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Friday, August 24, 2012
Updating Oklahoma's position battles

By Brandon Chatmon

With the season opener rapidly approaching, it’s the perfect time to look at the results of the key position battles that made Oklahoma’s preseason camp intriguing. Some jobs were won years ago (i.e. starting quarterback Landry Jones) while others were won (tight end) this week. Here’s a look at some of the key position battles, where they stood heading into preseason camp and where they stand now.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK

Then: Drew Allen and Blake Bell were in a competitive battle to earn the No. 2 quarterback position as camp opened. Allen, a junior, won the position in 2011 and was Landry Jones' backup for the entire season even as Bell carved out a role in OU’s “Belldozer” package. Allen and Bell battled in the spring without a winner before summer workouts began.

Now: Coach Bob Stoops named Bell the No. 2 quarterback this week as the sophomore signal caller raised his level of play and proved to the coaching staff that he could run OU’s offense smoothly.

Justin Brown
Penn State transfer Justin Brown is a probable starter for the Sooners in 2012.
RUNNING BACK

Then: Returning starter Dominique Whaley was set to return to practice after missing the spring due to a ankle injury suffered in 2011. But questions about Whaley’s healthy meant questions about the position in general.

Now: By all accounts, Whaley has looked good and is poised to be the likely starter and a major contributor. Brennan Clay, who opened the 2011 campaign as the starter, also returns and his consistent play has been lauded by running backs coach Cale Gundy. Expect him to contribute. Newcomer Damien Williams has impressed during his first month in pads and appears to have earned some carries. Expect all three running backs to get touches for the Sooners. OU has not named a starter but Whaley is the favorite to be on the field for the first snap of 2012.

RECEIVER

Then: Kenny Stills and Trey Metoyer were generally considered to be the Sooners' top two receivers at the end of July. OU needed a No. 3 receiver and had several talented newcomers poised to battle for the spot.

Now: Senior Justin Brown decided to transfer to OU from Penn State in early August after the Nittany Lions were hit with NCAA sanctions. Brown didn’t waste time, learning the offense quickly, proving himself to be one of the Sooners top pass catchers and displaying quiet leadership for OU’s young wideouts. Stills, Metoyer and Brown are considered the Sooners top three receivers with Stills playing in the slot.

TIGHT END

Then: Heading into preseason camp, the Sooners had no idea who would be their starting tight end. Brannon Green and Taylor McNamara, two newcomers, were battling for the spot.

Now: Bob Stoops said Geneo Grissom is on track to be the Sooners starter at tight end this week. Grissom requested a move to tight end over the summer and he has displayed the size and athleticism that made him one of the nation’s top recruits out of high school. He’s relatively new to the position but he’s one of the best athletes on the team and he will be a matchup nightmare if he continues to pick up the position quickly. Green, a junior, and McNamara, a true freshman, should provide depth.

LEFT TACKLE

Then: Lane Johnson, OU’s lone returning starter at tackle, and Tyrus Thompson were battling for the starting left tackle position. Thompson, a sophomore, surprised many by starting the spring game ahead of Johnson.

Now: Johnson is likely to start at left tackle according to tight ends/tackles coach Bruce Kittle this week. Johnson, who started at right tackle in 2011, will be OU’s main “swing” tackle regardless, which means the senior will move to right tackle at times this season with Thompson playing left tackle under that scenario. Regardless OU has three quality tackles they expect to play with Johnson, Thompson and Daryl Williams, a sophomore who locked down the right tackle spot in the spring.

LINEBACKER

Then: After a subpar spring from Corey Nelson, the starting spot at weakside linebacker appeared to be up in the air. Senior Joseph Ibiloye started the spring game running with the No. 1s at the position.

Now: Nelson has impressed during preseason camp and the junior has likely secured the starting spot at the position which was manned by current Detroit Lion Travis Lewis for the past four seasons.

CORNERBACK

Then: The starter at the cornerback spot opposite Demontre Hurst was unclear after a spring battle to replace Jamell Fleming. Senior Lamar Harris began the spring game with the No. 1 defense. Safety Aaron Colvin missed the spring and moved to cornerback in the summer but had zero practices under new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.

Now: Mike Stoops called Colvin one of the biggest surprises of preseason camp so the cornerback position appears to be solidified. Colvin loves playing the position and Stoops loves the way he plays it.

NICKELBACK

Then: Gabe Lynn had moved inside to take better advantage of his skill set and was the running with the No. 1 defense at the start of the spring game with sophomore Julian Wilson backing him up at the position.

Now: Wilson really came on in the preseason -- Mike Stoops called him the most pleasant surprise of camp -- and has secured a role in OU’s defense. While Lynn will start at nickelback, Wilson will play quite a bit at the position and will serve as the sixth defensive back when necessary.