for 1,868 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior, and had offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida St., Michigan and Texas.
Those two, along with redshirt freshman David Smith, will battle for third wheel in the rotation this season, and for an edge in heir-apparent status going into 2014.
Last, although certainly not least, fullback Trey Millard returns to the backfield. He and fellow fullback Aaron Ripkowski pack a powerful blocking punch in short-yardage situations. Millard, however, is also very skillful with the ball in his hands, though he seldom gets it, averaging four touches per game over the last two seasons. Given that OU will be operating with a new quarterback and with fewer proven receivers, it will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Josh Heupel finally utilizes Millard’s underrated playmaking ability more often next season.