Oklahoma Sooners: Daryl Williams
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.
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.
This class featured seven players in the ESPN 150 and a ton of star power led by the “Cali Trio” of Kenny Stills, Brennan Clay and Tony Jefferson. The class was ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN.com.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin: An afterthought on signing day, but he was arguably the best player in this class. He started his first-ever Red River Rivalry as a freshman and started three straight seasons at two different positions, earning All-Big 12 honors twice. The nation’s No. 40 safety prospect coming out of Owasso, Okla., Colvin finished with 234 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five interceptions in 50 career games (36 starts).
Tackle Daryl Williams: The No. 53 tackle in the nation, Williams has performed like a highly-regarded offensive line prospect. He started his first college game as a redshirt freshman before injury derailed his first season. Nonetheless, Williams became a anchor on OU’s offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons and enters his final season as one of the Big 12’s best offensive linemen.
Safety Tony Jefferson: The No. 21-ranked player in the ESPN 150, Jefferson stepped on campus with high expectations. He didn’t disappoint, earning Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors in 2010 and All-Big 12 honors in 2012 before leaving early for the NFL. Jefferson finished with 258 tackles, eight interceptions and seven sacks in 40 career games (34 starts). He’s currently a safety for the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted last spring.
Receiver Kenny Stills: The No. 36-ranked receiver prospect, Stills started every game he played in crimson and cream. His speed and football IQ separated him from the competition, as he finished with 204 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns in 38 career games (38 starts) before leaving early for the NFL. He’s currently one of Drew Brees’ main targets with the New Orleans Saints.
Running back Brennan Clay: Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150, Clay overcame injuries to become a key performer. He never emerged as a star, but he was the type of consistent, productive player who helps teams win games. He had 1,913 yards and 13 touchdowns in 46 career games (18 starts).
Linebacker Corey Nelson: The No. 62 player in the ESPN 150, Nelson had a solid career. A three-year starter, he had 153 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss in 45 career games (27 starts).
Completely missed the mark
Receiver Justin McCay: McCay never made an impact with the Sooners, transferring after his redshirt freshman season. The No. 142 player in the ESPN 150, McCay transferred to Kansas and currently plays for the Jayhawks.
Receiver Sheldon McClain: Much like McCay, McClain had a higher ranking than Stills as the No. 22-ranked receiver nationally but never made an impact before transferring.
A-minus. Even though this recruiting class featured multiple disappointments, it was littered with stars and contributors. Tyrus Thompson, Julian Wilson, Roy Finch, Blake Bell and Chuka Ndulue are just a few of the other Sooners in the Class of 2010 who became starters or major contributors alongside Colvin, Millard and the rest of the playmakers signed in February 2010.
Starter/contributors: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Derek Farniok (Jr.)
Thompson started the first 11 games of the season before an injury forced him to miss OU’s final two games. He joined Williams to give OU a pair of quality bookend tackles and help the Sooners allow just 14 sacks in 13 games.
Farniok started against Oklahoma State and played in four games for OU as a sophomore. He’s still developing but should be a quality No. 3 tackle for the Sooners as a junior.
On the cusp: Josiah St. John (Jr.), Christian Daimler (RFr.)
A junior college signee in 2013, St. John didn’t have an immediate impact for the Sooners. OU will really need him to step up and provide depth at the tackle spot in 2014.
Daimler redshirted during his freshman season and should jump into the mix to provide depth behind Thompson and Williams this spring.
On the recruiting trail: None
The Sooners have four offensive linemen committed but none of them is an offensive tackle. The Sooners are in hot pursuit of several tackles prospects, including Utah pledge Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger), along with multiple junior college tackle prospects. OU will need to add one or two tackles to its commit list or shift some players around along its offensive line to set the position up for the future.
Overall Grade: A-
OU might have the best tackle duo in the Big 12 and could go four-deep at the position this fall. Yet the future doesn’t look as bright with Daimler as the lone underclassmen on the roster at tackle. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has some work to do but, at the same time, the future at the position could transform overnight with a position change or two.
Unlike previous campaigns, Oklahoma’s offense was not the envy of the rest of the Big 12 this season. The Sooners running game was second to none and provided a foundation that allowed OU to stay in games, control the ball and create opportunities in its passing game. But it’s lack of explosiveness through the air, leading to poor offensive balance, made this year’s offense one of the worst in Norman, Okla. in recent memory. Yet the Sooners limited turnovers and mental mistakes while running the ball well enough to earn 10 wins, which should quiet critics considering a double-digit win season was unexpected heading into the season.
Quarterback: C+. Where are all the Landry Jones haters now? A quick glance at the Sooners passing stats (186.67 ypg, No. 99 in FBS) makes this grade seem way too high. But a quick glance at the win column makes everything clear. OU never got consistency from the position, as Blake Bell and Trevor Knight each had their moments of success and failure. Bell was the starter in Sooners’ losses to Texas and Baylor, and looked uncomfortable in both games, but played a key role in road wins at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. And Knight showed flashes of big-time upside but also showed the inexperience of a redshirt freshman. Through it all the Sooners found a way to get 10 wins and the quarterbacks played a key role in that success. A significant drop off from Jones yet OU finished the regular season with the exact same record Jones led them to as a senior.
Running back: A+. Who knows how the Sooners’ season would have ended up if it wasn’t for a talented and deep group of running backs led by Brennan Clay. The senior led the Sooners with 913 rushing yards, averaging 5.78 yards per carry, but Damien Williams (553 rushing yards) and Roy Finch (347 rushing yards) joined him as quality threats in the backfield. The Sooners running backs brought a physical running style and game-breaking ability which helped offset OU’s ugly passing attack.
Receiver: B-. The quarterbacks shouldered a bunch of the blame for OU’s passing troubles, but the Sooners receivers deserve their share of the burden. Jalen Saunders performed like an “A” student and Sterling Shepard wasn’t far behind. After those two playmakers, the Sooners receivers left plenty to be desired. Lacolton Bester had good moments but wasn’t the constant threat that Saunders and Shepard were in 2013 and the overall depth seemed nonexistent as young players such as Durron Neal never emerged as difference makers at the receiver spot.
Offensive line: A-. OU rushed for nearly 3,000 yards yet didn’t feature a single 1,000-yard rusher, speaking volumes for the offensive line. The only reason the Sooners’ starting front didn’t get a A+ was lackluster efforts against Texas and Baylor, helping to contribute to OU’s only losses. Center Gabe Ikard was the anchor and star of the offensive front, but tackle Daryl Williams made an overlooked but valuable contribution as the other all-Big 12 level performer on the squad. Tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Nila Kasitati, guard Bronson Irwin and guard Adam Shead each played well while helping pave the way for OU’s running game and limiting opponents to 15 total sacks.
Overall: B-. The lack of balance keeps this grade from being higher but OU averaged more than 31.8 points and 5.84 yards per game, ranking them in the top half of the Big 12. The Sooners running game was superb and overcame the passing game struggles while protecting the football. OU's offense is not an national championship-level offense, but it's not as bad as it appeared at various times either.
Veterans like cornerback Aaron Colvin, linebacker Corey Nelson, center Gabe Ikard and running back Brennan Clay have performed well, overshadowing contributions by other Sooners. Here’s a look at five unsung Sooners who have helped OU get off to a quick start:
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips: Phillips has solid numbers with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. But the Sooners' top defensive tackle is a key reason the Sooners’ linebackers, Nelson and Frank Shannon, rank 1-2 in tackles for OU. The sophomore has been stout in the middle and been able to get penetration into opponents’ backfields. He could be on his way to becoming a star. As he starts to command more double teams, it will open even more playmaking opportunities for the rest of OU’s defense.
"He’s been really consistent and strong in how he’s played," coach Bob Stoops said.
Cornerback Zack Sanchez: Not much was expected from Sanchez after the spring game. Even with very limited depth at cornerback, the redshirt freshman didn’t stand out during the spring. His destiny completely changed during the summer as he emerged as a guy who could help OU this season. H has done much more than help the Sooners’ defense, emerging as a competitive, dependable starter opposite Colvin. Notre Dame tested him immediately last Saturday and Sanchez responded knocking away Tommy Rees’ throw. He has been tested time and time again this season and has passed every test, leading the Sooners with five passes broken up.
"He’s been playing really well," nickelback Julian Wilson said. "People are attacking him but he’s stepping up and coming to the plate every game."
Linebacker Eric Striker: The sophomore is the face of change on the Sooners’ defense. OU’s decision to take a defensive lineman off the field and add Striker into the mix has paid off handsomely. Striker is a terror for offensive tackles coming off the edge with his quickness, acceleration and pass rushing skills. His hit on Rees helped give the Sooners immediate momentum with Nelson’s 24-yard interception return against Notre Dame. He averages just three tackles per game but Striker is tied for the team lead with four quarterback hurries.
"Eric Striker has been getting pressure and making big plays," Stoops said.
Tackle Daryl Williams: The most experienced player on this list heading into the season, Williams is taking his game to another level as a junior. He has been a terrific right tackle for the Sooners’ offense and played a big role in OU’s offensive balance (1,021 rushing yards, 894 passing yards). Williams is one reason the Sooners have looked like a tougher, more aggressive offensive line in 2013. Stoops called Williams’ play “outstanding” this week following OU’s win over Notre Dame.
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.
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.
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.
Left tackle: Quite frankly it appears this was more of a competition last August than it is this August. Tyrus Thompson is the clear favorite to replace Lane Johnson after battling Johnson to start at left tackle during last year’s preseason camp. Thompson brings versatility and immense talent to the table, making him difficult to supplant. Derek Farniok and Josiah St. John are in the mix at the position and are looking to join the Sooners’ tackle rotation alongside Thompson and starting right tackle Daryl Williams.
Safety: The coaches really like Gabe Lynn's veteran presence at safety and have Quentin Hayes, another player with at least three years on campus, at the other safety spot. But both players will have to hold off a strong push from true freshmen Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas. The duo arrived on campus with college-ready bodies and undoubtedly will see the field as freshman. Don’t be surprised if one or both show up in the starting lineup at some point this season.
Defensive end: With Chuka Ndulue moving to defensive tackle, OU is looking to replace both defensive ends. Geneo Grissom started the Cotton Bowl and appears solid at one defensive end slot. At the other position, Charles Tapper has been running with the starters but will have to hold off a strong push from other talented youngsters, including true freshman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who is drawing rave reviews for his pass-rushing skills.
Receiver: Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are locked in as playmakers for the Sooners' offense. Both players can be difference makers with the ball in their hands and should get the majority of the snaps at inside receiver. On the outside, Lacoltan Bester is making a strong push this preseason to be in the starting lineup in the opener. Trey Metoyer could be the most talented of the bunch, and Durron Neal displayed playmaking ability in the spring game. Even though Neal and Metoyer have more fanfare, Bester is setting himself up to see plenty of playing time as a senior.
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2012 starter Lane Johnson was the No. 4 overall selection of the 2013 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, 2010-11 starter Donald Stephenson started seven games for the Kansas City Chiefs as a rookie and 2009 starter Trent Williams earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2012 as a member of the Washington Redskins.
It’s a good stance to take as the Sooners signed junior college tackle Josiah St. John in February, largely to ramp up the competition at both tackle spots and ensure Thompson isn’t just sliding into Johnson’s spot without winning the job on the practice field.
This is nothing new to Thompson. The redshirt junior had a heated battle with Johnson to man the position in 2012 before the eventual top-five NFL draft pick beat him out for the starting job.
Thompson had a solid 2012 campaign anyway, playing in all 13 contests, starting five games including starts at left and right tackle. Even though he wasn’t listed as the starter for the majority of the season at either position, he gained valuable experience that the Sooners hope will pay off this fall.
“I have had a lot of good reps,” he said. “I would say that experience really does help a lot, but once again every position is a battle right now. No one is handed anything.”
St. John is likely Thompson’s top competition at left tackle during preseason camp with Jake Reed and Derek Farniok also figuring into the mix. St. John didn't arrive in Norman until days before preseason camp but Thompson doesn’t feel like he has the starting left tackle spot already locked up.
“Everyone is competing for a job right now so I shouldn’t say that but I do have a lot of confidence in myself,” he said.
When the injury bug hit the offensive line last season, Thompson slid in seamlessly at right or left tackle. That opportunity to playing multiple positions and his overall game experience makes it hard to imagine Thompson standing on the sidelines when the Sooners’ first-team offense takes its initial snap of 2013.
“One big thing that I learned last year is that if you make a mistake, don’t hold on to that mistake because it’s going to mess you up for future reps,” said Thompson, who has played in 18 career games in two years at OU. “You let that mistake go and you keep playing, just like they tell [defensive backs]. That would be the one big thing I took from last year.”
Even if St. John, Farniok or Reed don’t emerge to push Thompson during preseason camp, the Pflugerville, Texas native has plans to push himself to further heights. Even though he won’t admit thinking about his NFL dreams, he has eyes on pushing himself to become the best tackle he can be, which could, ultimately, place his name alongside Johnson, Stephenson and Williams on a NFL roster.
“I am pretty confident in myself, but you can improve everything,” Thompson said. “No one is perfect in anything, even Joe Staley for the 49ers, as great as he is, I’m sure if you ask him, there’s things that he can improve on.”
1. Starting quarterback to be named later
On the opening question of his press conference, coach Bob Stoops took issue with a reporter assuming Blake Bell would be named OU’s starting quarterback.
Stoops waited until the week before the opener before naming Sam Bradford the starting quarterback in 2007. He hinted that he would follow a similar formula this preseason.
“We’ve never been real excited,” Stoops said, “about naming a guy too early.”
2. The offensive pace could be slowed
Since 2008, the Sooners have featured one of the most up-tempo offensive attacks in college football. That could change this season.
With a stable of dynamic running backs and a veteran offensive line, Stoops confessed the Sooners will consider going slower offensively and chewing up more clock on the ground to help their defense.
“It's something to consider, definitely, how fast you are going, how effective it is, how it is affecting the defense,” Stoops said. “It's something to look at.
“So hopefully we can stay on the field, eat some clock. Even if we are going no-huddle sometimes, there's opportunity to still use up some of the clock.”
3. A Kendal Thompson package?
Stoops didn’t shoot down the idea of using a backup quarterback package again this season, similar to the one the Sooners used the last two years with Bell operating out of the Belldozer. Only this time, it would utilize the speed of Kendal Thompson and/or Trevor Knight instead of the power of Bell.
“You put Kendal or Trevor back there to run it, they're faster,” Stoops said. “So you've got more options there of what you're able to do with them. Or if they happen to hit a crease, they're not likely to be caught very soon. So there's some of that to consider, and it gives (Bell) a break or gives him an opportunity to avoid taking too many hits.”
4. Russell, St. John update
Stoops didn’t refer to defensive tackle Quincy Russell or offensive tackle Josiah St. John by name, but he did seem optimistic OU’s two missing junior-college transfers ultimately would make it to campus before the start of fall camp, which starts next weekend.
“They’re still working things out,” Stoops said. “We’ll see.”
Russell would bolster a defensive line short on experience and bodies. St. John would have a good chance to be OU’s third offensive tackle behind starters Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams.
5. Young DBs impressing
Cornerback Aaron Colvin reiterated what other program insiders have been saying this summer. True freshmen defensive backs Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, Stanvon Taylor and L.J. Moore could help the Sooners right away.
“They're very mature,” Colvin said. “There aren't many things you have to say to them twice. You tell them one time and they fix it -- that's the sign of a great player.”
Colvin himself played as a true freshman in 2010, even starting the Texas game after starter Jamell Fleming was injured the week before. He said he sees similar attributes in Taylor, also a corner.
“I stay on Stanvon hard, because I expect great things from him,” Colvin said. “He's eager to learn; he wants to be the best. There aren't too many things I need to say in order to get him riled up.”
With this is mind, SoonerNation has parsed out Oklahoma’s roster into 10 separate tiers. Here they are:
Tier 1: The Elite (Guys who could play for almost anyone)
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No. 79 Daryl Williams,
Offensive tackle, 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, junior
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No one, though, quite like Lane Johnson.
“The more he plays it and the more he matures,” Stoops said, “he’s just going to get better and better.”
A little over two years ago, Johnson wasn't even playing offensive line. Four years ago, in fact, he was still a junior-college quarterback, whom the Sooners recruited out Kilgore, Texas, to play, well, they weren’t quite sure.
“When we recruited him and signed him, we did so on just what a big athlete he was,” Stoops said. “Not having an idea where he’d end up growing.”
Johnson started out as a tight end. The following year, he was moved to defensive end. Neither position seemed to fit.
But in the spring of 2011, starting right tackle Jarvis Jones suffered a torn patella tendon that would sideline him for months. That prompted the Sooners to test Johnson out at offensive tackle.
“We were always trying to find the best spot for Lane, and we knew even before then that [tackle] was a possibility,” Stoops said. “We were always looking because we appreciated how hard he worked -- like, we’ve got to get him on the field.
Top Returning Players: Big 12
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35