Oklahoma Sooners: Javon Harris

Grading the class: 2009

February, 3, 2014
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Oklahoma is poised to add several recruits on Wednesday with an eye on creating the foundation of a future championship team. Yet recruiting is an inexact science. Some projected stars rise to meet high expectations while others struggle to make a difference in the Big 12. Thus it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s last five recruiting classes. On Monday we begin with a review of the Class of 2009, including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees, and those who were busts.

When OU signed this group in February 2009, it looked like a quality class that could feature some future stars. Yet the best and most productive players signed were afterthoughts on signing day. The class was ranked No. 11 nationally by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

Center Gabe Ikard: A high school tight end who developed into an All-Big 12 interior lineman, Ikard is the perfect example of terrific evaluation by OU. He didn’t have the traits to become an elite tight end, but ESPN.com’s No. 19 ranked tight end had intelligence, a physical nature and toughness that made him perfect for a move inside. He earned 50 career starts after a redshirt season in 2009 and earned All-Big 12 first-team honors in each of his final three seasons.

[+] EnlargeLane Johnson
Rick Yeatts/Getty ImagesLane Johnson was unranked coming out of Groveton, Texas, but became the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft in 2013.
Tackle Lane Johnson: The unknown Johnson went from afterthought to NFL top-five draft pick. He played several positions in junior college, then lined up at tight end, defensive end and tackle at OU before being selected No. 4 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 NFL draft. He was solid and versatile during his two years as a starting tackle for the Sooners.

Cornerback Demontre Hurst: A three-year starter, Hurst was consistent and durable during his time as a cornerback for the Sooners. The No. 58-ranked cornerback in the nation, Hurst finished his career with 178 tackles and 33 pass breakups after stepping on campus with minimal fanfare.

Bull's-eye

Safety Javon Harris: The No. 32-ranked safety in the nation, Harris was a two-year starter and contributor on special teams throughout his career. He finished with 162 career tackles and nine interceptions in 44 career games (21 starts).

Defensive end Ronnell Lewis: Lewis, No. 83 in the ESPN 150, would have exceed expectations if he had remained in school for all four seasons. He was on the path to have a dominant senior season but chose to leave early. Nonetheless he was a force on special teams as soon as he stepped on campus then developed into a quality defensive end as a junior. He had 118 tackles, including 20.5 tackles for loss, and started at least one game during each of his three seasons, finishing with 14 starts in 34 games.

Guard Tyler Evans: The No. 25 offensive guard in the nation, Evans started in 29 games in three seasons as a Sooner before knee injuries derailed his career. If every offensive lineman the Sooners recruited turned out like Evans, they’d be pretty happy.

Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland: As the No. 54 player in the ESPN 150, McFarland shouldered a lofty ranking and expectations to match Gerald McCoy and Tommie Harris when he arrived on campus. He fell short of that duo, but he was a valuable asset during his final three seasons with the Sooners. He started 22 games and had at least 20 tackles for three consecutive seasons.

Safety Gabe Lynn: Another guy who had high expectations as the No. 80 player in the rankings and another guy who started games in each of his final three seasons. Lynn never became a star, but he was a key piece in an OU defense that ranked among the Big 12's best during his final two seasons. He had 116 tackles and four interceptions in 44 career games (25 starts).

Completely missed the mark

Linebacker Gus Jones: The No. 8 inside linebacker never stepped on the field at OU. He transferred after one semester in Norman.

Overall grade: B

Not an outstanding recruiting class, but far from a bad class. Some of the projected stars turned out to be just starters, but hidden gems such as Ikard, Johnson and Hurst elevated this grade above average. A class that won a lot of games, but the lack of skill-position stars meant it wasn’t strong enough to be the foundation of a national championship run.

Oklahoma Sooners spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
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OKLAHOMA SOONERS

2012 record: 10-3

2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin

Key losses

QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)

Spring answers

1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.

2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.

3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.

Fall questions

1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.

2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.

3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.
NORMAN, Okla. -- As Oklahoma’s defense undergoes a transformation this spring, new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery reiterated the point to junior defensive end Rashod Favors. His words provided a summary of the change in mindset for the Sooners' defensive line this spring.

“I need you to come off the football and knock the line of scrimmage back,” Montgomery told Favors during practice in a "Mic'd Up" video posted at SoonerSports.com. “You’re reading. We’re not playing last year’s defense, you gotta be aggressive.”

[+] EnlargeJerry Montgomery
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMINew defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, who recently arrived from Michigan, is hard at work teaching OU's new approach.
Clearly, change is in the air.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has expressed the desire for the Sooners defense to play more aggressively during the second year of his second stint as defensive coordinator in Norman, Okla. And that change is desperately needed after a season in which the Sooners finished No. 70 nationally in sacks per game (1.7), No. 112 nationally in tackles for loss per game (4.3) and No. 80 in turnover margin (minus-0.3).

Last season, the Sooners' defensive line played a two-gap scheme, removing the aggressiveness from their front four while looking to funnel plays to their secondary with safeties Tony Jefferson (119 tackles) and Javon Harris (86 tackles) roaming the defensive backfield and finishing first and second on the team in tackles.

“When you do what we did a year ago, you’re asking guys to take up two gaps and all you’re doing is being a plugger,” Montgomery said. “Your production is going to be down. You’re going to muddy things up, and linebackers come clean it up. That’s what that is made to do.”

This spring, the Sooners' defensive line is adapting to a one-gap scheme, which will allow its defensive linemen to play more aggressively and (hopefully) become more disruptive in opponents’ backfields.

(Read full post)

NORMAN, Okla. -- Asked about his individual goals heading into the 2013 season, Oklahoma safety Gabe Lynn answered without hesitation.

“Be a leader to my teammates and make as many plays as I can,” said the fifth-year senior from Jenks, Okla.

[+] EnlargeGabe Lynn
Rick Yeatts/Getty ImagesAs a senior, Gabe Lynn will move over to safety for the Sooners.
Make no mistake, Lynn will have plenty of eyes on him. From Mike Stoops to his defensive teammates to Sooners fans, every step Lynn takes will be noted this fall. As one of three senior starters on the defense, Lynn will need to emerge as a vocal leader and calm presence at free safety.

“I’ve been around here long enough, so it’s definitely something I have to be,” Lynn said of taking on a leadership role on defense alongside fellow seniors Corey Nelson and Aaron Colvin. “I have to be more vocal since I’m in the middle now.”

Adding to the attention is his move to free safety, a position that requires vocal leadership and was vacated when Tony Jefferson, OU’s leading tackler in 2012, left early for the NFL. After playing cornerback and nickelback during his first four years at OU, Lynn might have finally found a home.

(Read full post)

Position breakdown: Safety 

March, 4, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- No position on the Oklahoma roster is more up in the air heading into spring than safety. The Sooners lost their top three back safeties off last year’s team, including starters Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris, who have been fixtures in the OU secondary. How Mike Stoops retools the safety position will go a long way in determining whether the Sooners win the Big 12 championship in 2013.

It will be interesting to see what Stoops does with Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson. The nickel and dime backs last year seem more suited playing close to the line of scrimmage and covering man-to-man than operating as the last line of defense.

Oklahoma’s 2009 recruiting class had some hidden gems, including cornerback Demontre Hurst and center Gabe Ikard, but it had some disappointments as well, such as safety Kevin Brent and linebacker Gus Jones.

Ultimately the class should be considered sub-par. About half of the 24 signees became contributors, with Hurst, Ikard, defensive end Ronnell Lewis and tackle Lane Johnson highlighting the list as the only all-conference performers. OU’s class featured six ESPN 150 members but only Lewis learned All-Big 12 honors.


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Colleague Travis Haney took a look at the 10 teams who will lose the most talent in the country from 2012 to 2013.

There's only one Big 12 team on his list, and it's the 2012 preseason favorite: Oklahoma, which is sitting at No. 3 on a list you probably don't want to see your team on.

Landry Jones is the biggest name gone, but Haney says this might be Bob Stoops' biggest rebuild project ever in more than a decade in Norman.

The team's three most talented players -- Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson -- are the biggest losses, but don't overlook guys like tackle Lane Johnson and defensive linemen David King and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris won't be easy to replace, either.

Oklahoma was fortunate to keep cornerback Aaron Colvin and do-everything offensive Swiss army knife Trey Millard, who I'd expect to get a whole lot more touches next season. He was criminally underused in the Sooners' offense this past season. Just ask Texas if Millard should get more touches.

Oklahoma's offensive renaissance should be interesting. There won't be major changes, but Stoops is always going to build around what his personnel does best, and next season, likely with Blake Bell at the helm, you can expect the quarterback running game to be featured. It's still likely going to be a pass-first offense, but with Millard and Bell, next season's team might be a little more physical between the tackles.

I'd agree with Haney in that the top of the Big 12 looks really weak for 2013, which may provide opportunity for the Sooners to make a Big 12 title run, despite all the losses.

Roundtable: No. 1 defensive concern 

January, 17, 2013
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Every Thursday, the SoonerNation staff will answer a roundtable question about OU football. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

Today's question: What is OU's biggest offensive concern going into the offseason?


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A glimpse at the attrition rate at the University of Oklahoma removes the fog hovering over some of the major question marks the Sooners face heading into 2013. OU has had some ill-timed departures, forcing the Sooners to rework their recruiting game plan with the hope of having a balanced roster heading into the upcoming season.


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Oklahoma’s hopes of fielding a strong defense in 2013 just received a boost.

[+] EnlargeAaron Colvin
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireAaron Colvin had four interceptions for the Sooners as a junior.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin announced he would return to OU on Monday afternoon. The All-Big 12 first-team selection was considering making himself available for the 2013 NFL draft but elected to return for his senior season.

It’s a huge boost for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ defense. If Colvin had declared, OU would have had to replace four of five starters in its defensive backfield. With Colvin’s return, the Sooners secondary now has a cornerstone to build around.

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For the second straight year, Oklahoma finished the season with a 10-3 record. Both seasons featured disappointments late in the season (Oklahoma State in 2011, Texas A&M in 2012) yet the Sooners were in the Big 12 championship mix heading into the final game of the regular season each season. OU saw some improvements in 2012, but they were joined by some clear steps backward. Here’s a look at how the Sooners improved, how they regressed and how they maintained in 2012.

Improved

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders
William Purnell/Icon SMIJalen Saunders was one of four explosive receivers that Landry Jones had at his disposal this season.
• Passing game

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Johnny ManzielMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma had no answer for Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

It's hard to imagine a more disappointing end to Oklahoma's season. The Sooners got hammered by Texas A&M, 41-13, in the Cotton Bowl on Friday as Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel showed the world why he was the first freshman to win the Heisman, accounting for 516 yards and four touchdowns. Here's a look at some of the key moments that resulted in OU's third loss of the season.

Manziel’s first third-down conversion

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Oklahoma 10: Final power rankings 

January, 6, 2013
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Each week, SoonerNation ranked Oklahoma’s top 10 performers of the season. Following OU’s 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, here is the final Oklahoma 10 of 2012:

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesOklahoma quarterback finishes his career as the most prolific signal-caller in school history.
1. QB Landry Jones (Last week: No. 1): Jones didn’t have the kind of career finale he had hoped for. But without him, the Sooners go 8-5 this season, at best. His turnovers can drive one crazy, but Jones was OU’s best player this season. He will be tougher to replace than most OU fans think.

2. FB Trey Millard (5): The only silver lining to come out of Friday night was Millard’s announcement that he’s coming back to school for his senior season. Millard finished with 198 yards on 33 carries. If the Sooners are going to be a serious team in 2013, Millard’s touches need to triple.

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Who was up and who was down in Oklahoma’s 41-13 loss to Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

THREE UP

1. FB Trey Millard: With 28 yards on four carries, Millard was one of the few Sooners to have a decent day. More importantly, Millard declared during the postgame that after contemplating going pro he has decided to come back to school for his senior season. Millard has been one of OU’s best players the last three seasons, and his return gives the Sooners one of their best playmakers and blockers for another season.

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Oklahoma's defense had heard the legends about Johnny Football. They'd seen the highlight reels and trophy acceptance speeches.

Until Friday, though, they had never stepped on the same field with the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. After Texas A&M's 20-year-old superstar rolled over the Sooners for 516 total yards (229 rushing, 287 throwing) and four touchdowns in a 41-13 Cotton Bowl victory, Oklahoma couldn't help but be glad his college years will be spent on fields across the SEC and not the Big 12 -- where the Aggies would have been if not for some conference upheaval over the past two years.

"Johnny Manziel is everything he was billed to be," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He makes everybody miss him. He was what you've seen on tape the whole year."

Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called Manziel the best player he'd ever played, which carries a special significance considering Stoops' defense gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards to a shifty, speedy receiver named Tavon Austin from West Virginia barely six weeks ago, the second-most all-purpose yards in a game in FBS history.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel, Tony Jefferson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel sprints away from Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson during a second-half run.
"He's not a Heisman winner for no reason," said Oklahoma safety Javon Harris, who scooped up an interception off Manziel when receiver Malcome Kennedy bobbled what likely should have been Manziel's fifth touchdown of the night. "You saw what he did to the SEC all year. We knew exactly what we were going to get into."

Stoops' defense refused to blitz Manziel for most of the night, but the Aggies' strong offensive line -- led by bookends and future NFL first-round picks Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews -- hardly allowed Oklahoma's defensive linemen to make Manziel notice they were even trying to chase him down. For much of the game, Oklahoma's secondary would cover the Aggies' receivers, but Manziel would find a crease and turn a broken play into a big gain.

"It's hard if you've got an angle on him," Bob Stoops said. "He stops, goes the other way. If you don't he outruns you."

Despite spending the past month making a post-Heisman nationwide media circuit and losing his offensive coordinator, Kliff Kingsbury, Manziel strung together one of the best highlight reels in bowl history, which was set to a soundtrack of "Johnny B. Goode" from Chuck Berry on the big screen at Cowboys Stadium as the final minutes of the game ticked away and Texas A&M fans serenaded the exiting Oklahomans with an "S-E-C" chant.

More like Johnny B. Great.

"There wasn't anything holding us back. No rust. There was no nothing," Manziel said.

He energized the crowd as few have ever had the ability to do, the volume level in Cowboys Stadium rising quickly any time he fled the pocket. Oklahoma's defense could do little to stop him or to quiet the Aggies-friendly crowd of 87,025, the biggest Cotton Bowl crowd ever at the venue.

A media flock hounding him while he did required postgame TV and radio interviews couldn't catch him either after he sprinted from midfield to the corner of the stadium to finish the last few bars of the "Aggie War Hymn" with his teammates in front of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band.

"This is kind of a game that turned the page again," Manziel said. "People asked me earlier in the year about what game made it all click. There was the Arkansas game, and this game tonight made me flash back to that."

That's a scary thought for the rest of the SEC, which could spend the next three years chasing a quarterback nobody can seem to catch, inside or outside the pocket. He helped Texas A&M become the first offense in SEC history to amass 7,000 total yards, and there's no reason he won't do it again. With Manziel taking snaps and breaking tackles, there will be plenty of national title talk in Aggieland over the next few months, with a blowout victory over the Sooners serving as springboard. Texas A&M proved it was better than national title game favorite Alabama on a November afternoon in Tuscaloosa. Can it be better than everyone in the nation for three months next fall?

"For everybody next year, this is the first game of the new year," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "It sets the bar."

Manziel will be around to help us all find out if the Aggies will clear it.

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