Oklahoma Sooners: Daniel Brooks

Finding a running back isn’t a concern that immediately comes to mind when projecting the 2014 Sooners' offense, mainly because of the many options on the fingertips of running backs coach Cale Gundy.

Yet someone needs to step up and become the face of the running game.

“They’re doing a really good job of competing,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “They come in every day working extremely hard. I’m really excited about them. I feel like everyone’s just got a little juice under them right now. It’s fun to work with guys like that.”

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford is one of many OU RBs competing for carries this spring.
Sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross spent the 2013 season in the shadows of OU’s three senior running backs, with Ford seeing limited action before fumble troubles returned him to the sideline. Ford took steps to correcting his fumble problems during Sugar Bowl preparations and is focused on ball security this spring.

“It’s just one of those learning curves for me,” Ford said. “It’s just one of those things adjusting to the college game style and the gameplay, and the speed and how everybody is bigger, faster and stronger than high school.”

Ford already got a small level of redemption with three carries for 15 yards in the Sugar Bowl after going five straight games without a carry after his fumble against Kansas.

“He didn’t fumble it in the bowl game, he’s taking care of it,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Keith is an excellent player.”

The Sooners are hopeful he’s not the only quality running back on the roster. OU has leaned on multiple backs for the past three seasons, so it would take someone running away with the job for OU to put the entire focus of its running game on one running back.

Thus, the competition for carries should be fierce and ongoing throughout the year.

“We’re all good backs,” Ford said. “We all work hard each day. We all have each other’s backs, we’re all competing and we’re all a family, and that’s the most important. We work hard every day and we just grind. That’s all we can do, take it day by day.”

This could be a do-or-die spring for Ross, who could watch multiple younger running backs rise by him on the depth chart if he doesn’t begin to fulfill his playmaking potential and remain healthy. His talent is not in question so he could be ready to finally have a breakout spring and set himself up to make an impact in his redshirt sophomore season.

“I believe he is,” Stoops said when asked if Ross could be ready to contribute. “He’s had a really good winter, he had good bowl practices. So, I believe he is ready for that to happen.”

David Smith and Daniel Brooks round out the spring competitors who are aiming to secure a role before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer.

“Those guys will have their opportunities, and a lot of them here through the spring,” said Stoops of the running back competition.
Spring football is just over the horizon.

Oklahoma is coming off a banner 2013 campaign, featuring an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl victory over SEC power Alabama, but the Sooners have several position groups they need to address if they hope to make a national title run in 2014. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the top five position groups that need to improve during OU’s spring practices. On Wednesday, we continue the series with the Sooners cornerbacks at No. 3.

The breakdown

On campus: Zack Sanchez, So.; Stanvon Taylor, So.; Cortez Johnson, Jr.; Dakota Austin, So.; L.J. Moore, So.; Daniel Brooks, So.

[+] EnlargeZack Sanchez
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTeams tried to attack redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez in 2013.
Summer arrivals: Tito Windham, Fr.; Jordan Thomas, Fr.

Summary: Similar to the running back position, the Sooners are loaded with talent at cornerback. But outside of Sanchez, Oklahoma is largely inexperienced. Aaron Colvin, a two-time All-Big 12 cornerback and three-year starter, and Kass Everett have moved on, leaving a void that will be difficult to fill. That void also means plenty of opportunity and competition this spring.

Sanchez showed his competitiveness and playmaking ability during a redshirt freshman campaign. He was picked on week after week with teams unwilling to challenge Colvin. Sanchez responded with 46 tackles and a team-high 13 pass breakups, as he started in all 13 games. Now, he needs to take on a mentor role as the most experienced cornerback on the roster.

Taylor was groomed to step in for Colvin during his first season with the Sooners. He started one game and played a key special teams role as a freshman. He has a strong hunger to succeed, which could push him into starting lineup as a sophomore. The spring will be his opportunity to show the coaches he’s ready to step up and try to fill Colvin’s shoes.

Austin arguably was the most surprising freshman to play his way out of a redshirt season in 2013. He’s undersized at 5-foot-11 and 151 pounds, but has exceptional feet and quickness. Don’t be surprised if he uses the spring to earn some type of role in the Sooners defense with his coverage skills.

Johnson started against Kansas State and played a backup role during his first season in crimson and cream after transferring from Arizona. He brings a terrific size/athleticism combination to the cornerback group, which could help distinguish him in the cornerback competition.

Moore is another talented sophomore who has the talent to earn a starting spot during the spring. He played the least of OU’s true freshman trio at the position, but he brings good height (6-1) and versatility.

Brooks didn’t play much on defense or special teams during his redshirt freshman season. He’ll have to use the spring to make an impression if he hopes to earn playing time in 2014.

Windham went from unknown to Semper Fidelis All-American after the Sooners unearthed what they hope will be a hidden gem. A Mississippi native, he has terrific speed, playmaking ability and ball skills, making an immediate impact well within the realm of possibility.

The Sooners hope Thomas develops into a versatile cover cornerback. He has good size (6-1, 175). Thomas joined the recruiting class late in the process, but he could insert himself into the cornerback competition immediately with his quickness and athleticism.

The list

State of the position: Cornerback

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
In the weeks leading into signing day, it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Tuesday, we take a closer look at the cornerback position.

[+] EnlargeZack Sanchez
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiCornerback Zack Sanchez, who earned a starting spot as a freshman, has a bright future for the Sooners.
Starter/contributors: Zack Sanchez (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)

Sanchez had ups and downs during his redshirt season but started all 13 games as his competitiveness never wavered. He gave up big plays against Kansas State and Alabama, then bounced back to make key interceptions against both squads. He was picked on throughout the season but matured into a key player on at the end of his first college season. Sanchez led the squad with 13 pass breakups, twice as many as any other Sooner.

Taylor started the third game of his college career against Tulsa and held up well. The Sooners will be looking for him to help fill the void left by two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Taylor mentored under Colvin in 2013 and should be ready for a bigger role in the defense.

Johnson started against Kansas State and played a backup role in 2013, finishing with 16 tackles. He should compete to replace Colvin and earn more playing time as a junior.

On the cusp: Dakota Austin (So.)

Austin saw limited duty as a freshman, playing in four games and recording four tackles. He’s undersized but competitive with good coverage skills, so he could factor into the plans in 2014.

Daniel Brooks, a sophomore, is a small, quick prospect who has played multiple positions and bounced around from offense to defense during his first two years on campus, but he has the talent to work himself into a role.

On the recruiting trail: Tito Windham (Gulfport, Miss./Harrison Central)

The Sooners are confident they’ve found a hidden gem in Windham. They ventured into SEC country to find the Mississippi native. He can play a lot of different positions but appears destined to play cornerback. He’ll need some time to get used to playing corner, but he has the physical gifts to excel as early as 2014.

Overall Grade: A-

It will be impossible to replace Colvin, but the Sooners do return three cornerbacks who started games in 2013. Taylor, who has arguably the best upside of the group, was placed under Colvin’s wing as a freshman and gives OU a potential star at the spot. Johnson, Austin and Windham are talented and can provide quality depth.
During the summer months, SoonerNation will take a closer look at each player on Oklahoma’s roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we will analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term impact. Starting with No. 1 Kendal Thompson, the series will follow the roster numerically through our final analysis of No. 99 Chaz Nelson.

No. 34 Daniel Brooks
Running back/cornerback, 5-foot-8, 172 pounds, redshirt freshman

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Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy has done it again. While OU coach Bob Stoops felt a change in his coaching staff was necessary for the 2013 season, Gundy was never on the chopping block.

Wednesday afternoon is evidence of why that is, as ESPN Watch List running back Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) became the first running back commit for OU’s 2014 class.

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Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • An OU commit is visiting another Big 12 school this weekend
  • A Watch List wide receiver has several ties to the Sooners
  • A San Antonio tailback knows about OU's tradition in the backfield
  • The Sooners have ground to make up with an in-state defender
  • LSU leads for a talented OU offer
  • One in-state athlete says he's a running back all the way
  • A 2015 tight end wants to hear more from the Sooners
  • An OU basketball commit talks about his move to a new school

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.

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After grading the performance of the running game in 2012, it is the perfect time to take a closer look at the running backs on the roster and the commitment list as SoonerNation evaluates the future at the position for Oklahoma.

Here’s a look at one player who could be next in line to make a major impact, one player to keep an eye on, and one current commitment who could be the future.

[+] EnlargeDamien Williams
Brandon Wade/Getty ImagesOU running back Damien Williams was named to the All-Big 12 second team this season.
Next in line: Alex Ross. The redshirting freshman has terrific speed and dynamic playmaking ability. He almost played his way out of a redshirt season this year and could make an impact as a redshirt freshman despite the return of Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Through two games, the Sooners have played nine true freshmen: wide receivers Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal, tight end Taylor McNamara, center Ty Darlington, defensive ends Mike Onuoha and Charles Tapper, linebacker Eric Striker and cornerback Gary Simon. With the cupcake portion of the schedule over and one with, it appears the rest of the true freshmen will redshirt this season.

SoonerNation breaks down the rest of the freshman class, from those most likely to least likely to make an impact in 2013:

[+] EnlargeTrey Metoyer
Richard Rowe/US PresswireReceiver Trey Metoyer is one of nine true freshmen who have played this season for the Sooners.
1. Alex Ross, running back: The Sooners could have an opening in the backfield for Ross with Dominique Whaley due to graduate. Damien Williams figures to be projected starter, and then there’s Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. But Ross nearly avoided this redshirt this season with an even more crowded backfield. Ross’ future is bright.

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[+] EnlargeDaniel Brooks
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comDaniel Brooks, a 2012 Oklahoma signee, tore his ACL during the spring at a track meet.
Running back Daniel Brooks, who committed to the Sooners in March 2011 then suffered a knee injury his senior year of high school, is finally running again and hopes to regain his health as he redshirts this season.

“He wasn’t able to practice but we still brought him in with the 105 group (this summer), so that he could rehabilitate,” Bob Stoops said Tuesday. “He’s been diligent out there with the trainers and he’s been running the past week-and-a-half. He’s been very diligent just going through the rehab phase. And he’s doing well with it.”

Stoops added that the Sooners never wavered in honoring Brooks’ scholarship, even though it was apparent he had a long recovery back from severed ligaments in his knee.

“It is the right thing to do,” Stoops said. “He made a commitment to us and we were committed to him. Now, it’s a different story had you offered a guy and he never committed to you. You’re not obligated there. But if we tell a guy that, then we’re going to stay with it. Most all the coaches I know would do that. I’d be pretty surprised if anyone didn’t do that.”
The Oklahoma football team was on spring break, but it was a busy weekend in the recruiting world. The Elite 11 regional quarterback camp and the Nike Football Training Camp featured plenty of Sooners targets this weekend. Bob Przybylo answers readers' questions about Oklahoma football and basketball recruiting in his mailbag every Monday. Got a question for Bob? Send it to his mailbag at bprzybyloespn@gmail.com.

Scott in Oklahoma City asks: Sounds like a real fun weekend. Who was the best Elite 11 quarterback and who was the best Nike camp recruit?

[+] EnlargeMaurice Smith
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comMaurice Smith showed why he's one of the nation's top defensive backs at Sunday's Nike Training Camp.
Bob Przybylo: I went into the Nike camp Sunday really wanting to see what the big deal was about cornerback Maurice Smith (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles). I understand now.

Smith, 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, has 13 offers and was in firm control all afternoon. He was clearly deserving of an invite to The Opening.

Smith picked up a Sooners offer in February and attended OU’s second junior day. OU is still on his short list, but after initially wanting to get the process over with, Smith is willing to let his recruitment play out.

As for the Elite 11 event, Devante Kincade (Dallas/Skyline) was easily the best out there. He took control of the day early and never let up.

Regarding potential OU targets, it was a good day for Austin Robinson (Houston/Episcopal). Robinson is every bit the 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds he is listed as.

Robinson was invited to OU’s second junior day on March 3 but was unable to attend the event. He showed nice arm strength and was one of the most physically strong-looking quarterbacks in the competition.

Dan in Dallas asks: Which 2013 in-state potential target helped his chances the most with his performance at the Nike camp?

Bob Przybylo: It was a really good day for defensive back Devanta Johnson (Tulsa, Okla./East Central). It was also a long weekend for Johnson, who visited Texas Tech on Saturday with fellow in-state prospect linebacker Devin Rolan (McAlester, Okla./McAlester).

Johnson, 6-foot and 175 pounds, looked comfortable out there among some of the best wide receivers in the class, and he said it was a huge confidence booster.

He has not been shy about wanting an OU offer and more performances like Sunday will only help his stock.

Ryan in Norman, Okla., asks: We’ve got a running back and a defensive end. What do you think is the No. 1 priority for the next commit? Who should the coaches try to pay the most attention to?

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With Oklahoma’s second junior day in the books, things are starting to become more clear in regards to how OU is approaching its 2013 class. Bob Przybylo answers readers' questions about Oklahoma football and basketball recruiting in his mailbag every Monday. Got a question for Bob? Send it to his mailbag at bprzybyloespn@gmail.com.

Jeff in San Antonio asks: Junior day was progress with defensive tackle Justin Manning. But is he a big of a lock as people think?

Bob Przybylo: That’s a question that has been on the minds of a lot of people in the last week. OU wanted to make the offer special with defensive tackle Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball) by doing it in person, but the relationship before then wasn’t that strong.

Manning was a little confused by the lack of OU interest during the last couple of months. He is very happy about getting the offer and feels things are great between him and OU defensive tackles coach Jackie Shipp. In taking so long, however, the OU coaches are in a real race to gain his commitment. He is not a slam dunk for the Sooners as OU will have to pursue him hard. If the Sooners had jumped out ahead early, maybe that wouldn’t be the case. But OU waited and will have to impress Manning.

Tim in Tulsa, Okla., asks: That’s the first time I’ve seen Stevie Clark play. That kid can shoot. Does OU have a shot at him?

Stevie Clark
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comJunior in-state point guard Stevie Clark already has several offers.
Bob Przybylo: The most common email/tweet that I've received in the last 24 hours has been about 2013 point guard Stevie Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass). Clark, ranked No. 58 in the ESPNU Super 60, has 15 offers at this point and is wide open.

Clark was special all season for Douglass but saved his best games for the biggest stage, scoring 40 points in both the semifinal and championship games over the weekend.

Clark has gone from a pure shooter to an all-around point guard. His academics are in order, and OU coach Lon Kruger has done all the right things regarding Clark in the last month. Clark is in no rush at this point.

For people that only saw him for the first time this weekend, it is obvious Clark can shoot. However, what helped Clark make that leap has been his court vision and passing ability. He wouldn’t have made some of those passes Saturday when he was younger.

Charles in Austin, Texas, asks: Is there a real OU-Texas battle that we can possibly win in this class?

Bob Przybylo: If it’s strictly OU and Texas, the best scenario is defensive end D.J. Ward (Lawton, Okla./Lawton). Ward is becoming more and more familiar and comfortable with the OU program.

But if you’re looking at Texas products, keep an eye on two defensive backs in Maurice Smith (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles) and Antwuan Davis (Bastrop, Texas/Bastrop).

Smith said last week that he was close to committing to OU on junior day. More teams are coming after Smith each day, but right now it looks like it’s the Sooners and Longhorns and everybody else.

Davis has expressed interest in seeing the OU campus and hopes to make a visit for either a spring practice or the Red-White game April 14.

Fred in Clinton, Okla., asks: With the injury to Daniel Brooks, do you think that makes it more probable for OU to take two running backs in this class?

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Chat leftovers: Third receiver in 2012?

February, 21, 2012
SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers Monday. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag to be published on Friday.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

Braden (oklahoma city): Out of 5 wide receivers coming in who's the biggest deep threat? And who's gonna be in the slot? Brennan Clay?

Jake Trotter: He's not as polished, but Courtney Gardner has the most potential to become that kind of player. Daniel Brooks, who could play slot, is actually the fastest of the incoming receivers, but he's not an outside receiver. I see Clay, Trey Franks, Brooks and Sterling Shepard all getting looks in the slot. Eventually, I think Sterling wins the job there. Maybe not right away, though.

Tony (Richmond, CA): Is this a make or break year for Josh Heupel at offensive coordinator?

Jake Trotter: OU was top 10 in scoring last season, despite not having its best player for a third of the season. So no, this is not a make or break season for Heupel. He had one bad game plan, Oklahoma State, and it was bad. But Heupel had a nice season for a rookie coordinator. He'll only get better.

Mason (alabama): It looks like OU has one of the toughest 3 game stretches in the Big 12 with @WVU, vs OSU and @TCU! How does the 3 game stretch and their entire schedule fare for OU?

Jake Trotter: Texas has a pretty tough stretch with OSU, West Virginia and OU back-to-back-to-back, but OU's is about as tough, considering WV and TCU are on the road. That stretch will make or break OU's season. It could catapult OU into the national title game. It could also send the Sooners to the Insight Bowl again.

Aaron (Weatherford): Will Landry Jones ever learn how to avoid the pass rush? And if not will the sooner offensive line be any better in 2012?

Jake Trotter: If he wants to be a Top 10 pick, Landry needs to devote the next few months to his footwork. It's one of the glaring weaknesses in his game. As for the line, it has a chance to be the best OU's had since 2008. Gabe Ikard, Ben Habern,Tyler Evans are all 2- and 3-year starters, Adam Shead is an up-and-coming run blocking guard. Lane Johnson is a solid tackle. Among Will Latu, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, I expect someone to emerge as a solid counterpart at tackle.

Thomas (Bee Cave): Long term conjecture for the basketball program?

Jake Trotter: I like Kruger. I think he and his staff have done a reasonably good job making this team competitive. But the cupboard is bare. And until Kruger recruits better players (his forte is developing players, not recruiting), the Sooners are going to have a hard time making the NCAA tourney.

Chat leftovers: Backup QB battle

February, 14, 2012
SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers Monday. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag to be published on Friday.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

Junior (Oklahoma City): If Landry Jones get injured who do the sooners go with Allen, Bell or Thompson? Why?

Jake Trotter: If Landry got hurt tomorrow, Drew Allen would be the QB. If Landry got hurt in August, who knows? Could be Blake Bell if his passing continues to improve. Kendal Thompson has some potential, but he has a ways to go in terms of learning the offense to catch up with Allen or Bell.

Deeann (Dallas): How will team compensate without Ryan Broyles?

Jake Trotter: You can't replace a Ryan Broyles with one player. OU will try to do it with several, including a host of talented newcomers. There's enough talent on this offense to score 40-plus a game next season.

Josh (Lizard Lick): With the hiring of Mike Stoops, will there be any difference in the defense this upcoming year (i.e. blitz more/less, press coverage/zone)

Jake Trotter: I expect Mike Stoops to simplify the secondary coverages significantly next season. There's no question OU's DBs at times looked like they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing at times. Guys like Derrick Strait have told me that Mike preaches simplicity back there so guys can focus more on playing instead of thinking. The rest of the defense should be fairly similar.

Joshua (Houston): Do you think Daniel Brooks ends up as a DB or does he make headway at RB? Based on his film he looks like he has Trey Franks speed with Roy Finch elusiveness...

Jake Trotter: I think the Sooners will give him a look in the slot initially, but it's very possible he gets moved to corner ultimately. Brooks has world class speed... I could see him becoming a return specialist as well. The Sooners could really use somebody like that.

Derrin (Plano, TX): Will the offensive line improve this year and be able to consistently open holes for the running game? The unit has been average at best since the Loadholt and Joseph line a few years back?

Jake Trotter: I believe this group has the chance to be OU's best since the '08 line. Four starters are back, including three multi-year starters. Adam Shead is a rising star, and brings physicality to the run game. The key will be the tackles. Can Lane Johnson make a seamless switch to LT? Can somebody like Daryl Williams emerge at RT?

Running backs coach Cale Gundy weighs in on Oklahoma’s running back signing class:

Alex Ross: “This one here is very, very special. I think the great days are ahead of him. His junior year, he started out playing linebacker. Jenks had a running back get hurt, and they moved him over and he absolutely tore it up.”

Daniel Brooks: “Daniel will be the fastest signee we have. Lot of speed, lot of quickness. You get him the ball, get him in space, if gets ahead a step on anybody, he will not be caught. He’ll return kicks, play some in the slot, and we’ve even talked with him about playing some corner, some defensive back. The great thing about Daniel is he just wants to win.”

David Smith: “Very strong upper body, he’s got very good hands. An extremely, extremely hard worker. Great character. We’re so excited to have him.”

Damien Williams: “Obviously Damien is going to be much more mature than a high school player. He looks the part. Great speed, great strength, great hands. He has a chance to make an immediate impact in a very strong way for us.”
For all the star ratings and target boards, recruiting can simply be a matter of timing, and the timing couldn’t have worked out better for Oklahoma and junior college running back Damien Williams (San Diego/Arizona Western College).

Williams became yet another California native to sign with Oklahoma, sending in his national letter of intent to the Sooners on Wednesday.

Damien Williams
Courtesy Williams FamilyJunior college running back Damien Williams chose Oklahoma over Texas Tech and Arizona State.
Williams was set, committed to Arizona State until the Sun Devils underwent coaching changes. OU was set at running back, had good depth at the spot until Jermie Calhoun and Jonathon Miller left the team in the middle of the season.

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Spring Game Wrap-Up
Spring games across the country offer fans a first look at teams in the new season and a final chance for players to shine before summer camps.Tags: Spring Game, Wrap-Up, Jared Shanker, Edward Aschoff, Matt Fortuna, Austin Ward, Brandon Chatmon, Josh Moyer, Kyle Bonagura