Oklahoma Sooners: Derek Farniok
No. 72 Derek Farniok, tackle, 6-foot-9, 329 pounds, junior
Impact thus far: Farniok made his biggest impact with a start against Oklahoma State in the Sooners’ 2013 Bedlam win at Boone Pickens Stadium. In 2011, he redshirted. He played a special teams role as a redshirt freshman in 2012 then played in four games as a sophomore, including the lone start of his career.
Impact in 2014: Farniok should play a backup role at tackle for the Sooners with veterans Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams manning the position. He clearly has a ways to go in his development, but his start against the Cowboys was a sign he could contribute this fall and expand his role in 2015.
Long term upside: It all depends on Farniok’s continued development. Even with OU bringing in talented tackles around him, Farniok has the ability to be a contributor if he responds to the competition.
Evaluation grade for Farniok: C. He hasn’t starred, but he hasn’t disappointed either. Farniok enters his junior season with a start under his belt, even though a pair of veterans have stood between him and playing time since he stepped on campus.
Development grade for Farniok: A. OU has given Farniok opportunities to play in a backup role behind Thompson and Williams and even threw him into the mix in short-yardage situations. Can’t really ask for much more from the Sooners’ development approach.
Gabe Ikard won’t be around to anchor Oklahoma’s offensive line for the first time in four years, but the overall depth and quality of the group could take the unit to new heights.
Injuries at the end of the season have sidelined guard Adam Shead and tackle Tyrus Thompson, both of whom have extensive playing experience, giving several younger linemen the opportunity to get additional practice snaps this spring.
“We’re missing a guy or two but we have some guys that have played a lot of football,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We have some backups that haven’t played a ton but have seen some action and they’re going to get a bulk of the work in spring ball. It’s an opportunity for them to grow and mature and prove they belong on the football field.”
Tackle Daryl Williams is the experienced veteran of the group and guards Nila Kasitati and Dionte Savage along with tackle Derek Farniok return after starting games in 2013. This spring is the chance for guys like tackles Sam Grant, after a recent move from tight end, and Josiah St. John to make an impression before six offensive line signees arrive this summer.
“I think we’re definitely light-years ahead of where we were last year,” junior center Ty Darlington said. “We’re getting to get a lot of guys reps, which is awesome -- a lot of guys that probably normally wouldn’t get reps are getting reps, and that’s good. I think we’re definitely making some progress.”
As the guy slated to replace Ikard, Darlington is clearly the man in the spotlight. He saw spot duty behind the All-American and three-time All-Big 12 interior lineman during his first two seasons on campus and is excited for the next step in his career.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “This is why I came here, to be able to step into a role. Gabe was great to me for two years. He really took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. He was a great friend on and off the field. Now he’s gone, and I’ve got to step up and fill that void as the center and in a leadership position. I’m excited for it.”
It went largely overlooked but Ikard was the main reason the Sooners could play musical chairs at quarterback n in 2013. The senior handled all the calls and brought a calm and consistent voice to the offense while Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson took turns behind center. It’s those areas where Ikard could be missed most.
But Darlington feels his mentorship under Ikard and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will pay off as he steps into the starting lineup.
“I’m more confident than I’ve ever been as far as just understanding the whole scheme of football,” Darlington said. “I learned so much in the past year with Coach [Bill] Bedenbaugh. I’m continuing to learn a lot more. From fronts to coverages and blitzes, we’re learning so much as a group. I feel like I’m definitely better than I’ve ever been as far as the mental part of the game.”
If Darlington can step in for Ikard without a letdown, the Sooners offensive line could cement its spot among the Big 12’s best for the second straight season and be the foundation of what might be a special season.
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.
Here are some priority spots for the Sooners to address in their 2014 class during the final two months of this recruiting cycle. Keep in mind, this list has everything to do with the young players on campus at each position, not necessarily the guys who are playing at that position each Saturday in 2013.
Offensive tackle: Derek Farniok and Christian Daimler are the lone underclassmen at offensive tackle. OU badly needs depth at the position and should be aiming to land at least two offensive tackle prospects in this class. If redshirt freshman tight end Sam Grant ends up at tackle, that would help the cause and lessen the urgency, but its a high priority position in this year's class. Worse yet, there doesn't seem to be a lot of hope at the position with top prospects mentioning OU on their lists. Finding a hidden gem in December could be the top priority for offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.
Defensive tackle: This position looks a lot better right now than it did a year ago with the early play of Jordan Phillips, a sophomore, and the emergence of Jordan Wade, a redshirt freshman. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as too many quality defensive tackles. The Sooners have one commit in Irving (Texas) Ranchview's Brandon Glenn, but that's not enough. OU needs to secure at least one more defensive tackle prospect to join Glenn and redshirting freshmen Matthew Romar and Charles Walker as the future at the position.
Linebacker: OU rallied to bring in two quality linebackers late in last year’s recruiting cycle with Alexander and Jordan Evans. Each committed to OU late in the process and became impact freshmen this fall. The Sooners need to supplement that duo with a least one more playmaker to join Allen (Texas) linebacker Tay Evans and Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta linebacker Curtis Bolton on their commit list. Several linebackers could be in play and keep in mind the Sooners did secure Alexander and Evans late in the process.
Running back: You can never have too many running backs. And OU loses three quality ball carriers in Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and the recently dismissed Damien Williams. Redshirt freshman Alex Ross has a good size/speed ratio, true freshman Keith Ford has terrific upside, and commitment Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) is a member of the ESPN 300. But the Sooners need to add another quality runner into the mix. Oakley (Calif.) Freedom running back Joe Mixon, No. 72 in the ESPN300, would be an outstanding addition to this class.
Receiver: Even though the Sooners seem to have some solid youngsters already on campus, they don't have a proven game-breaking receiver outside of Sterling Shepard returning in 2014. But, and this is critical, they can't just use a scholarship to bring in another guy. With Tulsa (Okla.) Union receiver Jeffery Mead and La Mirada (Calif.) receiver Dallis Todd already committed, receivers coach Jay Norvell should think elite receiver or bust. Norvell should join Mike Stoops in doing whatever it takes to land Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif/Central East), then fight for him to end up on the offensive side of the ball.
Back again with more stats and tidbits courtesy of SID departments across the league and ESPN stats and information. Did you know …
- TCU coach Gary Patterson returns to his alma mater for the first time as a head coach when he visits Kansas State on Saturday. He played linebacker and safety for the Wildcats before graduating in 1983. He was born in Larned, Kan., and lived in Rozel, Kan.
- TCU's Trevone Boykin is the only player in the nation with a 100-yard rushing, 100-yard receiving and 200-yard passing game this season.
- TCU leads the Big 12 with 70.4 percent (2,379 of 3,380 yards) of its scrimmage yards from underclassmen.
- Deante' Gray, who started two games at receiver this season, started at cornerback for TCU against Iowa State last Saturday and had two tackles and a pass breakup. He also leads the squad in special teams tackles.
- Iowa State's DeVondrick Nealy's 98-yard kick return for a touchdown snapped TCU's 135-game streak without allowing a kick return for a score, which was the nation's longest.
- TCU is tied for the conference lead and sixth in the nation with 25 forced turnovers this season.
- TCU holds the nation's third longest streak of games without being shut out at 265, dating back to a 32-0 shutout loss to Texas in 1991.
- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder earned victory No. 175 overall and No. 100 in conference play with the Wildcats' 49-26 win over Texas Tech last Saturday. He's the 46th coach to reach the 175-win mark and just the 11th reach that standard at one school. He joins Tom Osborne of Nebraska and Barry Switzer of Oklahoma as the only Big 8/12 coaches with at least 100 wins at one school.
- K-State has turned it on in the fourth quarter of recent games, outscoring opponents 56-14 during its three-game win streak.
- The Wildcats are 49-17 in November under Snyder since 1991.
- KSU is looking to become the fourth Big 12 team to start 2-4 or worse yet still make a bowl game. 2001 K-State, 2002 Oklahoma State and 2004 Iowa State are the only teams to achieve that feat thus far.
- Since 1999, K-State ranks No. 1 nationally in non-offensive touchdowns with 91.
- John Hubert is averaging 109.5 rushing yards per game and one touchdown in KSU's last four games after averaging 53.6 rushing yards in the Wildcats' first five contests.
- KSU sophomore defensive lineman Travis Britz has blocked four kicks this season, which leads the nation.
- Texas is 6-0 in the Big 12 for the fifth time under Mack Brown (1999, 2005, 2006, 2009).
- The Longhorns has scored 30 points or more in their last six games, matching their longest streak since 2009.
- UT is No. 5 nationally in sacks in its last six games. The Longhorns have gotten to the quarterback 24 times during their last six contests.
- Longhorns' guard Mason Walters has started 47 straight games, the second-longest streak in the nation among offensive linemen (Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson owns the longest streak).
- Texas has scored 11 touchdowns on plays of 45 yards or more this season. Eight different Longhorns have achieved that feat.
- UT receiver Jaxon Shipley is clutch with 30 of his 46 receptions resulting in a first down this season, including three on fourth down. His fourth-down catch kept hope alive in the Longhorns' 47-40 overtime win over West Virginia last Saturday.
- UT defensive end Cedric Reed is the lone FBS defender with at least six sacks, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles. The junior has seven sacks, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles.
- Oklahoma State has won 10 of its last 11 games in the state of Texas.
- An OSU win over Texas would be the Cowboys third-straight victory in Austin and make the Cowboys the first team to do it since Colorado in 1990, 1994 and 1997.
- OSU has scored 20 or more points in 48 straight games dating back to the start of the 2010 season. It's the longest streak in the nation.
- OSU has forced a turnover in 17 straight games.
- Cowboys cornerback Justin Gilbert leads all active players with six kickoff returns for touchdown in his career after his kickoff return for a score to open the game against Kansas.
- OSU is one of seven teams ranking in the nation's top 20 in both scoring offense (40.7 points per game) and scoring defense (19.7 ppg). Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State and Louisville join the Pokes in that category.
- The Cowboys are averaging 6.11 three-and-outs forced per game this season.
- OSU ranks No. 9 nationally in yards per play allowed at 4.67 yards per play. Michigan State leads the nation at 3.47 followed by Baylor's 4.08.
- The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in third down conversion percentage at 29.6 percent which ranks sixth nationally.
- The Cowboys could feature the league's most balanced offense. OSU has 343 rushing attempts and 343 passing attempts heading into its battle with Texas.
- Texas Tech's series with Baylor is the longest in school history. The Red Raiders hold a 36-34-1 lead in the series.
- The Red Raiders have scored 20 points or more in 25 straight games, dating back to 2011.
- Linebacker Will Smith has either led or tied for the team lead in tackles in six of TTU's last eight games. He has 72 tackles in 10 games, including 50 solo stops.
- TTU had its nation-leading streak of 257 straight PATs snapped when KSU blocked Ryan Bustin's attempt last Saturday. It also snapped Bustin's personal streak of 101 consecutive PATs.
- TTU tight end Jace Amaro had nine receptions for 67 yards against Kansas State to make it nine straight games with at least eight receptions for the junior, tying Michael Crabtree for the school record. He also moved to 10th on Tech's single season receptions list with 88 catches this season.
- Baylor head coach Art Briles is a 1979 Texas Tech graduate and was an assistant coach on Mike Leach's staff from 2000-02.
- It's been a full year since Baylor lost a game and the Bears 12-game winning streak is a school record. Oklahoma was the last team to defeat Baylor on Nov. 10, 2012.
- The Bears' 8-0 start is the best in Baylor's history.
- Baylor is hoping to win three straight games against TTU for the first time since 1984-87.
- Baylor leads the nation in total offense (686 ypg), scoring (61 ppg), pass efficiency (201.5), yards per play (8.64) and passing yards per completion (19.29).
- The Bears defense has more interceptions (11) than passing touchdowns allowed (8).
- Baylor leads the nation in fewest three-and-outs per game (1.02) and is No. 2 in three-and-outs forced (7).
- Baylor is on track to set NCAA records in points per game (61) and yards per game (686). Army averaged 56 points per game in 1944 while Houston averaged 624.9 yards per game in 1989.
- BU's starting offense has 85 drives resulting in 52 touchdowns, getting into the end zone on 61.1 percent of its drives.
- Baylor has won a school-record eight straight conference games. The previous high was five in 2010.
- The Bears lead the Big 12 in tackles for loss with 8.9 per game. That ranks No. 2 in the FBS.
- Baylor has converted 52.7 percent of its third down attempts, which leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 8 in the nation.
- Baylor leads the Big 12 in sacks at 3 per game. That number ties the Bears for 14th nationally.
- BU quarterback Bryce Petty leads the nation in pass efficiency (210.6) and yards per completion (19.68).
- BU running back Lache Seastrunk has 10 games of 100 rushing yards or more in Baylor's last 12 games. He's averaging 8.7 yards per carry, which ranks No. 2 nationally.
- Seastrunk leads the league with 111 rushing yards per game and 11 touchdowns.
- Teammate Shock Linwood, a redshirt freshman running back, is second in the Big 12 with 89.3 rushing yards per game.
- BU receiver Antwan Goodley leads the Big 12 with 121.8 receiving yards per game, which is No. 4 nationally.
- Baylor is 12-1 in November and December since 2011, which is tops in the FBS. That record includes a 5-1 mark against Top 25 teams.
- Iowa State's loss to TCU was the fifth time this season the Cyclones lost a game by eight points or less, including losses to Big 12 foes Texas, Texas Tech and TCU by a combined 12 points.
- ISU and Rutgers are the only two teams with two different players who have returned a kickoff 95 yards or more for a touchdown.
- Nealy has scored in four straight games in three different ways for the Cyclones.
- ISU has used eight different starting offensive lines in nine games. With injuries ravaging its offensive front, 10 different Cyclones have starting along the offensive line.
- Receiver Quenton Bundrage is the only Cyclone to start every game on offense.
- ISU linebacker Jeremiah George has recorded double digit tackles in seven of nine games. He leads the Big 12 with 11.3 tackles per game, ranking fourth nationally.
- Even with ISU's struggles on the field, the Cyclones have had three sellouts this season (Oklahoma State, Iowa, Northern Iowa) and are averaging the highest attendance average (55,617) in program history.
- ISU has converted 23 of 24 red zone possessions into points (18 touchdowns, five field goals) to lead the Big 12 and rank No. 4 nationally at 95.8 percent.
- West Virginia is making its first trip to Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan.
- Two of the top-20, single-game rushing performances in KU history have occurred on Nov. 16. June Henley rushed for 209 yards against Texas in 1996 (15th best) and John Riggins rushed for 189 yards against K-State in 1968 (19th best).
- Mountaineers running back Dreamuis Smith played at Wichita (Kan.) Heights and was committed to the Jayhawks before spending two seasons at Butler County Community College.
- KU's Michael Reynolds has 5.5 sacks this season, the most by a KU defender since 2009. He has a sack in four of KU's last five games.
- KU punter Trevor Pardula has punted for 3,044 yards this season, nearly 1.73 miles. He leads the nation at 338.2 yards per game.
- West Virginia has scored 30 points or more in 24 games, 40 points of more in 12 games, 50 points or more in six games and 60 points or more in three games during Dana Holgorsen's tenure.
- WVU running back Charles Sims leads the Big 12 in all-purpose yardage, averaging 124.2 yards per game.
- WVU has forced a turnover in 16 straight games and 28 of its last 29 contests.
- WVU's is looking to extend its streak of making bowl appearances to 12 with wins over Kansas and Iowa State to close the season.
- WVU is 3-1 on the road in November under Holgorsen
- Oklahoma has won 14 straight games against Iowa State and is 8-0 under Bob Stoops.
- The Sooners are 13-1 on Senior Day under Stoops.
- Stoops has 156 career victories and will be looking to tie Barry Switzer at 157 with a win on Saturday.
- OU will honor 17 seniors on Senior Day. This class is 39-10 during their time in Norman.
- The Sooners are seeking a perfect home record for the 11th time in 15 seasons under Stoops and the first time since 2010.
- The Sooners-Cyclones contest will feature a battle of brothers. Tom Farniok is ISU's starting center while Derek Farniok is a backup tackle at OU.
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.
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.”
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)
No. 72 Derek Farniok
Offensive tackle, 6-foot-9, 324 pounds, sophomore
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One of the first moves Bob Stoops made after signing day was firing Bruce Kittle and James Patton and replacing them with Bill Bedenbaugh, who was formerly at West Virginia.
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Vitals: Offensive tackle Christian Daimler, Houston/Stratford | 6-foot-6, 270 pounds
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Offensive tackle Josiah St. John (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley Community College) committed to the Sooners on Wednesday, throwing his name into the competition to replace Lane Johnson in OU’s starting lineup in 2013. St. John picked the Sooners over Kansas and had offers from Texas A&M, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and others. The No. 6-ranked recruit in the ESPN JC 100, St. John is a four-star prospect with a 83 rating from ESPN.com recruiting analysts.
St. John steps on campus with the ability to start and should create a more competitive atmosphere among the tackles with Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson returning next season. It would have been easy to slot Williams and Thompson in as OU’s starting tackles if the Sooners hadn’t landed St. John but his decision will give the Sooners coaching staff options while forcing Williams and Thompson to compete for their spot in the rotation. The Sooners generally prefer to rotate their offensive linemen so St. John will undoubtedly have an immediate impact even if he doesn’t secure a starting role.
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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 at the offensive tackle position:
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Here’s a look at five young players at Oklahoma who could use bowl practices as a springboard to a bigger role for the Sooners in 2013.
It’s important Metoyer understands he is still a big part of OU’s offensive plans in the future and that starts with these bowl practices. With Justin Brown leaving and Kenny Stills potentially declaring for the NFL draft, the Sooners will need Metoyer to emerge as a quality target as a sophomore.
With the Sooners looking at playing without Jalen Saunders after his recent arrest, Metoyer could be asked to play a bigger role in the offense during the Cotton Bowl. Metoyer began the season as a starter but his youth and inexperience showed at times during his freshman season.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips
Phillips’ development is one of the most critical concerns for the Sooners heading into 2013 with their top three defensive tackles -- seniors Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker -- leaving the program after the Cotton Bowl.
The redshirt freshman has great size (6-foot-6, 316 pounds) and has seen more playing time as the season has progressed, recording 12 tackles. He’s had his moments when he’s played well but he’s far from a finished product. And the Sooners will desperately need him to play like one in 2013.
Cornerback Gary Simon
Senior Demontre Hurst has played as well as anyone on OU’s defense in 2012 and will be a big loss when he moves on after the Cotton Bowl. And junior Aaron Colvin could decide to test NFL waters. Therefore, Simon’s progress is important for OU’s defense.
The true freshman has seen limited playing time in blowout wins this season, so the bowl practices could be a opportunity for him to see some time with the No. 1 defense against the No. 1 offense. Simon impressed in the preseason and has the physical traits to be an impact player, he just needs the experience.
Defensive end Geneo Grissom
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Both Jones and Way were captains last season, along with Ben Habern, Travis Lewis and Ryan Broyles.
Kittle said he plans to use Johnson also at right tackle, where he played last season, to spell Daryl Williams at times. When that happens, Thompson will be in at left tackle.
“To be able to do that with Lane is huge,” Kittle said.
Williams, who had one of the best springs of any Sooner, has continued that into the fall, solidifying the starting job at right tackle. Williams started one game there last season, before losing the job to Johnson after an ankle sprain.
Asked what his mindset is in 2012, Williams said: “Keep starting.”
“He’s very consistent,” Kittle said of Williams. “Strong in pass protection.”
For the moment, the tackle position remains a three-man rotation with Johnson, Thompson and Williams. The fourth in the pecking order, redshirt freshman Derek Farniok, is “not quite in that three-man rotation,” said Kittle, who believes Farniok’s future is at right tackle.
• Guard/center Nila Kasitati said he’s feeling good since underdoing a procedure three weeks ago to correct an arrhythmia. Kasitati said he’s been dealing with it for years, but didn’t understand what it was and figured it wasn’t serious. Kasitati said his heart rate would get really fast, and he’d have to relax to slow it down. One day this summer, he woke up and couldn’t slow it down. He had to step out of a workout, and figured it was time to see a doctor.
“It hit me when I woke up,” he said. “Before I didn’t really think much about it.”
Kasitati has since returned to the practice field, and is currently OU’s top reserve at either guard spot and center. He admitted he still needs a few more days of practice to get his conditioning up, but said he should be good by opener at UTEP.
• Once again, Bob Stoops was quizzed about the health of running back Dominique Whaley.
“Is he 100 percent? He sure looks it,” Stoops said.
Running backs coach Cale Gundy said Whaley hasn’t had “an episode where he’s had to come out.
“He’s healthy," Gundy said.
• Gundy discussed at length his thoughts on OU’s running backs. Gundy said Whaley, Brennan Clay and junior college transfer Damien Williams are the top three backs and most likely to see the bulk of the playing time. That leaves freshmen Alex Ross and David Smith on the outside looking in.
“Everyone knows I like to play 2-3 guys,” Gundy said. “But I don’t want to play 4-5.”
Gundy said the reason Williams has separated from the two freshmen is because “he’s learned the system faster.”
But Gundy had plenty of praise for Ross and Smith.
“When they have known what they’re doing, they have looked really good,” Gundy said. “They don’t look like most freshmen that way.
“They break tackles, outrun people, and they don’t get caught.”
It will be interesting to see if the Sooners redshirt either back.
• Even though much of the media discussion has focused on others, Clay said he doesn’t feel overlooked – even though he opened the 2011 season as the starter and yet his name rarely is mentioned when talk of the Sooners running backs comes up. Clay doesn’t worry about what people think of him or his ability because he knows he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself on the field.
Clay was highly regarded when he stepped on campus but injuries have hampered his first two seasons. Gundy likens him to former Sooner Chris Brown in terms of his dependability with OU’s offensive attack.
“He’s a guy you can count on,” Gundy said. “When you put him out there, you know what you’re going to get out of him.”
• Geneo Grissom spoke for the first time since being declared the Sooners’ starting tight end by Bob Stoops. The former defensive end said he went up to Stoops shortly after spring ball, to ask if he could give tight end a shot. Grissom said he was “surprised” Stoops was as open to it as he was.
Grissom thought the opportunity was there for playing time at tight end, considering the Sooners had no returning letter winners at the position.
“I felt like that could be to my advantage,” he said.
Since, Grissom has beaten out both Brannon Green and Taylor McNamara to be the starter.
“I’m still learning,” said Grissom, who admitted he was surprised he has risen to the top of the depth chart so quickly.
Grissom said one of his favorite athletes has been Jermaine Gresham, and he’s trying to model his game after the former OU All-American tight end.
“I love catching the ball,” he said. “Who doesn’t love scoring touchdowns?”
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