- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
NORMAN, Okla. -- Many faces are gone from final 2012, SoonerNation “Oklahoma 10” -- a composite ranking of the 10 best players on the squad.
Through the first half of spring ball, we’ve updated the “Oklahoma 10,” which – you guessed it – features many new faces:
1. FB Trey Millard (Last ranking: 2): Perhaps no one stands to benefit more from the ongoing tweaks offensively this spring than Millard -- and that’s a good thing for the overall team, too. Millard averaged 6 yards per carry and more than 11 per reception in 2012, despite touching the ball just 63 the entire season. With a renewed emphasis on the running game featuring a heavy dose of read, midline and triple option, Millard figures to be a bigger part of the attack next season.
2. CB Aaron Colvin (4): Where would the Sooners be if Colvin had joined Tony Jefferson and left early for the draft? He is the best player on this defense by a mile. What’s just as encouraging for a unit with so many young players is the leadership role Colvin appears to be seizing. Mike Stoops has plenty to worry about as he retools his defense. But he doesn’t have to worry about having someone the rest of his guys can look up to. Nor does he have to worry about Colvin locking up the receiver on his side of the field.
3. WR Jalen Saunders (6): By last season’s end, Saunders might have been the best receiver on the roster. The stats certainly support that notion, as he topped all OU receivers in yards after the catch and completion percentage on balls thrown his way. With Kenny Stills gone, there’s no doubt who the Sooners’ No. 1 option in the passing game will be next season, and Saunders looks ready to take on the burden of being the team’s definitive go-to receiver.
4. RB Damien Williams (NR): Who knows what kind of season Williams would have finished with had he been able to stay healthy? Despite a midseason ankle injury, Williams still rushed for 946 yards, which included four touchdown runs of 60 yards or more in OU’s first five games. The home-run threat put in the work over the offseason, and now weighs close to 215 pounds, which should only enhance his durability. If he can stick on the field and avoid the training room, Williams is more than capable of producing an All-Big 12 season.
5. C Gabe Ikard (9): Bob Stoops said he isn’t worrying about his center missing contact in the spring with a broken hand, and neither should you. Ideally, Ikard would be out there developing a rapport with new line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. But Ikard has 37 career starts, and two All-Big 12 seasons behind him. He’ll be ready to go when it counts.
6. WR Sterling Shepard (NR): Shepard has been dynamic since he stepped on campus, and has continued to get better this spring. Shepard has firmly entrenched himself as the offense’s No. 2 passing option behind Saunders, and is in line to be a No. 1 guy later in his career.
7. LB Corey Nelson (NR): Two springs ago, Bob Stoops said Nelson called the best player on the defense. That honor belongs to Colvin, but Nelson is the only other two-year contributor. The plan at the moment is to utilize Nelson is more ways than one, which is a step in the right direction considering he wasn’t utilized at all last season. The only chance for this defense to be more than mediocre is if Nelson plays – and plays at a high level.
8. OG Bronson Irwin (NR): The “War Daddy” has taken on a greater leadership role on the line with Ikard sidelined for the moment. Irwin, quietly coming off a banner junior season in which he played through multiple injuries, is one major reason why the offensive line has been controlling the trenches this spring.
9. RB Brennan Clay (NR): Williams, Millard and even Roy Finch and Alex Ross get all the attention in the backfield. But the fact is, Clay had a very solid junior season, and made several key plays to spur the Sooners to 10 wins. His kickoff return kick-started the game-winning drive in Morgantown. His overtime-scoring scamper capped off the comeback win in Bedlam. And in Ames, he proved, when needed, that he could carry the load. Teamed with Williams, Clay helps give the Sooners one of the best one-two punches out of the backfield in the Big 12.
10. FS Gabe Lynn (NR): Mike Stoops is putting a lot on Lynn moving him to back safety, a major question in the OU defense. Lynn, having played nickelback last year and cornerback the year before that, seems to be enjoying free safety the most, and so far, Stoops seems to be pleased. If Lynn can man the position, that will take a lot of pressure off the rest of the secondary. If he can’t, the Sooners might be in some major trouble.
Ascending: QB Trevor Knight, DE Mike Onuoha, , QB Kendal Thompson, WR Durron Neal, DT Jordan Wade, WR Lacoltan Bester, RB Alex Ross, SS Ahmad Thomas, DE Charles Tapper, LB Aaron Franklin, DT Torrea Peterson, WR Jaz Reynolds