Oklahoma Sooners: Cody Thomas

During the summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on Oklahoma’s roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 14 Cody Thomas, quarterback, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, redshirt freshman

Impact thus far: Thomas redshirted as a freshman, running the scout team for much of the season.

Impact in 2014: Thomas is in the battle to back up starter Trevor Knight. He had solid moments in the spring but needs to take some steps forward to secure the backup job and give the the coaching staff some peace of mind.

Long term upside: Thomas, who also plays baseball for the Sooners, is talented and his athleticism is underrated, largely due to his size. He’s the ideal dual-threat type of quarterback the Sooners have tried to secure in recent years on the recruiting trail. But Knight stands between him and a starting role -- not to mention Baker Mayfield’s arrival -- so Thomas has plenty of work to do before he sees the field. But if and when he does, he should be productive.

Evaluation grade for Thomas: C . It’s too early to know just how good Thomas can be, but his talent is unquestioned. If he’s able to handle playing two sports and excel behind center to provide a quality backup for a couple of seasons until he gets his opportunity, this grade will rise.

Development grade for Thomas: A. A redshirt season was perfect for Thomas even though the Sooners were playing musical chairs in 2013. No matter how inconsistent the Sooners passing game was a year ago, Thomas wasn’t ready to help.

Quotable: “Cody’s an excellent athlete, he does a really good job, throws some good balls and is moving well. He’s running that scout team really well right now.” -- OU coach Bob Stoops during Thomas’ redshirt season.
With spring ball done, we’ll be reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, beginning Monday with quarterbacks. Some of these outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): After lighting up Big 12 defenses last fall, Bryce Petty thinks there’s still room for improvement going into his second and final season as Baylor’s starting QB. He spent spring break with QB guru George Whitfield working on pocket presence and completing passes in the face of the blitz. Petty connected on 62 percent of his throws last season while finishing fourth nationally in passing yards. If that completion percentage goes up by even just a little bit, look out.

2. Kansas State (2): Outside Petty, Jake Waters owns the most proven track record in the league. That speaks to the inexperience of the position in the conference, but it also speaks to the way Waters closed out last season. While quarterbacking the Wildcats to wins in six of their seven final games, he actually posted a better Adjusted Total QBR than Petty during that stretch. Even with Tyler Lockett sitting out, Waters still delivered a crisp spring game performance and seems poised for a big final season in the “Little Apple.”

3. Oklahoma (3): Trevor Knight might have been underwhelming in the Sooners’ spring game. But don’t let that be a deception. After recovering from some minor early season injuries in 2013, Knight took a major step forward late in the season, capped with a spectacular MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. He’ll have to stay healthy (which was a problem his first season), and he’ll have to become more consistent with his passing accuracy. But the talent and upside is there for Knight to have a monster sophomore campaign. The Sooners still need to iron out who exactly Knight’s backup will be, especially given his penchant for getting nicked up. Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen failed to move the needle much in the spring. Blake Bell is at tight end. And Baker Mayfield, while terrific the entire spring after transferring in from Texas Tech, remains ineligible for 2014.

4. Texas Tech (4): While Knight had a lackluster spring game outing, Davis Webb had a spectacular one. Texas Tech’s lack of QB depth is scary (incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will be the backup by default), but there’s no getting around how impressive Webb has been dating back to Texas Tech’s dominating win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Including that game and three open scrimmages in the spring, Webb threw 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. This spring, Webb showed more zip on his passes after adding close to 20 pounds of muscle. He hopes to get even stronger this summer, and has plans to train with Whitfield in May. If Webb goes down with injury, the Red Raiders will probably be toast. But if he stays upright, Tech could emerge as a dark-horse contender for the Big 12 title.

5. Oklahoma State (5): After a series of steady performances over the spring, veteran J.W. Walsh will go into the summer as the overwhelming favorite to open as the starter against Florida State. Even though he struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013, the Oklahoma State coaching staff loves Walsh’s leadership, toughness and commitment. If Walsh can revert to completing passes at the rate he did as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago (67 percent), he could enjoy plenty of success. If he doesn’t, the Cowboys have a couple of other interesting options, who both had their moments in the spring. Walk-on Daxx Garman has the strongest arm on the roster. True freshman Mason Rudolph can make all the throws, too, though clearly still has a steep learning curve.

6. TCU (8): The Horned Frogs made the biggest jump on this list with the addition of transfer Matt Joeckel, who after backing up Johnny Manziel the past two seasons should be the odds-on favorite to take over as the starter. Coming from Texas A&M, Joeckel actually has the most experience among TCU’s other QBs operating the offense Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed during the spring. Joeckel’s arrival gives TCU the luxury to bring talented incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein along more slowly. It also allows the Horned Frogs to use Trevone Boykin the way they did last season, as a receiver and situational quarterback. With only one career start, Joeckel, of course, has much to prove. But the same goes for the majority of the league’s QBs.

7. Texas (6): The Longhorns ended spring ball with Tyrone Swoopes as their starting QB. That didn’t go well in the spring game, as Swoopes struggled mightily through most of the scrimmage. Texas could move back up the Big 12 QB rankings if USC transfer Max Wittek announces his intentions to enroll. But until he does, he can’t be counted on. Throw in David Ash’s foot injury and concussion past and true freshman Jerrod Heard’s inexperience, and Charlie Strong’s first summer in Austin figures to include plenty of QB uncertainty.

8. West Virginia (7): With Clint Trickett sitting out the spring after shoulder surgery, juco transfer Skyler Howard had ample opportunity to make a mark. Instead, the Mountaineers exited spring the way they started it -- with Trickett still atop the depth chart. A dearth of options is not coach Dana Holgorsen’s problem. Veteran Paul Millard outplayed Howard in the spring game. Logan Moore emerged after moving from receiver to QB before the spring. And four-star signee William Crest will join the fray this summer. But Holgorsen must get better QB play than he did last fall for the Mountaineers to recover from a disastrous losing season.

9. Iowa State (9): According to coach Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones’ QB competition will linger into mid-August. But Grant Rohach will go into the summer with the clear edge after outperforming Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning in the spring game. Rohach showed promise late last season, leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, overtime victory at West Virginia in the season finale. But after furiously rotating through QBs in recent years, the Cyclones understandably want to give this derby due process to play out.

10. Kansas (10): Six of the league’s teams went into the spring with a quarterback battle. Of those, only the Jayhawks came out with an unequivocal starter. After sophomore Montell Cozart outshined Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the spring game, coach Charlie Weis wasted little time in declaring Cozart the starter. Cozart still has a long ways to go, especially with his passing. But at least Kansas now has a young dual-threat QB with upside to build around.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring.

On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. On Tuesday, we reviewed five questions that remain unanswered. On Wednesday, we took a look at five surprising Sooners. On Thursday, we highlighted the five disappointing developments of the spring. Today we end the series with five things to keep an eye on when the Sooners return to their preparation for the 2014 season with summer workouts in June.

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Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesGetting junior DT Jordan Phillips healthy in time for preseason camp is a priority for Oklahoma.
Key injuries: The health of several banged up Sooners including tight end Blake Bell (MCL), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (back), and defensive back Julian Wilson (shoulder) will be the biggest summer focus. OU needs Phillips to return to his pre-injury form of 2013. If he does the Sooners' defensive line could be dominant. Bell’s return to health could provide a big receiving target for Trevor Knight and Wilson’s return would add another experienced veteran to a Sooners secondary that spent a good portion of the spring seasoning younger players such as safety Hatari Byrd and cornerback Dakota Austin.

Summer quarterback development: Most eyes will be on redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen as they battle for the backup job behind Knight. But don’t overlook the importance of the summer for Knight, a redshirt sophomore. The summer months and competitive workouts could help Knight’s continued development as a passer and decision maker. In addition, it’s an opportunity for Knight to really emerge as a key leader for the entire team, not just the offense.

Skill position battles: As the uncertainty at some receiver spots and in the secondary linger on into the summer, those Sooners battling for a spot at receiver, cornerback or safety will get the chance to go head-to-head with each other in an attempt to improve and distinguish themselves. It’s an important summer for players such as cornerback Stanvon Taylor and receiver K.J. Young, a pair of second-year players who could earn a starting role if they take their game to another level in the summer heat. In addition, summer arrivals such as safety Steven Parker II and receiver Michiah Quick could arrive on campus and impress immediately, much like Sterling Shepard did before he broke into the lineup as a true freshman.

Leaders emerging: Along with Knight, other leaders should emerge who could ultimately help decide just how successful the Sooners will be this fall. Terrific leadership a year ago from guys such as Gabe Ikard and Trey Millard was the foundation of OU’s 11-2 season despite the musical chairs at quarterback. If the Sooners can replace those departed seniors with similar leadership, their chances of a Big 12 title and national championship run will increase significantly.

No distractions: One of the most important goals of the rest of spring and summer is to limit and/or erase distractions caused by off-the-field decisions. The Sooners have a real chance to make a run at a College Football Playoff berth, so it will be important for the leaders of the team to emphasize the importance of good off-the-field decision making to their teammates so the Sooners can open the season with a roster full of eligible and hungry players.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring. On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. Today, we move on to five questions that remain unanswered.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight is already a good QB, as evidenced by his play last season but now he needs to take the next step in his development.
Which Trevor Knight will trigger the Sooners this fall? Knight left no doubt how good he could be after his MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Now the OU quarterback needs to answer how good he is over the course of a season. It’s easy to forget Knight is just a sophomore with plenty of developing to do if he plans to become one of the Big 12’s top signal-callers. His subpar spring game is an example, as he finished with 53 passing yards and one interception during a disappointing showing. Transforming from a good quarterback to a great quarterback is the next step in Knight’s progression.

Who will be the starting running back? The competition promises to continue into August, but don't be surprised if it continues deep into the season. OU has plenty of good options including sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross, but this competition could be decided by what the Sooners' running backs do without the ball in their hands. Ross had an excellent spring but didn’t star in the spring game while Ford showed he can play at a Big 12 level as a freshman. The running back battle could be the most exciting battle to monitor this fall.

How will Ahmad Thomas be used? The sophomore has really come on since the middle of last season. He saw time against Alabama and held his own, then built upon that performance with a strong spring. It would be a surprise if he’s not a major contributor on OU’s defense; it’s just a matter of where he plays. Thomas is a versatile defensive back who can play safety or nickelback. He’s the type of guy the Sooners can leave on the field -- regardless of the offense they’re facing -- and feel confident he will make an positive impact against the run or pass.

Who will back up Knight? Baker Mayfield is the obvious choice … in 2015. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the standout of the spring game and will have Knight feeling like his starting spot is never secure when he becomes eligible to play for the Sooners after sitting out the 2014 season. This fall, however, Knight’s backup remains a question mark. Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas looks like he could develop into a quality quarterback, and the new NCAA rules will allow the Sooners to quicken his development like never before. Thomas should be considered the favorite to win the No. 2 job but Justice Hansen's decision to enroll early has allowed him to get one spring under his belt and he could arrive in the fall much more comfortable than the average freshman. This is another battle that could last deep into August.

Who will make big plays in the passing game? Austin Bennett. Blake Bell. Jordan Smallwood. Durron Neal. K.J. Young. Those names could emerge as key targets for Knight this fall but none of them have locked down a spot in the offense quite yet. Smallwood, who probably had the best spring of the bunch, will undoubtedly play a role but OU needs someone to emerge as a legit, consistent threat alongside Sterling Shepard or risk watching one of the Big 12’s top returning receivers be double teamed constantly.
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ 15 practices answered some questions but others still remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman, Okla. beginning with the offense.

Backup quarterback

Pre-spring: This was arguably the biggest offensive concern heading into the spring. Two freshmen, Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen, are behind projected starter Trevor Knight and preparing them for the backup role was one of the spring’s most important goals.

Post-spring: Those questions still remain. Thomas, who was splitting time with OU’s baseball team during the spring, is clearly ahead of Hansen, who threw two interceptions in the spring game after enrolling early to participate in spring drills. Even though Thomas performed better in the spring game he hasn’t appeared to run away with the job.

Summer outlook: The four months until August are the best news for the Sooners. That extra time to develop could be critical for Thomas and Hansen because one of them will need to be the No. 2 quarterback. Either way, OU must have its fingers crossed that Knight stays healthy.

Starting running back

Pre-spring: Keith Ford was considered the favorite to take over as OU’s starting running back after a solid freshman debut. His determination and physical running style earned him carries in a senior-laden backfield in 2013.

Post-spring: Even though he had a lackluster spring game (three carries, six yards), Alex Ross made a move during spring drills. Coach Bob Stoops consistently praised the sophomore, who continually made plays during spring scrimmages. Fellow sophomore Daniel Brooks also looked healthy for the first time in a Sooners’ uniform during the spring game, giving OU more options at the position. The spring left the position murkier than ever but it’s a good problem because the Sooners have several talented options to carry the ball, much like they did in 2013.

Summer outlook: February signees Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are expected to arrive in the summer, kicking up the competition at the position to an even higher level. Stoops expects multiple running backs to get carries this fall, so expect this competition to rage on into the season.

No. 2 receiver

Pre-spring: Sterling Shepard is a proven playmaker and emerging leader. Junior Durron Neal was the clubhouse favorite to emerge alongside Shepard with sophomore Derrick Woods and others ready to battle to become key contributors.

Post-spring: This battle is far from over but redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood could join Shepard as one of Knight’s favorite targets. The buzz surrounding Smallwood has been unrelenting since he stepped on campus last summer, only to be muffled after a foot injury forced him to redshirt. He returned for bowl practices and the buzz wasn’t far behind. With three receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown in the spring game, the redshirt freshman showed his size, athleticism, route running and ball skills could make him a consistent part of OU’s offense.

Summer outlook: Several receivers could become receiving targets this fall but outside of Smallwood, nobody looks like they’ve cemented a role in the offense. Thus, the competition continues and four freshmen, including potential game-breaker Michiah Quick, will arrive in the summer with an eye on surpassing their older teammates on the depth chart.

Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, offense only, on OU’s spring finale. Check back later today for a defense only post. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.

  • Undoubtedly some Sooners fans left the stadium disappointed with what they saw from Trevor Knight. He finished 5-of-14 for 53 yards with one interception. Yet it’s not time to panic, for several reasons. First, Sterling Shepard was on the sidelines. The junior will be Knight’s go-to receiver and could become one of the Big 12’s best playmakers. Two, Knight was going against a solid and athletic defense while using a relatively vanilla offense. Three, injuries along the offensive line didn’t make things any easier, with multiple projected starters out of the spring game. Finally, Knight's ability to make plays with his feet was taken away with his blue, no-hit jersey limiting his impact in the running game.
  • [+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
    Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight had a rough outing on Saturday.
    Nonetheless, Knight must play better. Period. Some people have been quick to insert his name among the nation’s best after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance. He’s still young, relatively inexperienced and has been inconsistent at times early in his career. Let’s wait until he’s consistently efficient before we anoint him as one of the nation’s, or even the Big 12’s, top quarterbacks.
  • Anyone who was surprised by Baker Mayfield’s performance must have missed the rest of the Big 12 in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year for a reason.
  • Mayfield seemed genuinely excited to be a Sooner. He grew up an OU fan and said he would have decided to join the Sooners even if Blake Bell had not changed positions and Kendal Thompson did not transfer. While he is ineligible to play this fall, his presence could pay off big time. OU’s defense will be tested in ways you normally wouldn’t expect from a scout-team quarterback and the Sooners defense should make Mayfield a much better player with its overall talent and playmakers all over the field.
  • Tight end Taylor McNamara had two touchdown catches in the spring game. Could a pass-catching tight end return to OU’s weekly game plans this fall? Maybe. A wait-and-see approach would be wise, as adding a big receiving threat has been a goal for the past two seasons. McNamara and former quarterback Bell, who missed the spring game with an injury, appear to be the most likely candidates at tight end if it does happen.
  • Speaking of receiving threats, true freshman Dimitri Flowers should make an impact this fall. He spent a lot of time with the first-team offense before a hyper-extended knee ended his day. He can block, he can catch and he’s picked up the offense as if he’s entering his junior season. It appears OU has found a hidden gem in the three-star Class of 2014 signee. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as the big-bodied receiving threat OU’s offense has been lacking as his blocking and overall versatility could secure a key role in the offense, allowing the Sooners to adapt on the fly.
  • OU has talented receivers but will miss Jalen Saunders, a likely NFL draft pick. K.J. Young and Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods each showed flashes of ability but need to develop quickly if the Sooners hope to provide quality receiving options for Knight this fall.
  • Nobody seized the starting running back spot with a eye-opening day. Daniel Brooks led the way with eight carries for 67 yards and Keith Ford finished with nine carries for 29 yards. Alex Ross, who had been praised throughout the spring, added three carries for six yards. The door is wide open for Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, two ESPN 300 running back signees, to make an immediate impression on the coaching staff and earn carries this fall. The Sooners need someone to step up and make defenses account for them from the running back position this fall. It doesn’t matter who it is.
  • OU could end up looking back at this spring as a critical time for developing depth along the offensive line. Several linemen, including guards Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson, sat out the spring game, allowing backups such as tackles Josiah St. John and Sam Grant to get plenty of chances. The offensive line struggled at times.
  • The backup quarterback position remains up in the air, but Cody Thomas, a redshirt freshman, looked solid, going 5-of-9 for 52 yards and a touchdown. Justice Hansen, a true freshman, struggled with the speed of the game at times, finishing 4-of-8 for 58 yards and one touchdown but with some good moments.

Spring game review: Oklahoma

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
9:00
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The excitement surrounding Oklahoma’s football program is night and day compared to a year ago. The Sooners announced 43,500 fans in attendance for their spring game on Saturday, a school record. Last year’s announced crowd was 29,200. With the Trevor Knight era fully underway, here’s a recap of OU’s spring game.

[+] EnlargeMayfield
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsFormer Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield was impressive in the spring game.
Best offensive performance: Baker Mayfield stole the show, completing 9 of 9 pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns. The former Texas Tech quarterback, who transferred to OU in January after earning Big 12 offensive freshman of the year honors last season, is ineligible for the 2014 season. Nonetheless, Mayfield outshined Knight, the Sooners’ projected starter this fall, with his flawless outing. Mayfield has Big 12 game experience, and it showed throughout the spring game. He’ll spend this fall giving OU’s defense fits while leading the scout team.

Best defensive performance: Linebacker Eric Striker looked like he was in midseason form with two sacks and one tackle for loss. Striker, who starred in OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, picked up right where he left off. He continually got into the offensive backfield and appeared unblockable at times coming off the edge. He could be poised for a dominant junior season.

Best debut: True freshman Dimitri Flowers looks ready to help the offense immediately. One of the scariest scenes of the spring game was Flowers lying on the ground, clutching his knee. Fortunately for the Sooners, it was just a hyper-extended knee for the fullback/tight end hybrid. Flowers has impressed with his football IQ and receiving skills during his short time on campus as an early enrollee. He tied for the team high with four receptions and finished with 40 receiving yards. He should be a key contributor this fall.

Notable play: Sophomore linebacker Jordan Evans had the hit of the day against K.J. Young on a receiver screen. Evans’ hit popped the ball up in the air, allowing defensive tackle Jordan Wade to secure Knight’s lone interception of the day. It was a key play because Evans played with the No. 1 defense after returning starter Frank Shannon, OU's leading tackler in 2013, missed the game for personal reasons. Shannon's status remains unclear, so the Sooners could turn to Evans to be the man alongside Dominique Alexander this fall if Shannon is unable to return. Evans looked ready for the task on Saturday.

Developing storyline: OU’s defense clearly won the day. The Sooners are young, talented and versatile on that side of the ball, led by Striker and returning All-Big 12 defensive end Charles Tapper. OU’s secondary, a potential concern with the loss of two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, had a strong day in coverage, particularly the starting unit. Sophomore Dakota Austin was solid sliding into Colvin’s former spot opposite Zack Sanchez. If this unit continues to develop, it could be one of the best and more versatile defenses in the nation.

Biggest question answered: Few, if any, questions got answered. The defense was dominant, but that wasn't surprising, and nobody separated themselves in the running back derby or backup quarterback race. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will welcome true freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine into the running back competition this summer. At quarterback, Cody Thomas outperformed Justice Hansen, but didn’t put a stranglehold on the backup quarterback position heading into the summer. The best development of the game was a relatively injury-free outing.

Biggest question emerging: Which Knight will lead the Sooners in 2014? He didn't look like the Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP, going 5-of-14 for 53 yards and one interception. Evans' hit led to his lone pick, but he was inefficient and unproductive. The defense carries a large portion of the blame and the receiving corps, without top target Sterling Shepard and potential starter Durron Neal, also contributed to Knight's underwhelming spring finale. Knight knows he will have to perform much better for OU's national title dreams to approach reality.

Quotable: “I don’t know that you ever get anything answered in 15 practices. What I feel like is there has been improvement. Players that haven’t had a ton of experience have more now. We’ll build on it.” -- OU coach Bob Stoops
Oklahoma will hold its spring game on Saturday, and there are several storylines to keep an eye on for the Allstate Sugar Bowl champions. Here's a closer look at what to watch in OU's spring game.

When: Saturday at 2 p.m.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight won't play a lot in OU's spring game, but he has a chance to showcase his development.
Where: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

What to watch for:

  • Has Trevor Knight continued to develop? Don’t expect the Sooners quarterback to get a lot of work during the spring game as his health is a top priority. Yet, Knight is still a young and relatively inexperienced quarterback who needs quality reps. The spring game will show if he carries himself like a veteran and if his teammates are responding to him as the man in command of OU’s offense. A strong one or two series would show Knight is continuing to develop as a player despite not being pushed by daily competition for the starting job.
  • What about behind him? Quarterbacks Cody Thomas, a redshirt freshman, and Justice Hansen, a true freshman, are raw and untested. The spring game gives the duo the chance to show they can handle the No. 2 quarterback job if called upon in the fall. Thomas has been splitting his time with the Sooners’ baseball team with no ill effects on his football duties, while Hansen enrolled early and is adjusting to life as a college football player.
  • Who will get the bulk of the carries? OU will welcome ESPN 300 signees Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to its running backs group this summer. So this spring is the opportunity for sophomore running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross to cement their spots at the front of the line alongside Knight. Ford was a pleasant surprise as a true freshman. He earned carries before fumble troubles placed him on the sideline. Ross has been one of the stars of the spring with coaches and teammates alike lauding his explosiveness in scrimmages. Saturday is their chance to show they’re ready to fill the void left by the departures of Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch.
  • DB Ahmad Thomas: It would be a surprise if Thomas doesn’t see the field a lot this fall. The sophomore is proving to be versatile and talented while lining up at multiple positions in OU’s defense. After enrolling early in January 2012, Thomas played in 12 games as a true freshman and finished with nine tackles in limited action. Now, he appears poised to be a key piece of the Sooners defense as a sophomore. The Sooners are tinkering to find the best spot for Thomas, but a strong spring game could reaffirm his place as one of the breakout stars this spring.
  • New names: Several young players are creating a buzz, including receiver Jordan Smallwood, cornerback Dakota Austin and defensive tackle Charles Walker. Smallwood’s name has repeatedly come up this spring, as he’s made a solid impression after missing the 2013 season with a broken foot. Austin has been competing with Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson to replace All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, and, while undersized, his coverage ability and competitive nature have shone through. Walker has earned a reputation as a future star with his exceptional size and speed combination, so Saturday will be the first glimpse at the redshirt freshman. The spring game will give that trio and many other young Sooners the opportunity to show they can be contributors on offense or defense in 2014.
Justice Hansen could look back upon this spring as a turning point in his life.

The Oklahoma quarterback enrolled early to participate in spring football with his new team. And, with Kendal Thompson’s departure and Blake Bell’s shift to tight end, Hansen is getting plenty of opportunities to impress.

[+] EnlargeJustice Hansen
Max Olson/ESPNJustice Hansen, who was ranked No. 100 in the 2014 ESPN 300, could be the Sooners' backup QB this season.
The Edmond, Okla., native is showing slow but steady improvement during his first semester at OU, even though he’s being challenged in new ways on a daily basis.

“It’s extremely hard on every one of our players who come in here, but especially on our quarterbacks,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s extremely difficult. There’s so much thrown at you so quickly. Within six weeks of being here, you’re on the practice field going against guys that have been here, they’ve been through the system and understand the system.”

The Under Armour All-American and former ESPN 300 prospect's talent has been on display, but so has his inexperience.

“Justice coming right from high school has the biggest adjustment,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s really a talented guy with his arm and how he’s worked.”

Hansen is having the normal ups and downs of a freshman with good days and good throws alongside bad throws and mental mistakes. But, more importantly, he’s improving and learning from the setbacks.

“It’s overwhelming at times,” said Heupel, who also coaches the Sooners’ quarterbacks. “But the first four days before spring break you saw him get better each day. Since they've been back, he’s comprehended things even better.”

OU needs Hansen or redshirt freshman Cody Thomas to prove they’re ready to handle backup duties behind starter Trevor Knight. Saturday’s spring game could go a long way in showing if Hansen is ready to handle the task or if he’ll have to postpone his arrival as a impact player until a much later date. With some much to learn, Hansen would have to be considered the dark horse candidate to earn the No. 2 quarterback role as he joins Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who is ineligible for the 2014 season, as lone newcomers to the quarterbacks room. Yet, if his development continues or even accelerates, he could be ready sooner rather than later.

“I think by the time you finish spring ball, you get through summer and you come back into fall camp, he’ll be really comfortable with what we’re doing,” Heupel said. “I expect him to grow leaps and bounds by the time fall ends.”

No matter what happens, the early enrollee has impressed Knight, who is the veteran of the group even though he’s preparing for his redshirt sophomore season. One trait in particular has stood out to OU’s incumbent starter.

“His composure, he stays really composed, it’s not a 'rah, rah' thing,” Knight said. “He takes constructive criticism extremely well. He comes in the meeting room and works as hard as he can and he’s answering questions, he’s done a really good job.”
His voice sounds the same but the weight of his words land differently throughout the halls of the Switzer Center.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight is growing into his role as “the man” behind center this spring. His leadership in the hallways and meeting rooms of OU’s football building could be a key to the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight's performance in the Sugar Bowl solidified his status at Oklahoma.
“Building off of last year and being the oldest guy, it kind of forces you to step up and be that leader,” Knight said. “I feel like guys are looking at me to be that guy and I think I’ve done a good job of being that and they’re following pretty well.”

For the majority of the 2013 season the quarterback spot remained unclear as Knight was joined by Kendal Thompson and Blake Bell as options at the position. Now, after Knight’s stellar Allstate Sugar Bowl, the sophomore is the unquestioned starter and the guy the offense will turn to for leadership when adversity hits.

“[It’s] his ability to speak with a louder stick in the weight room and locker room,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “For him to [show] more of his personality and [put his] stamp on the offense.”

Yet, Knight’s role has undertaken a bigger change than his daily approach. Heupel often praised his work ethic and habits while he was redshirting in 2012, saying Knight was preparing as if he was the starter despite being the scout team quarterback at the time.

That part of Knight’s personality is as present as ever.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a change in his demeanor,” Heupel said. “He’s a great leader, a great kid on and off the field. He’s extremely competitive. He’s the same guy every day, in the meeting room or on the field, he doesn’t change. Hopefully that will transcend through entire football team.”

Those traits are one of the reasons the coaching staff didn’t think twice about naming him the opening day starter a year ago.

“I don’t notice it being much different,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Because he always did what you wanted him to do.”

It’s easy to forget that Knight is still a young player with three years to play and plenty of improvement to make. He’s the oldest player in the quarterback room with Baker Mayfield (who is ineligible for 2014 after transferring from Texas Tech after his true freshman season), redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen alongside him.

“It’s nice to be the oldest guy and be that leader,” Knight said. “But I know that I haven’t accomplished much yet. I’m still a young guy so I want to build off of that and get better and better every day.”

This spring isn’t just about becoming comfortable as the focal point and leader of the offense. Knight needs to become a better quarterback.

“He continues to progress,” Heupel said. “We think he has a great command of what we’re doing and he’s understanding defenses better. He should only get better at every practice with every rep.”
No true freshman quarterback has ever stepped on campus with a better opportunity than Oklahoma early enrollee Justice Hansen.

A vacant sign would be the best representation of the Sooners backup quarterback spot with Blake Bell's move to tight end and Kendal Thompson's decision to transfer to Utah.

[+] EnlargeJustice Hansen
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIFrom UA All-American to OU backup QB? The Sooners are hoping Justice Hansen makes the most of his spring reps.
The departure of two of the three quarterbacks who took snaps behind center for the Sooners in 2013 leaves an opportunity for Hansen and redshirt freshman Cody Thomas to fill the void. Hansen, an Under Armour All-American, will get more quality reps than most true freshmen as OU tries to prepare the duo behind starter Trevor Knight.

“It’s opened that window of opportunity for him to get those reps, and I’m sure it will be the most a guy like that’s been able to get [at OU],” head coach Bob Stoops said. “But watching Justice work out, he fits the part of being here and belonging, so we’ll be excited to get him those snaps and seeing how he does.”

Questions about Thomas tend to revolve around his ability to juggle his football and baseball duties. He was solid while running the scout team last fall but will have to manage his time well to excel behind center this spring.

“Coach Pete [Hughes] and Josh [Heupel], they’ve already communicated really well through the winter,” Stoops said. “We want him to have success at both and I know they want him to have it too. So we’ll do the best we can to manage it. So far, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Three practices into the spring, the Sooners feel positive about the progress of Hansen and Thomas alongside Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who is ineligible to play this fall but has already made a strong impression in crimson and cream.

“Justice being here, Cody being involved in spring practice, those guys have done a lot of good things,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “They’ve taken their understanding to a new level and [are] spreading the ball around. We’re going to need more than one quarterback to play well for us to win games. Those guys have made some good strides in three days.”

No battle for a backup spot on the depth chart is more important in Norman, Okla., this spring. The nightmare scenario for the Sooners would be watching an injury to Knight derail what could have been a national title run in the fall.

“It’ll be a big part our team’s success, is those guys coming around and getting a really good and consistent feel of what we want them to do at the quarterback position,” Stoops said. “It’ll really important that we do a good job with them and make sure they work hard in the spring.”
Oklahoma kicked off spring practice over the weekend.

The Sooners are well ahead of where they were at this time last year but still have work to do if they hope to build off their 2013 season. Here are five things that need to happen for a successful spring in Norman, Okla.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSophomore signal-caller Trevor Knight must show more consistency for Oklahoma in 2014.
Trevor Knight builds on his Sugar Bowl performance: After watching Knight complete 72.7 percent of his passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-31 win over Alabama, it's easy to assume Knight will consistently match that performance in 2014. But what if he doesn’t? There’s no reason to expect the sophomore to take a step backward this spring but, even though his name is already being mentioned among the Big 12’s best quarterbacks, he won’t earn that spot until he consistently plays at a championship level. If Knight looks better than ever this spring, it’s a great sign for 2014.

A backup quarterback emerges: OU and Blake Bell are all in on the senior’s move to tight end. Thus, redshirt freshman Cody Thomas or early enrollee freshman Justice Hansen need to show they can handle the pressure of running the offense during spring practice. They are a pair of young, inexperienced quarterbacks who could find themselves thrown into the fire if anything happens to Knight. Heading into a season with one proven quarterback is never a good idea, so the Sooners are hopeful Thomas or Hansen can erase concerns about the backup QB spot.

Competition in the trenches: The Sooners return several veteran offensive and defensive linemen, including DE Charles Tapper, OT Daryl Williams and DE/DT Chuka Ndulue. Thus, if playing time and the overall rotation remains up in the air heading into the summer, that means young players like DE Mike Onuoha, DT Charles Walker and OT Derek Farniok are amping up the competition in the trenches. If that is happening, the Sooners could dominate games with their depth and versatility on the lines.

Skill position players step up: The best-case scenario for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and the rest of the offensive staff is to spend the summer trying to figure out ways to get several players involved. The only way that would happen is if youngsters at running back and receiver look like playmakers this spring because simply having starters emerge at those positions is not enough. OU lost its top two rushers and three of its top four receivers from last season, but if only two or three players seize the opportunity for more playing time, its depth at both positions would be in doubt. A two-deep full of playmakers is always better than a sizable drop off after the starters.

The defense appears to be faster and deeper: One reason the Sooners surprised in 2013 was their speed and versatility on defense. It’s a scary proposition for Big 12 offenses if OU gets more athletic and deeper in 2014. This spring will tell if increased depth and athleticism in the secondary is a certainty. Young players along the defensive line and at linebacker could upgrade the athleticism at both spots if they are ready to make an impact.

OU spring prediction: No. 1

March, 7, 2014
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Oklahoma begins its spring football drills on Saturday.

An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we made five spring predictions during a series which concludes with No. 1:

No. 1: The backup quarterback spot remains a concern heading into the summer.

Why it matters: Projected starter Trevor Knight was knocked out of two of the five games he started in 2013. Exceptional performances against Kansas State and Alabama as his redshirt freshman season came to a close has overshadowed the fact injuries forced him to leave games against West Virginia and Oklahoma State. The sophomore is likely to be more mindful of protecting himself in 2014, but it takes only one play for OU’s destiny to change. The Sooners need a quality backup quarterback they are confident can step in without a major drop-off if called upon this fall.

What it would mean: If this prediction becomes reality, it could be the biggest concern heading into the summer. It wouldn’t be time to panic because the summer months, particularly 7-on-7 workouts, provide opportunity for growth and improvement, but it would force preparations for the worst-case scenario to commence.

Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen stepped on campus with All-American accolades, but that will mean nothing when it comes time to run the Sooners' offense.

Thomas, who will play baseball this spring, might have the edge over Hansen, an early enrollee who arrived in January. Both quarterbacks should get plenty of opportunities to prove themselves this spring, and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel will push them to be ready to play if needed.

Neither guy is likely to separate himself with his physical ability because they both have terrific physical tools, so their decision-making, command of the offense and mental approach should decide whether one of them becomes a legitimate backup quarterback behind Knight.
Oklahoma begins its spring football drills on Saturday.

An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we’ll make five spring predictions, continuing with No. 2:

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor looks ready to make a leap in his sophomore season and become another stalwart in Oklahoma's 2013 class.
No. 2: The Sooners’ Class of 2013 shows signs it was vastly underrated.

Why it matters: OU fans were less than impressed when the Sooners inked ESPN.com’s No. 17 recruiting class in February 2013. While the Sooners coaching staff swooped in to land a few late bloomers and potential hidden gems, OU fans were lamenting the recruits they had missed out on. Now, one year later, that class appears poised to have a significant impact on the program.

What it would mean: First off, it would underscore the value of evaluation and development. Secondly, it would mean the Sooners have a bright future ahead.

Linebacker Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 newcomer of the year, while running back Keith Ford, cornerback Stanvon Taylor, safety Ahmad Thomas, safety Hatari Byrd, receiver K.J. Young and guard Dionte Savage are on the verge of locking up starting spots. Cornerback Dakota Austin, receiver Austin Bennett, receiver Jordan Smallwood, defensive tackle Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans, defensive end Matt Dimon and quarterback Cody Thomas are among several members of the class who could be contributors.

Over half the class appears ready to make an impact (or already has made an impact) heading into their second season on campus. This spring provides the opportunity for the majority of this class to prove they are ready and able to help spark a successful 2014 season in Norman, Okla.

While the class is appearing to develop quickly, OU has its fingers crossed that its development continues. OU’s hopes of competing for a Big 12 title and national title this fall rests on several members of this class. It’s critical for sophomores such as Ford, Taylor, Byrd and Young to become key pieces of the 2014 squad, otherwise the Sooners could be forced to turn to true freshmen.

OU spring position battles: No. 5

February, 24, 2014
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Spring football provides the opportunity for players to put themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to position battles. Several Oklahoma Sooners will have the chance to make a statement and make themselves the favorite to start or become a significant contributor during spring drills with several starting spots open heading into 2014. This week we’ll review the top five position battles to keep an eye on this spring, starting with the backup quarterback spot.

[+] EnlargeJustice Hansen
Courtesy of IntersportUnder Armour All-American Justice Hansen enrolled early at Oklahoma to compete for the backup quarterback spot.
No. 5: Backup quarterback

Why it’s important: The Sooners need someone to step up as a quality backup to Trevor Knight. Blake Bell started eight games at quarterback in 2013, but he is fully committed to his move to tight end, making the search for a backup quarterback critical this spring. Normally having Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield on campus would provide some insurance but he’s ineligible to play in 2014, removing that safety net.

The Competitors

Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas: Thomas redshirted last season after signing with OU in the Class of 2013. The two-sport standout will play football and baseball this spring but the Sooners aren’t concerned it will negatively impact his development.

True freshman Justice Hansen: Hansen enrolled early with a eye on competing for seeing the field soon. Kendal Thompson's transfer and Bell’s position change opened the door for Hansen to arrive in the spring with the opportunity to secure a spot on the depth chart.

Potential outcomes

Best-case scenario: Thomas proves the promise he showed during the fall was not a fluke. The former ESPN 300 member has the talent to be a starting quarterback at OU but nobody knows if he’s ready to step into that scenario if disaster hits this fall. And Hansen, an Under Armour All-American, shows he’s ready to step in to compete for a spot as the backup quarterback despite trying to find his footing during his first semester on campus. It doesn’t matter which freshman steps up, OU just needs one of them to show they can run the offense if called upon.

Worst-case scenario: Neither freshmen step up. Physical limitations are unlikely to hold Thomas or Hansen back, but if the requirements of running the Sooners’ offense prove too much for the duo, OU could be left searching for answers at the backup quarterback position in 2014.

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