Oklahoma Sooners: LaColton Bester

Oklahoma won that Red River battle.

The NFL draft came and went last weekend without a player from University of Texas being taken for the first time since 1937. Meanwhile, OU had four Sooners selected on Saturday, including two fourth-round picks in Jalen Saunders and Aaron Colvin.

Here’s a breakdown of the Sooners selected and how they could fit with their new teams.

WR Jalen Saunders, 4th round, N.Y. Jets

The fit: The Jets should be a good fit for Saunders as they badly need guys who can change a game in one play. Expect him to help the Jets immediately on special teams.

Best-case scenario: Saunders takes over as the punt returner and finds a role in the offense as a slot receiver to complement Eric Decker and Stephen Hill.

Worst-case scenario: Questions about his size come to fruition as he’s manhandled by bigger cornerbacks, or worse yet, the injury bug hits.

CB Aaron Colvin, 4th round, Jacksonville Jaguars

The fit: It’s probably not the best fit for Colvin to go to a franchise that has struggled for years. The Jaguars’ probable on-field struggles could put a damper on a rookie season that will be spent on the sideline. That said, Jacksonville is trying to rebuild with young players and Colvin fits the bill.

Best-case scenario: At the organization’s request, Colvin takes his time rehabbing his ACL injury, which he suffered at the Senior Bowl in January, and returns to 100 percent before he gets on the field for the first time. Ideally, he could return late in his rookie season and get his feet wet down the home stretch.

Worst-case scenario: Colvin has some type of setback that puts his 2015 season in question, particularly if it is sparked by any type of impatience from the organization.

LB Corey Nelson, 7th round, Denver Broncos

The fit: The Broncos could end up with a steal in Nelson, who looked poised for a superb senior season before a pectoral injury. For Nelson, it’s a good situation because he has to potential to fill multiple linebacker spots and help on special teams for a team that needs to fill roster spots as cheaply as possible after a high-spending offseason.

Best-case scenario: Nelson becomes a staple on special teams while becoming someone the coaching staff thinks can help on defense in the future.

Worst-case scenario: Nelson doesn’t make the roster.

FB Trey Millard, 7th round, San Francisco 49ers

The fit: Much like Colvin, Millard is coming off an ACL injury. But the 49ers are the perfect fit for Millard, who is physical and versatile and should become a useful piece in San Francisco’s offense.

Best-case scenario: Millard takes his time returning to 100 percent. Once he returns the field, he essentially becomes Colin Kaepernick’s bodyguard in the backfield while becoming a key special team player.

Worst-case scenario: Millard never returns to the player he was before an ACL injury ended his senior season.

Undrafted Sooners signees

S Gabe Lynn, Detroit Lions: Lynn should get an opportunity on a Lions team in need of defensive backs.

C Gabe Ikard, Tennessee Titans: Ikard’s versatility could help him make the Titans roster, as he can play three spots in the interior.

WR Jaz Reynolds, Tennessee Titans: If Reynolds can maximize his physical ability, he could earn a spot on the roster or practice squad.

G Bronson Irwin, Green Bay Packers: Irwin, much like Ikard, could find himself on the Packers roster if he shows the versatility he did in crimson and cream.

RB Roy Finc, New England Patriots: If Finch can show his big-play ability as a returner, his chances of sticking in New England increase.

RB Brennan Clay, Denver Broncos: The Broncos are a solid fit for Clay, who was easily OU’s most complete running back last season and could earn himself a spot on the roster by being dependable at running back and making an impact on special teams.

RB Damien Williams, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have several young running backs who could make things tough on Williams, but he has NFL ability.

WR Lacoltan Bester, Houston Texans: Bester will have to impress on special teams first if he hopes to make the roster.

Grading the class: 2012

February, 6, 2014
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Oklahoma added several recruits into the fold on Wednesday with an eye on creating the foundation of a future championship squad. Yet recruiting is an inexact science as some projected stars rise to meet those 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 Thursday we begin with a review of the Class of 2011 including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees and complete busts.

OU landed 11 four-star recruits in 2012, including five members of the ESPN 150, and while it’s relatively early in their careers, several signees, including defensive end Charles Tapper, linebacker Eric Striker, quarterback Trevor Knight and receiver Sterling Shepard, have already made major contributions. The class was ranked No. 11 nationally by ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCharles Tapper (right) was a raw talent when he arrived at Oklahoma, but has developed into an All-Big 12 defender.
Transcendent figures

Defensive end Charles Tapper: He was the rawest signee in the class. Now, two years later, he’s an All-Big 12 defensive end with an NFL future. OU deserves a ton of credit for finding this hidden gem and Tapper deserves just as much credit for pushing himself to greatness and turning his potential into on-field production. Not bad for the nation’s No. 74-ranked defensive end.

Quarterback Trevor Knight: The sophomore quarterback was showing unique traits before he even stepped on campus, organizing fellow recruits and displaying leadership ability before he signed with OU. The No. 22-ranked quarterback in the nation, Knight won the starting job last August and, after some ups and downs during the regular season, lifted up the Sugar Bowl MVP trophy in early January after leading OU to an impressive win over Alabama. OU will build its offense around his talents this offseason and if he plays like he did in the Sugar Bowl, the sky is the limit for the Sooners in 2014.

Receiver Sterling Shepard: As soon as the Under Armour All-American stepped on campus everyone knew Shepard would be a key part of the Sooners’ plans. He was one reason OU went to a four-receiver base package in 2012 as they aimed to get their top 11 players on the field and he hasn’t disappointed with 96 receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first two seasons. The No. 60 player in the ESPN 150, Shepard should be Knight’s primary target in 2014.

Linebacker Eric Striker: Sooners running backs were complaining about having to try to block Striker during his freshman year but he rarely saw the field on defense in 2012. That changed in 2013 as he became one of the Big 12’s most feared pass rushers. His acceleration and knack for getting to the quarterback made him a critical part of the defense as a sophomore and earned him All-Big 12 second team honors after stepping on campus as the No. 62 safety in the nation.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez: The No. 64 cornerback in the nation, Sanchez has started every game of his young career and has displayed the competitiveness required to excel at cornerback. He’s already exceeding expectations.

Bull's-eye

Center Ty Darlington: He could be the anchor of OU’s offensive line as a junior after two quality years behind All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard. Darlington was No. 148 in the ESPN 150.

Receiver Lacoltan Bester: A late junior college signee, Bester did exactly what he was brought in to do. He provided veteran depth and competition to the receiving corps during his two seasons.

Receiver Durron Neal: His junior year is a big one for Neal. He’s seen spot duty during his first two seasons but needs to step up and secure a spot in the starting lineup this fall. Neal was No. 64 in the ESPN 150.

Receiver Derrick Woods: Woods made an impact on special teams as a redshirt freshman and his Sugar Bowl catch was a glimpse at his potential to make an impact on offense. Woods was No. 137 in the ESPN 150.

Running back Damien Williams: Williams did what he was brought in to do, provide competition and big plays at the running back spot for two seasons. Even though his Sooners’ career ended with his dismissal, he gave the program two productive seasons.

Tight end Brannon Green: Green was a valuable blocker and overlooked key to OU’s running success during his two years in Norman, Okla.

Completely missed the mark

Offensive lineman John Michael McGee: It always was odd for the Sooners to sign McGee, who said he didn’t love football during the recruiting process. Therefore, it really was no surprise when he quit the team before his freshman season even began.

Overall grade: A+

This class has been on campus for two years and already features an All-Big 12 first teamer, All-Big 12 second teamer, a freshman All-American and a Sugar Bowl MVP. Anyone expecting more from a recruiting class that has been on campus for 18 months needs to re-think their expectations.
Big plays changed the destiny of Oklahoma football in 2013. Without several key plays in key moments, the Sooner could have stumbled down the Big 12 standings. Instead, OU was a BCS bowl winner. Here are the top five plays of the 2013 season in terms of their impact on games and overall impact on how this season will be remembered:

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders, Lyndell Johnson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJalen Saunders made a number of clutch plays this season, but none bigger than his touchdown catch late against Oklahoma State.
1. Receiver Jalen Saunders' Bedlam touchdown. This was the defining moment of the 2013 season for Oklahoma. No single play represents this season better than Saunders’ seven-yard touchdown with 19 seconds remaining in the Sooners’ 33-24 win over Oklahoma State on Dec. 7. The play capped an improbable game-winning drive and improbable Bedlam win which knocked OSU out of the Big 12 title hunt and thrust OU into the Sugar Bowl.

2. Defensive end Geneo Grissom’s touchdown in the Sugar Bowl. As Grissom dove toward the end zone, arm outstretched to score OU’s final touchdown, Sooners fans erupted with the realization that OU was going to beat Alabama by double digits, 45-31. It was the best moment of the year for Sooner Nation and meant validation for Bob Stoops on many levels. And the actual play represented the foundation of OU’s win, an opportunistic defense forcing four turnovers.

3. Linebacker Corey Nelson’s touchdown at Notre Dame. Nelson’s 24-yard interception return for a touchdown was the first sign this could be a special year for Stoops’ group. It got the Sooners off to a terrific start in their first road game of the season and sparked OU to the best nonconference win by a Big 12 team -- 35-21 over Notre Dame -- during the regular season. This play was also the first sign that linebacker Eric Striker was going to be a terror for opposing quarterbacks and a major playmaker for OU’s defense this season.

4. Receiver Lacolton Bester’s Sugar Bowl touchdown. OU’s first touchdown of the Sugar Bowl sent a message that the Sooners weren’t going to back down against the Crimson Tide and weren’t hesitant to place the game on the shoulders of redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight. His perfect throw to Bester sent waves of confidence throughout the Sooners sidelines and OU rode that wave to a Sugar Bowl victory.

5. Cornerback Zack Sanchez interception return for touchdown against Kansas State. Not only did it seal the Sooners’ 41-31 road win, it is a good representation of the growth of the Sooners and how they turned that growth into on-field production. Sanchez had his struggles as a redshirt freshman but his competitiveness never wavered and his interception return against the Wildcats is an example of his development as a player. Several young Sooners, like Sanchez, grew a lot during the season and turned their development into on-field success as OU won three straight huge games against Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Alabama to end the season.
Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes during the bowl season:

Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings: The Bears true freshman defensive tackle was active in the biggest game of his young career. He finished with 10 tackles including 0.5 tackle for loss in Baylor’s 52-42 loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Billings' three solo tackles led all Bears defensive linemen. If he continues to develop and has a jump in production as a sophomore, he could start becoming a force in the middle of Baylor’s defense in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKansas State QB Jake Waters threw for 271 yards and three TDs in the bowl win over Michigan.
Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters: The Wildcats signal caller was overshadowed by a stellar performance from Tyler Lockett (10 receptions, 116 yards, three touchdowns). But Waters was pretty good in his own right, particularly on third down. He finished with a 100 raw QBR (scale of 0-100 with 50 being average) on third-down plays during the Wildcats’ 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Waters was 4 of 7 for 44 yards and one touchdown and added three carries for 25 yards. He was the main reason KSU converted 7 of 11 third down attempts. Waters' strong play at the end of the year is one reason the Wildcats should be right in the mix to be crowned the Big 12 preseason favorite.

Oklahoma receiver Lacoltan Bester: The senior had the quietest 100-yard receiving game of the bowl season. He finished with six receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown in OU’s 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. While fellow receivers Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders were combining for two touchdowns, Bester made the Crimson Tide pay whenever they focused too much on the Sooners’ top two receivers.

Oklahoma State safety Daytawion Lowe: The Cowboys fifth-year senior was all over the field in his final game. He finished with seven tackles and three pass breakups in OSU’s 41-31 loss to Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Lowe showed his versatility against the Tigers' running and passing game despite the loss.

Texas defensive end Cedric Reed: The junior joined running back Malcolm Brown and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat as one of the few bright spots in the Longhorns’ 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Reed finished with four tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. If he decides to return for his senior season, he provides an exceptional foundation for Charlie Strong’s first defense.

Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant: Quarterback Davis Webb was the star of the National University Holiday Bowl leading the Red Raiders to a 37-23 win over Arizona State. But Grant, the sophomore dynamo, was a big play waiting to happen. He finished with 125 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Grant has unique speed and quickness and should be one of the Big 12’s top playmakers in 2014.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight played the game of his career and the Sooners defense made key plays in key moments as Oklahoma knocked off Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. Here's a closer look, after a re-watch of the game, at five key plays that helped OU pull off the upset.

Safety Gabe Lynn’s interception in the first quarter

The Sooners brought four pass rushers against Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who made a horrible decision, throwing into triple coverage despite not being pressured. The Crimson Tide had single coverage on every other receiver, making McCarron’s decision even worse. He essentially threw the ball as if he didn't see that Lynn was sitting in center field to attack any deep throw.

Lynn, reading McCarron’s eyes, made the easy interception. It was a key play for the Sooners as it came right after Knight threw an interception on OU’s first possession, and it prevented the Crimson Tide from jumping out to a two-touchdown lead.

Knight’s 45-yard touchdown to Lacoltan Bester in the first quarter

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight made several great throws in the upset of Alabama.
An exceptional play by everyone involved. Terrific protection from the offensive line, a great read and throw from Knight and superb athleticism from Bester to turn a 20-yard pass into a 45-yard touchdown.

It started with a play-action pass off a zone-read fake. OU only had two receivers running routes, with Sterling Shepard providing a safety net option after the fake. Without a perfect throw from Knight, this would not have been a touchdown. It was accurate with zip, allowing Bester to gather it in and turn upfield. Bester’s stutter step provided just enough room to dive in for the score. The most underrated aspect of the touchdown was the confidence from Heupel to call a pass on the first offensive play after Knight’s interception.

The fact coach Bob Stoops sought out Knight to congratulate him after the play speaks volumes about the importance of the touchdown. It was at that point the Sooners realized Knight had brought his “A” game and they would be able to take advantage of the Crimson Tide’s focus on OU’s ground attack.

Knight’s 43-yard beauty to Jalen Saunders in the second quarter

Alabama defensive back Deion Belue gave Saunders’ a 10-yard cushion before the snap, and still was beaten deep. This is where having NFL-caliber players on your roster pays off.

Play action helped get Saunders one-on-one against Belue, who bit on Saunders' double move. Knight delivered a perfect throw over the outside shoulder, where only Saunders could make a play on it. The senior receiver made a superb, over-the-shoulder catch while keeping one foot in bounds for the touchdown. Saunders' combination of quickness and acceleration was simply too much for Belue on the play.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez's interception

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Sooners were able to confuse AJ McCarron on occasion with their pass rush.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops deserves the credit for this one. Dime back Kass Everett and Lynn both blitzed on the play, but neither player appeared to be blitzing until six seconds remained on the play clock, and McCarron didn’t have time to change the play. OU rushed seven defenders, leaving its secondary in one-on-one situations.

Everett, who was five yards behind the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped, was in McCarron’s face when the Bama quarterback threw the ball. Sanchez, knowing the blitz was on, jumped the hot route for the interception in front of Amari Cooper, who stopped his route for some reason. Alabama actually picked up the blitz well, but OU just brought too many defenders to block. Sanchez made a great play and Cooper didn’t.

Geneo Grissom’s touchdown to seal the game

Cyrus Kouandjio is probably still waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares of trying to block Sooners linebacker Eric Striker. The sophomore blew past the All-SEC left tackle to force a fumble by McCarron that was scooped up by Grissom and returned eight yards for a touchdown.

The play is notable because it was a mirror representation of the key to OU’s win. The Sooners were able to get pressure on McCarron while rushing four defenders. Striker got to McCarron less than three seconds after the snap and defensive end Charles Tapper, after a stunt, drove his man back into McCarron’s face, preventing him from stepping up into the pocket to avoid Striker. Both players won their individual battles and the result was the game-sealing touchdown.

Game preview: TCU at Oklahoma

October, 4, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma turns its attention to conference play after recording the most impressive non-conference win by a Big 12 team against Notre Dame last weekend. TCU visits Oklahoma Memorial Stadium with an eye on putting itself back into the Big 12 title race.

Here are some storylines, players to watch and a prediction:

Storylines

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsAn injury limited what OU QB-turned-TE Blake Bell could do at his new position this spring.
Avoiding a letdown. The Sooners have to stay focused on the Horned Frogs, who have a quality defense and enough talent to make OU pay if they are overlooked. TCU knows what it is like to win in Norman and could have more urgency than the Sooners with the understanding that another Big 12 loss could eliminate their hopes of competing for a conference title.

Another test for Blake Bell. The junior quarterback has been simply outstanding in his first two games as the Sooners’ starter. Bell was 49 of 67 for 645 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions while leading OU to wins over Tulsa and Notre Dame. TCU brings one of the best secondaries the Sooners will face this season to Norman on Saturday. It will test Bell’s accuracy and the ability of the receivers to get open.

Boykin will test the Sooners. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin is the most dynamic running quarterback the Sooners have faced this season. He can make the OU defense pay with his arm and legs, but if the Sooners' defensive front can create pressure, it could force Boykin into a game-changing mistake or two.

Players to watch

Linebacker Corey Nelson: The veteran has taken his game to another level as a senior, with 21 tackles, second on the squad. OU will need him to continue to show his versatility with Boykin taking snaps, as those two are likely to meet up in the open field more than once. Nelson needs to win those individual battles and have success bringing down Boykin when he blitzes.

Receiver Lacoltan Bester. TCU has talented cornerbacks in Jason Verrett and Kevin White, who could match up with receivers Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard. If that’s the defensive plan for the Horned Frogs, Bester will have to take advantage of the opportunities he has to make plays as OU's third receiving option.

OU offensive line. The Sooners have done a great job protecting Bell in the past two games, allowing just one sack. But TCU presents another challenge as the Horned Frogs enter the game leading the Big 12 with 15 sacks, and elite defensive end Devonte Fields could see action Saturday after missing last weekend's win over SMU.

Reason for concern: TCU is going to try to force Bell and the Sooners to make mistakes. The Horned Frogs have forced 12 turnovers this season, No. 1 in the Big 12, so Bell will have to continue to do a terrific job protecting the football.

Prediction: OU 34, TCU 24. The Horned Frogs play well and challenge the Sooners deep into the fourth quarter, but a couple of key plays from Bell and key stops by the OU defense helps the Sooners pull away in the final 15 minutes. Saunders proves he is one of the Big 12's top receivers with two touchdowns against the Horned Frogs’ stellar secondary.

Hopes, concerns after OU's 34-0 win

September, 2, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla.--The Sooners got their season off to a terrific start with a 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. Oklahoma earned its first defensive shutout since 2010 and redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight showed he can make defenses pay with his legs.

After a quick review of the game, here are three reasons for hope and two reasons for concern as the Sooners look toward West Virginia on Saturday.

Hopes

Linebacker Corey Nelson’s defensive stop on second-and-3 in the first quarter

The Sooners’ defense will be much improved if Nelson consistently performs like he did on this play. ULM quarterback Kolton Browning kept the ball after seeing OU linebacker Eric Striker about to tackle his running back. Browning followed his guard into the hole. Nelson saw the entire play unfolding, slipped underneath the blocker and stopped Browning for a two-yard loss. If Nelson can consistently slip past blockers in the running game like he did on this play, the Sooners are sure to improve on their 5.15 yards per carry allowed average from 2012.

Defensive end Charles Tapper’s quarterback hurry in the second quarter

With ULM facing a third-and-9, OU did a terrific job disguising its blitz which resulted in Tapper going unblocked and hammering Browning as he tried to release the ball. Before the snap, linebacker Frank Shannon was on the line of scrimmage poised to blitz while nickelback Julian Wilson was lined up over the closest slot receiver on the wide side and linebacker Nelson was lined up on the slot receiver on the short side of ULM’s five-receiver formation. After the snap, Wilson and Nelson were blitzing, Shannon was dropping back to pick up one slot receiver, safety Gabe Lynn had dropped down to pick up the other slot receiver and Tapper was cruising untouched toward the quarterback as ULM’s tackle slid inside to pick up Wilson’s blitz.

The Sooners only sent five pass rushers against five ULM blockers yet Tapper went unblocked due to the confusion created by Mike Stoops’ plan. It’s a good example of the versatility and aggressiveness Stoops hopes to play with in 2013.

[+] EnlargeTrey Metoyer
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma receiver Lacoltan Bester (11) celebrates with Trey Metoyer after Metoyer's TD catch.
Trey Metoyer’s 13-yard third-quarter touchdown

This play brings hope for multiple reasons. First, it showed what Knight can do once he gets comfortable and into a rhythm during the game. It was a good read to recognize Metoyer was open (thanks to a terrific job by the Sooners’ offensive line) and a perfectly thrown pass kept the defender from doing anything about the touchdown. Had it been underthrown at all, the defender was in position to knock it down. It’s easy to look at Knight’s numbers (11 of 28 for 86 yards) and assume he can’t throw, but this play should make you think twice before jumping to conclusions. Any struggles the Sooners’ passing game has with Knight at the helm won’t be rooted in any physical limitations.

Secondly, the play should give Metoyer, who has the physical tools to be a game-changing receiver, confidence after a rough freshman season. Now the sophomore could have a sense that he is in the midst of a fresh start after high expectations and a disappointing first year in Norman. If Metoyer plays up to his ability, the Sooners’ offense could go to another level.

Bonus reason for hope

Running back Roy Finch was on the field. On offense. Enough said.

Concerns

Lacoltan Bester’s 7-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 in the first quarter

The Sooners’ senior receiver ran a 7-yard route with his team needing eight yards to move the chains. That’s never a good thing. True enough, the route was designed to get Bester the ball on the move as he flashes across the middle of the defense to give Knight an easy dump-down option. But Bester went behind the ULM linebacker, instead of in front of him, adding additional depth to his route anyway. Why not go a yard deeper to move the chains? It wouldn’t have made Knight’s throw any more difficult. A little better field awareness and OU moves the chains on that play and Knight gets some early confidence. Little things like that can turn into big things against Big 12 teams, which could result in a loss.

Near interception late in the second half

Under a minute remained until halftime on 3rd-and-9 at the ULM 16-yard line. Knight almost threw an red-zone interception which would have cost the Sooners’ three points. Before the snap, early in the play clock, it appeared Knight had Jaz Reynolds in single coverage on the short side of the field, so it’s easy to see why Knight thought the Sooners had the advantage. However, one or two seconds before the snap, ULM backed out into zone coverage. Knight threw the ball anyway. ULM defensive back Cordero Smith dropped the potential interception in the end zone as Reynolds tried to split double coverage. Knight's mistake is just part of being a young quarterback and should be a great learning experience for the redshirt freshman.
NORMAN, Okla. -- For the first time in three seasons, Landry Jones won't take the first snap of the season for the Oklahoma Sooners. The veteran signal caller has moved on to the NFL and will be replaced by the winner of the quarterback competition between Blake Bell and Trevor Knight.

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.

Hope

[+] EnlargeGabe Ikard
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSenior Gabe Ikard, with 37 career starts, anchors an experienced offensive line for the Sooners.
Veteran offensive line: The Sooners' offensive line, led by ESPN.com preseason All-American Gabe Ikard, is a great place to start as offensive coordinator Josh Heupel looks to build his offense. Even with the loss of top-five NFL draft pick Lane Johnson, OU returns five players who have combined to start 85 career games, including Ikard's 37 starts. And the kicker is, Ikard and right tackle Daryl Williams might be the only guys considered locks to start, given the added depth the Sooners brought in with junior college transfers Josiah St. John, Tony Feo and Dionte Savage, along with superb sophomore center Ty Darlington.

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.

Concern

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsA key weapon as the "Bell Dozer," Blake Bell has not been tested as an every down quarterback.
Inexperienced quarterback: Bell has thrown 20 career passes during his first two seasons in Norman, and Knight has zero career pass attempts. Even though Bell has had plenty of success as the “Bell Dozer” in OU's short-yardage packages, nobody knows how he or Knight will respond when counted on regularly to make plays and protect the football. The Sooners' coaches are looking for a playmaker who will limit mistakes. What if neither player can prove they can make big plays without making big mistakes?

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.
It’s midway through Oklahoma’s preseason camp, so there’s no better time to update the position battles that could define the Sooners season.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY SportsBlake Bell remains favored to start at quarterback for the Sooners, but the competition is far from over.
Quarterback: Blake Bell remains the favorite to start the season opener, but the quarterback competition rages on in Norman. Bell continues to work on playing mistake-free football, while redshirt freshman Trevor Knight has been impressive in the preseason even though he hasn’t knocked Bell out of his favorite status. The Sooners’ coaching staff has been diligent about keeping the competition open, and nobody has stepped up and won the job at this point. This competition could continue into the season, particularly with Kendal Thompson set to return early in the year.

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.
Damien WilliamsAP Photo/Cal Sport MediaSenior Damien Williams is one of a deep stable of Oklahoma running backs that are capable of making an impact for the Sooners this season.
It's an unusual role for Bob Stoops' program as Oklahoma prepares for 2013 season with minimal expectations to insert itself into the BCS title hunt. The Sooners have several talented, deep position groups and other position groups full of uncertainty. Here's a look at OU's position groups ranked from strongest to weakest.

NORMAN, Okla. -- The ball floated toward the two competitors as they both battled for position to pluck it out of the air. Seconds later, Oklahoma receiver Trey Metoyer leaped over his teammate to pluck the ball from the sky with ease. It was a spectacular play during Metoyer’s first spring game in Norman and one of the reasons he entered the 2012 season with plenty of preseason accolades.

In his first official game in a Sooners’ uniform, Metoyer was in a similar situation and, again, outfought the defender to make the catch in the 2012 season opener against UTEP. But the would-be reception went down as an incompletion instead as Metoyer was out-of-bounds when he made the catch after not running his route with the precision required along the sidelines.

[+] EnlargeTrey Metoyer
Richard Rowe/US PresswireSophomore wideout Trey Metoyer, who caught just 17 passes last season, could have a much bigger impact for the Sooners in 2013.
These are two drastically different examples of Metoyer’s journey.

In his first 18 months at OU, the sophomore receiver starred during the spring of 2012, struggled during his true freshman season and heads into this season looking to help replace Kenny Stills and Justin Brown in OU’s lineup.

“Success wasn’t coming to him the way he wanted,” receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “He was frustrated. He’s used to playing well at a really high level. When you walk in that door [at OU], you better come in here expecting to come and play, or you’re not really at the right place. That’s the kind of mentality he had walking in the door and when he didn’t have that kind of success, it was frustrating."

Metoyer entered the 2012 season as the Big 12’s preseason newcomer of the year and started his first four games in crimson and cream. Then, after Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders was cleared to play before the Texas game, Metoyer tumbled down the depth chart, finishing with just 17 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown. Ten of those catches came before Saunders’ was cleared in mid-October.

Yet, Saunders and Metoyer have become close friends, even spending time after practice during the spring to hone their skills. Saunders, a senior, has made a point to take the youngster under his wing.

“Last fall he was starting then kind of faded away from the offense,” Saunders said. “It hurt him a little bit because he was expecting a lot of things. He was taking himself out of the picture because he had high expectations and was feeling bad about himself. This spring me and him sat down and talked a lot, I kind of took him under my wing like a younger brother. I treat him like my younger brother because I want him to be the best out there.”

Heading into his second season in Norman, Metoyer is battling fellow sophomore Durron Neal, senior Lacoltan Bester and others to earn a starting spot at outside receiver for the Sooners. Metoyer's talent is readily apparent and his consistency is slowly starting to come to the forefront.

“I think it’s coming together for Trey,” Norvell said. “I think he understands our offense, I think he has been around our players and quarterbacks. He is getting to the point where he becomes more confident in what he’s doing.”

If Metoyer progresses to the point that Norvell considers him among the Sooners’ most consistent receivers and puts him in the starting lineup, Big 12 defenses might have to take notice.

“He’s going to be one of the best receivers, probably, to ever come through OU,” cornerback Cortez Johnson said. “Trey Metoyer has the best hands on the team, that’s why every play [during practice] I’m trying to go against him, trying to get myself better and get myself reps against an opponent like that.”

As the projected starter at cornerback opposite Aaron Colvin for the Sooners, Johnson should know what Metoyer brings to the table. He has had several one-on-one battles with Metoyer during the spring, summer and early in preseason camp, resulting in his high praise for the Whitehouse, Texas, native.

“He runs good routes, he knows how to get in your cushion, open you up,” Johnson said. “[He] has good footwork, great hands, he’s just a great player. He has a lot to work on still, but he’s going to be pretty good.”
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. 11 Lacoltan Bester
Receiver, 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, senior



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