Monday, August 19, 2013
Hopes and concerns for Sooners offense
By Brandon Chatmon
NORMAN, Okla. -- For the first time in three seasons, Landry Jones won't take the first snap of the season for the Oklahoma Sooners. The veteran signal caller has moved on to the NFL and will be replaced by the winner of the quarterback competition between Blake Bell and Trevor Knight.
Whoever wins the job will have plenty of talent around him and should be protected by a veteran group of offensive linemen. Yet plenty of potential concerns still remain. Here is a look at three reasons for hope for the Sooners' offense and three reasons to be concerned.
Senior Gabe Ikard, with 37 career starts, anchors an experienced offensive line for the Sooners.
Veteran offensive line: The Sooners' offensive line, led by ESPN.com preseason All-American Gabe Ikard, is a great place to start as offensive coordinator Josh Heupel looks to build his offense. Even with the loss of top-five NFL draft pick Lane Johnson, OU returns five players who have combined to start 85 career games, including Ikard's 37 starts. And the kicker is, Ikard and right tackle Daryl Williams might be the only guys considered locks to start, given the added depth the Sooners brought in with junior college transfers Josiah St. John, Tony Feo and Dionte Savage, along with superb sophomore center Ty Darlington.
New offensive approach: Whoever wins the quarterback job will bring a running aspect to the quarterback position that was never a factor with Jones under center. There will be times this season when receivers are covered and the Sooners' quarterback will make the defense pay with his feet. It brings an added element to the offense that Big 12 defenses will have to prepare for and should mean additional big-play opportunities for the Sooners' skill players.
Depth at the skill positions: OU will enter the season with a veteran group of playmaking running backs alongside youthful talent at the position, one of the Big 12's most explosive, and a group of talented, yet somewhat inexperienced, receivers. Running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay should be one of the league's top running duos, and Jalen Saunders proved he can make game-altering plays in 2012.
A key weapon as the "Bell Dozer," Blake Bell has not been tested as an every down quarterback.
Inexperienced quarterback: Bell has thrown 20 career passes during his first two seasons in Norman, and Knight has zero career pass attempts. Even though Bell has had plenty of success as the “Bell Dozer” in OU's short-yardage packages, nobody knows how he or Knight will respond when counted on regularly to make plays and protect the football. The Sooners' coaches are looking for a playmaker who will limit mistakes. What if neither player can prove they can make big plays without making big mistakes?
Unknowns at receiver: There is a bunch at talent at receiver but limited experience. Inside receivers Saunders and Sterling Shepard are proven playmakers, but OU needs playmaking at outside receiver as well. Trey Metoyer might be the most talented candidate but needs to mature into a consistent producer. Durron Neal has ability, and Lacoltan Bester is one of the most competitive receivers on the roster. OU has receivers with the potential to produce, but that means nothing until they actually make plays on Saturdays.
Inability to run the ball when needed: The Sooners averaged 4.83 yards per carry in 2012 yet struggled to run the football at key times. According to ESPN Stats and Info, OU averaged 2.65 yards per rush against teams that won 70 percent of their games last season (losses to Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M). OU is looking to regain the toughness and ability to run the football whenever they want that propelled the Sooners into the BCS title hunt in recent years. For example, the Sooners averaged 3.94 yards per carry against teams that won 70 percent of their games during the 2008 season, the year of OU's last BCS title game appearance.