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Thursday, April 11, 2013
Spring game storylines: Oklahoma

By Jake Trotter

NORMAN, Okla. -- Saturday, the Sooners will put the finishing touches on spring ball with the Red-White spring game.

With a quarterback derby, three first-year assistants and several new starters on defense, this has been one of the most storyline-rich springs of the Bob Stoops era. Of them all, here the seven most compelling storylines to watch for Saturday:

Kendal Thompson
Before spring, Kendal Thompson was seen as the darkhorse to start at QB for the Sooners. Now he's in the thick of the race.
1. The quarterbacks: All eyes will be on Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight, who will be playing out their quarterback battle in public for the first time. So far, the competition remains tight, as all three have gone through ups and downs this spring. But with a big spring game performance, one of the quarterbacks could capture momentum heading into the summer and two-a-days.

2. New offense: After six years operating a pro-style attack to fit the skill sets of Sam Bradford and Landry Jones, the Sooners have been installing a new offense this spring to capitalize on the athleticism of Bell, Thompson and Knight. This pistol offense closely resembles the one Nevada ran when Colin Kaepernick was there, stocked with read option and designed quarterback run plays. It’s doubtful OU will unveil much of this during a televised spring game. But whatever portion the Sooners unveil will be interesting.

3. The three early enrollees: True freshmen have stolen the show in the spring game the past two years (Kenny Stills and Trey Metoyer), and this spring the Sooners have two more true freshmen who could do the same in wideout Dannon Cavil and strong safety Ahmad Thomas. Cavil is a big target who has made several big plays downfield in practices. Thomas has been making instinctual plays to the ball all spring, too. Keep an eye on defensive end D.J. Ward, too, who was cleared to join the team this week, and is expected to get a few snaps Saturday. Ward was one of OU’s top-rated signees in February but didn't play football his senior season of high school.

4. The defensive line: No position seems to have come as far this spring as the defensive line. Tackles Jordan Phillips, Jordan Wade and Torrea Peterson have all flashed at times, and Chuka Ndulue's move from end to tackle has given new coach Jerry Montgomery a four-man rotation in the middle to work with. The Sooners felt they could afford to move Ndulue inside because of the development of sophomores Charles Tapper and Mike Onuoha, who are the future of the position, as well as Geneo Grissom's resurgence since flipping back from tight end. This defensive line still has a long, long way to go to become anything above average. But the group appears to be better off now than it was two months ago, and Saturday will be an opportunity for the rest of us to see just how far they’ve come.

5. The return of the linebackers: Linebacker Aaron Franklin proclaimed this week that the linebackers are the strength of this defense. Funny thing is, he might be right. In the middle, Frank Shannon emerged last season and outside backer Corey Nelson is as experienced as any returning OU defender other than cornerback Aaron Colvin. Toss in Franklin and his athleticism, and the group could be really solid. Since they seldom played together last season, Saturday will provide them an opportunity to showcase what they can do.

6. Cortez Johnson: Going into the spring, cornerback opposite Colvin appeared to be a huge question. Going into the spring game, Johnson is on the cusp of answering that question. His teammates have raved about how physical he’s been at the corner position. If he can keep it going, the Sooners won’t be easy to throw against with Colvin sure to blanket the other side of the field.

7. Tight end: The tight end position was virtually non-existent last year, as the Sooners opted to go with a four-wide set in October when it became clear none of the tight ends were ready to contribute. But this spring, Taylor McNamara is healthy again, Sam Grant has been blocking his way into playing time and Brannon Green has a full year in the system. It will be interesting to see how much they’re used Saturday, and what they do once they get on the field. With the Sooners looking to run the ball more, it would help if the tight ends contributed something -- which would be more than they did last season.