Oklahoma Sooners: Adam Shead
No. 74 Adam Shead, guard, 6-foot-4, 339 pounds, senior
Impact thus far: Injuries have handcuffed a promising career yet Shead enters his senior season as one of the Sooners’ most experienced offensive linemen. He’s started 28 games in his career despite nagging injuries. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, he forced his way into the starting lineup as the season progressed, starting five games and playing in nine contests. He started all 13 games as a sophomore then started 10 games in 2013. All the while Shead has dealt with shoulder, knee and back injuries at various points during his career.
Impact in 2014: If healthy, Shead should be a key contributor along the Sooners' offensive front. His health could be a big "if" however, as a back injury forced him to miss the spring game.
Long term upside: Shead had the ability to set the tone with his aggressive nature early in his OU career. Unfortunately for him, an injury-free season has been difficult to achieve. If he somehow returned to his pre-injury form, he has all-conference potential.
Evaluation grade for Shead: A. If he starts a game this fall Shead will be a three-star recruit who started at least one game for four straight seasons at OU. Productive and trustworthy, Shead was a stellar evaluation, the type of recruit the Sooners should strive to secure every single time.
Development grade for Shead: A. Without a redshirt season, Shead would not be around to add to his 28 career starts this fall. Injury or not, it’s unlikely Shead would have made a bigger impact as a true freshman than he can in 2014.
Now, in our weekly poll, we’re asking for your opinion: Who has the league’s best offensive unit regardless of position?
We’re going to exclude the quarterback position, since that’s more about one player than the collective strength of an entire unit.
Sorry, Bryce Petty.
Antwan Goodley, who produced 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Baylor will also be adding arguably the deepest and most talented signing class at the position in the country, headlined by ESPN 300 receiver K.D. Cannon.
The Bears, however, aren’t the only ones loaded at receiver.
Texas Tech features the dynamic receiving trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. D.J. Polite-Bray emerged over the spring as a downfield burner on the outside. The Red Raiders have also added their top overall recruit from last year to the rotation in Devin Lauderdale, who was forced to attend junior college for a year after failing to initially qualify. Four-star slot receivers Byron Daniels and Ian Sadler will be joining the squad in the summer.
As deep as the Bears and Red Raiders are at receiver, there might not be a positional group in the Big 12 as deep as West Virginia’s running backs.
In their backfield, the Mountaineers have Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring in from Pitt, set Pennsylvania’s state high school career rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher from 2012) and Dustin Garrison, the team’s leading rusher from 2011 who had a tremendous spring following a string of injuries the previous three seasons. If that weren’t enough, four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams will be arriving in Morgantown this summer.
While not as deep, Texas’ three-headed monster in the backfield is more proven than West Virginia’s, though not without questions. Johnathan Gray is coming off an Achilles injury, and Joe Bergeron was barred from the team during the spring due to academics. But when together and healthy, the threesome of Malcolm Brown, Gray (both All-Big 12-caliber runners) and Bergeron is as fearsome as any in the country.
Last fall, the Texas backs ran behind the most experienced offensive line in the Big 12. This season, that distinction belongs to the Sooners, whose offensive line unit caps the poll.
All told, Oklahoma boasts 107 career starts along its offensive line, headlined by senior tackle Daryl Williams and guard Adam Shead, who have been starting since their redshirt freshman seasons. Guard/center Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson are also returning starters on an offense that placed second in the Big 12 in rushing last season.
So who does have the best offensive unit in the Big 12?
Baylor's or Texas Tech’s wide receivers? West Virginia's or Texas’ running backs? Or Oklahoma’s offensive line?
On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. On Tuesday, we reviewed five questions that remain unanswered. On Wednesday, we took a look at five surprising Sooners. Today, we highlight the five disappointing developments of the spring.
Stanvon Taylor's development: The sophomore cornerback is a better player than he’s showing. Taylor earned the praise of Bob Stoops and Mike Stoops on signing day, as the two brothers compared him to Aaron Colvin. He stepped on campus with a hungry desire to make an impact and started against Tulsa early in his freshman season but he hasn’t made the jump you would expect from a player of his talent as a sophomore. Dakota Austin passed him on the depth chart, and Taylor currently doesn’t look like a guy who can slide into Colvin’s spot without a drop off. Taylor isn’t a bust nor is a guy who won’t contribute this fall -- he just needs to take his game to another level if he’s going fulfill the upside that made him the No. 199 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2013.
No dominant No. 2 receiver: Ideally, the Sooners would have seen one receiver emerge from the competition to show he wants to be a starter and centerpiece in OU’s passing game. Jordan Smallwood is the closest to filling that description, but he hasn’t run away from the competition with K.J. Young, Dannon Cavil and Derrick Woods among the receivers nipping at his heels. Sterling Shepard will be OU’s No. 1 target and will make plenty of plays as a junior, but someone else needs to step up as the No. 2 guy and force defenses to account for them if OU’s offense is going to really take off in 2014.
Offensive line injuries: The Sooners never really could get their entire offensive line together this spring with injuries to guard Nila Kasitati, tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Adam Shead and others during spring practices. Center Ty Darlington's smooth transition into the starting center spot got overlooked in the spring, but the uncertainty along the rest of the offensive line could hurt the Sooners in the fall or could pay off since it seasoned the overall depth of OU’s offensive front. It was a disappointing spring because a roster full of healthy bodies would have spurred competition and forced returning starters to get better, much like it did on with the Sooners’ defensive line.
Offensive production in the spring game: Baker Mayfield was the lone quarterback to pass for more than 60 yards, Daniel Brooks was the lone running back to rush for more than 30 yards and no OU receiver recorded more than 62 receiving yards. To be fair, OU didn’t exactly break out its full arsenal on offense, but more individual playmaking would have made the Sooners’ coaching staff head into the summer with more confidence. The Sooners' offense didn’t look like a unit that was overflowing with players who will make game-changing plays this fall. OU has talented skill players; they just need those guys to continue to develop and, once the games really matter, to become consistent, productive playmakers.
Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, offense only, on OU’s spring finale. Check back later today for a defense only post. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.
- Undoubtedly some Sooners fans left the stadium disappointed with what they saw from Trevor Knight. He finished 5-of-14 for 53 yards with one interception. Yet it’s not time to panic, for several reasons. First, Sterling Shepard was on the sidelines. The junior will be Knight’s go-to receiver and could become one of the Big 12’s best playmakers. Two, Knight was going against a solid and athletic defense while using a relatively vanilla offense. Three, injuries along the offensive line didn’t make things any easier, with multiple projected starters out of the spring game. Finally, Knight's ability to make plays with his feet was taken away with his blue, no-hit jersey limiting his impact in the running game.
- Nonetheless, Knight must play better. Period. Some people have been quick to insert his name among the nation’s best after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance. He’s still young, relatively inexperienced and has been inconsistent at times early in his career. Let’s wait until he’s consistently efficient before we anoint him as one of the nation’s, or even the Big 12’s, top quarterbacks.[+] EnlargeMark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight had a rough outing on Saturday.
- Anyone who was surprised by Baker Mayfield’s performance must have missed the rest of the Big 12 in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year for a reason.
- Mayfield seemed genuinely excited to be a Sooner. He grew up an OU fan and said he would have decided to join the Sooners even if Blake Bell had not changed positions and Kendal Thompson did not transfer. While he is ineligible to play this fall, his presence could pay off big time. OU’s defense will be tested in ways you normally wouldn’t expect from a scout-team quarterback and the Sooners defense should make Mayfield a much better player with its overall talent and playmakers all over the field.
- Tight end Taylor McNamara had two touchdown catches in the spring game. Could a pass-catching tight end return to OU’s weekly game plans this fall? Maybe. A wait-and-see approach would be wise, as adding a big receiving threat has been a goal for the past two seasons. McNamara and former quarterback Bell, who missed the spring game with an injury, appear to be the most likely candidates at tight end if it does happen.
- Speaking of receiving threats, true freshman Dimitri Flowers should make an impact this fall. He spent a lot of time with the first-team offense before a hyper-extended knee ended his day. He can block, he can catch and he’s picked up the offense as if he’s entering his junior season. It appears OU has found a hidden gem in the three-star Class of 2014 signee. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as the big-bodied receiving threat OU’s offense has been lacking as his blocking and overall versatility could secure a key role in the offense, allowing the Sooners to adapt on the fly.
- OU has talented receivers but will miss Jalen Saunders, a likely NFL draft pick. K.J. Young and Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods each showed flashes of ability but need to develop quickly if the Sooners hope to provide quality receiving options for Knight this fall.
- Nobody seized the starting running back spot with a eye-opening day. Daniel Brooks led the way with eight carries for 67 yards and Keith Ford finished with nine carries for 29 yards. Alex Ross, who had been praised throughout the spring, added three carries for six yards. The door is wide open for Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, two ESPN 300 running back signees, to make an immediate impression on the coaching staff and earn carries this fall. The Sooners need someone to step up and make defenses account for them from the running back position this fall. It doesn’t matter who it is.
- OU could end up looking back at this spring as a critical time for developing depth along the offensive line. Several linemen, including guards Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson, sat out the spring game, allowing backups such as tackles Josiah St. John and Sam Grant to get plenty of chances. The offensive line struggled at times.
- The backup quarterback position remains up in the air, but Cody Thomas, a redshirt freshman, looked solid, going 5-of-9 for 52 yards and a touchdown. Justice Hansen, a true freshman, struggled with the speed of the game at times, finishing 4-of-8 for 58 yards and one touchdown but with some good moments.
Oklahoma will be without several players during its spring game on Saturday but none of the injuries are major.
Nickelback Julian Wilson, defensive lineman Rashod Favors, defensive tackle Quincy Russell, receiver Sterling Shepard, receiver Durron Neal, tight end Blake Bell, guard Adam Shead, tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Nila Kasitati and guard Tyler Evans will miss the action due to various injuries but none of them require surgery and head coach Bob Stoops said he expects all of them to return after a short hiatus.
Those injuries have opened the door for several young players on the roster.
“They’re getting more snaps and having to step up,” Stoops said.
Here’s a closer look at how those injuries could open up spring game opportunities for several players on the roster.
Favors: Several young defensive ends including Mike Onuoha are showing good upside this spring and Favors' injury gives them more chances to impress in the spring game. Onuoha was right alongside returning Big 12 first teamer Charles Tapper as the future at the position before a shoulder injury forced him to miss his sophomore season while Tapper starred. He could be hungry to prove he could have made a similar impact. Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward are other young defensive ends who could end up providing quality depth this fall.
Russell: This injury hurts Russell in the race to earn playing time in 2014 and opens up additional opportunities for redshirt freshman Charles Walker to show he’s ready to make an impact in the fall. It also gives the opportunity for another redshirt freshman, Matt Romar, to show Walker isn’t the only youngster looking to force his way into the lineup along a veteran defensive line.
Bell: More than anything Bell’s injury robs us of the opportunity to see the Belldozer play tight end before the fall. And, quite frankly, that’s all anyone is going to think about when it comes to Bell’s absence on Saturday. The overriding question about Bell is not if he can win the starting tight end job, it's can he prove to be one of the best 11 players on offense? That answer will define his playing time and it won't come until the fall.
Shepard and Neal: Redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood, K.J. Young and Dannon Cavil could have lost all right to complain about a lack of opportunities with these injuries. Don’t be surprised if Smallwood is one of the stars of the spring game, Young is silky smooth and Cavil brings a unique size and athleticism to the receiving corps. Sophomores Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett will also get the chance to shine after limited duty as freshmen in 2013.
Offensive line: Injuries have hammered the offensive line throughout the spring, so being thrown into duty in the spring game will be nothing new for guys like tackle Sam Grant, tackle Christian Daimler and guard Kyle Marrs. They’ll get the chance to get a bunch of reps against a deep defensive line and potentially secure a reputation for themselves before a talented group of offensive line signees arrive in the summer looking to rise past them on the Sooners' depth chart.
Starter/contributors: Adam Shead (Sr.), Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.)
Shead has been a major contributor since his redshirt freshman season, but various injuries have derailed his career. When healthy he’s a solid option and his experience would be helpful, but it’s hard to build around him with the knowledge that he has had his season cut short by injury in back-to-back years.
Kasitati fought his way into the lineup this season and started seven games in 2013 despite the Sooners returning starters at both guard positions. He brings a nasty streak and athleticism to the offensive interior. He also has a versatility to slide inside to center if needed.
Savage started in the Sugar Bowl and held up well against Alabama’s defensive line. He brings great size to the table and should make the Sooners feel good about their depth at guard heading into the 2014 season.
On the cusp: Tony Feo (Sr.), John-Philip Hughes (Jr.)
Feo and Hughes both contributed on special teams last year and should provide quality depth in 2014. Don’t expect them to force themselves onto the field the way Kasitati did this season, but they can be contributors on special teams and offense.
Sophomore Kyle Marrs could also figure in the mix if he improves during the offseason.
On the recruiting trail: Jonathan Alvarez (Mesquite, Texas/Horn), Natrell Curtis (Phoenix,/Mountain Pointe), Joseph Paul (New Orleans/Saint Augustine)
It’s unlikely any of the three current commitments will secure a role with the Sooners as a true freshman but stranger things have happened and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has shown he will put the best players on the field regardless.
Curtis, a four-star prospect, is the highest ranked of the three players and has the highest upside but could use a redshirt season. Paul is an aggressive, physical player who fits very well with OU’s new offensive approach. Alvarez is a more versatile prospect who can project to multiple positions in the mold of Kasitati.
Overall Grade: A
From potential starters to depth, the Sooners look pretty good at the guard position. And OU has three quality commitments who have different strengths and could mesh well together in the future. The only reason this grade is not an A+ is because OU did lose a two-year starter in Bronson Irwin off the Sugar Bowl championship squad.
Unlike previous campaigns, Oklahoma’s offense was not the envy of the rest of the Big 12 this season. The Sooners running game was second to none and provided a foundation that allowed OU to stay in games, control the ball and create opportunities in its passing game. But it’s lack of explosiveness through the air, leading to poor offensive balance, made this year’s offense one of the worst in Norman, Okla. in recent memory. Yet the Sooners limited turnovers and mental mistakes while running the ball well enough to earn 10 wins, which should quiet critics considering a double-digit win season was unexpected heading into the season.
Quarterback: C+. Where are all the Landry Jones haters now? A quick glance at the Sooners passing stats (186.67 ypg, No. 99 in FBS) makes this grade seem way too high. But a quick glance at the win column makes everything clear. OU never got consistency from the position, as Blake Bell and Trevor Knight each had their moments of success and failure. Bell was the starter in Sooners’ losses to Texas and Baylor, and looked uncomfortable in both games, but played a key role in road wins at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. And Knight showed flashes of big-time upside but also showed the inexperience of a redshirt freshman. Through it all the Sooners found a way to get 10 wins and the quarterbacks played a key role in that success. A significant drop off from Jones yet OU finished the regular season with the exact same record Jones led them to as a senior.
Running back: A+. Who knows how the Sooners’ season would have ended up if it wasn’t for a talented and deep group of running backs led by Brennan Clay. The senior led the Sooners with 913 rushing yards, averaging 5.78 yards per carry, but Damien Williams (553 rushing yards) and Roy Finch (347 rushing yards) joined him as quality threats in the backfield. The Sooners running backs brought a physical running style and game-breaking ability which helped offset OU’s ugly passing attack.
Receiver: B-. The quarterbacks shouldered a bunch of the blame for OU’s passing troubles, but the Sooners receivers deserve their share of the burden. Jalen Saunders performed like an “A” student and Sterling Shepard wasn’t far behind. After those two playmakers, the Sooners receivers left plenty to be desired. Lacolton Bester had good moments but wasn’t the constant threat that Saunders and Shepard were in 2013 and the overall depth seemed nonexistent as young players such as Durron Neal never emerged as difference makers at the receiver spot.
Offensive line: A-. OU rushed for nearly 3,000 yards yet didn’t feature a single 1,000-yard rusher, speaking volumes for the offensive line. The only reason the Sooners’ starting front didn’t get a A+ was lackluster efforts against Texas and Baylor, helping to contribute to OU’s only losses. Center Gabe Ikard was the anchor and star of the offensive front, but tackle Daryl Williams made an overlooked but valuable contribution as the other all-Big 12 level performer on the squad. Tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Nila Kasitati, guard Bronson Irwin and guard Adam Shead each played well while helping pave the way for OU’s running game and limiting opponents to 15 total sacks.
Overall: B-. The lack of balance keeps this grade from being higher but OU averaged more than 31.8 points and 5.84 yards per game, ranking them in the top half of the Big 12. The Sooners running game was superb and overcame the passing game struggles while protecting the football. OU's offense is not an national championship-level offense, but it's not as bad as it appeared at various times either.
“Silence,” cornerback Zack Sanchez said of the 193-mile trip from the Cotton Bowl to Norman. “Guys were in their own zone, thinking about plays we could have made, should have made.”
There’s no reason to think the Sooners can’t accomplish a similar result in 2013.
“The Big 12 is a great conference and you never know,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said. “We definitely think we are still in the running.”
But Oklahoma has work to do and it'll need help to make its goal of another Big 12 title a reality. Basically, its loss to Texas means its destiny is no longer in their hands.
“It was a reality check for everybody,” guard Adam Shead said. “The Big 12 is a pretty tough conference this year. You don’t have the big offenses anymore, the defenses are stepping up.”
All other conference results aside, if they have any hope of winning the Big 12 title, the Sooners' offense must put fear in Big 12 defenses again. The lackluster production of TCU’s offense has been a topic of conversation in Big 12 circles but the Sooners are averaging 0.7 more points per game in conference play than TCU (18.7 to 18.0). It’s a far cry from last season's squad which led the league with 41.9 points per game in conference play.
Even though OU spent the offseason disappointed with its ability to run the ball in key moments, the Sooners' running game isn’t the problem, as OU ranks second in the Big 12 with 216.33 rushing yards per game, averaging 5.07 yards per carry.
Its horrible passing game deserves the majority of the blame. OU has passed for 160 yards or less in conference play just 14 times since 2004 yet hasn’t been able to surpass 160 passing yards in any of its Big 12 games this season.
The Sooners’ offensive coaches insist they are close to having a breakout game through the air and are hopeful it starts this week against Kansas. Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell believes quarterback Blake Bell and the receivers just need to find the in-game chemistry that results in big plays instead of narrow misses.
“That kind of chemistry comes from playing in games and making big plays,” Norvell said. “When guys make big plays in a game, they gain confidence in each other and that’s when it grows. That just doesn’t happen overnight, it happens from playing and throwing balls and making big plays on third down and having a guy you can trust. We’re building that.”
Make no mistake, Bell is under fire as the starting quarterback. Some people think Trevor Knight, who was originally named the starter, should get another chance while others think Kendal Thompson, the only one of the three quarterbacks who has not taken a snap this season, should get a shot.
The Sooners’ quarterback position is in flux, as OU coach Bob Stoops hinted this week that a change could be made if Bell’s play doesn’t improve -- and the junior knows it.
“All I can do is get in the film room, learn from my mistakes and get better,” Bell said.
If he does, OU will have the chance to get back into the Big 12 title race. If he doesn’t, the Sooners will have to turn to Knight or Thompson because, no matter what, OU will not compete for a Big 12 title without a improved passing game.
“In this league, you better be able to throw the ball and be balanced,” Norvell said. “We’ve got to do a good job at both [running and passing] to have the success we want to have going down the stretch.”
“Everybody is on edge.”
“Everyone knows this is a big game, a big week and what this rivalry means to each one of these programs,” Shead said. “We all know the meaning of this game to Oklahoma fans, to this university, to recruitment and to Texas fans.”
The Sooners insist their focus and intensity is high every week but that’s just coaches’ speak. OU turns it up for the Longhorns and it has helped the Sooners win three straight Red River Rivalry contests. It’s been complete domination as the Sooners’ offense is averaging 48.7 points and 496.7 yards per game while holding UT to 19.3 points and 307 yards per game in the last three meetings.
“… You could say we’re a little more focused, because we know who it is and we don’t want to lose,” linebacker Aaron Franklin said.
This year’s senior class is trying to become the eighth senior class from either school to go 4-0 in the Red River Rivalry since 1970 and the sixth group of Sooners seniors to accomplish that feat. Yet that same group of seniors has suffered home losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State along with a road setback at Baylor, in games the Sooners were expected to win.
But the lead up to those games simply doesn’t compare to OU-Texas week. The atmosphere outside the facility among fans and students can’t help but seep into the halls of the Switzer Center.
“Five times today I had random people stop me and say things to me,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said earlier this week. “This game might as well be a bowl game for us. It’s one of the biggest games of the year. It’s a game where we practice at a different level, and it’s always an exciting week.”
Said Franklin: “It changes a lot, you see on social media and you feel it in the community. People just want us to beat Texas.”
And they have under Bob Stoops, with a 9-5 record against the Longhorns during the veteran head coach’s time in Norman. The Sooners insist their preparation remains consistent throughout the year but nothing is like OU-Texas week.
“We go hard every week but Texas-OU we go hard times ten,” Grissom said. “It’s Texas, our biggest rival, every year we come in and Texas is the underlined team. We want to play our very best against Texas. Texas-OU is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
With this is mind, SoonerNation has parsed out Oklahoma’s roster into 10 separate tiers. Here they are:
Tier 1: The Elite (Guys who could play for almost anyone)
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No. 74 Adam Shead
Guard, 6-foot-4, 311 pounds, junior
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Through the first half of spring ball, we’ve updated the “Oklahoma 10,” which – you guessed it – features many new faces:
2. CB Aaron Colvin (4): Where would the Sooners be if Colvin had joined Tony Jefferson and left early for the draft? He is the best player on this defense by a mile. What’s just as encouraging for a unit with so many young players is the leadership role Colvin appears to be seizing. Mike Stoops has plenty to worry about as he retools his defense. But he doesn’t have to worry about having someone the rest of his guys can look up to. Nor does he have to worry about Colvin locking up the receiver on his side of the field.
3. WR Jalen Saunders (6): By last season’s end, Saunders might have been the best receiver on the roster. The stats certainly support that notion, as he topped all OU receivers in yards after the catch and completion percentage on balls thrown his way. With Kenny Stills gone, there’s no doubt who the Sooners’ No. 1 option in the passing game will be next season, and Saunders looks ready to take on the burden of being the team’s definitive go-to receiver.
4. RB Damien Williams (NR): Who knows what kind of season Williams would have finished with had he been able to stay healthy? Despite a midseason ankle injury, Williams still rushed for 946 yards, which included four touchdown runs of 60 yards or more in OU’s first five games. The home-run threat put in the work over the offseason, and now weighs close to 215 pounds, which should only enhance his durability. If he can stick on the field and avoid the training room, Williams is more than capable of producing an All-Big 12 season.
5. C Gabe Ikard (9): Bob Stoops said he isn’t worrying about his center missing contact in the spring with a broken hand, and neither should you. Ideally, Ikard would be out there developing a rapport with new line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. But Ikard has 37 career starts, and two All-Big 12 seasons behind him. He’ll be ready to go when it counts.
6. WR Sterling Shepard (NR): Shepard has been dynamic since he stepped on campus, and has continued to get better this spring. Shepard has firmly entrenched himself as the offense’s No. 2 passing option behind Saunders, and is in line to be a No. 1 guy later in his career.
7. LB Corey Nelson (NR): Two springs ago, Bob Stoops said Nelson called the best player on the defense. That honor belongs to Colvin, but Nelson is the only other two-year contributor. The plan at the moment is to utilize Nelson is more ways than one, which is a step in the right direction considering he wasn’t utilized at all last season. The only chance for this defense to be more than mediocre is if Nelson plays – and plays at a high level.
8. OG Bronson Irwin (NR): The “War Daddy” has taken on a greater leadership role on the line with Ikard sidelined for the moment. Irwin, quietly coming off a banner junior season in which he played through multiple injuries, is one major reason why the offensive line has been controlling the trenches this spring.
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Next up: Oklahoma.
Strongest position: Offensive line.
Don't discount Landry Jones' experience and decision-making, but Oklahoma threw the ball 571 times last year -- more than everyone in the Big 12 but Texas Tech -- and gave up just 15 sacks, third-fewest in the Big 12. The Sooners have good depth at running back but not a true gamebreaker, and the offense still averaged 4.85 yards a carry, third-most in the Big 12. Oklahoma dealt with a ton of injuries on the offensive line and at the end of the season, was basically reduced to five guys who could play and depended on true freshman Ty Darlington at times, too. The unit loses tackle Lane Johnson, but Gabe Ikard is the Big 12's best offensive lineman and returns alongside Adam Shead, Bronson Irwin and Tyrus Thompson. This unit perhaps could have been better than it was in 2011, which is part of the reason you saw position coach James Patton shown the door in favor of WVU's Bill Bedenbaugh, but it should be a big strength yet again in 2013. I'd say it's definitely the Sooners' best overall position. The Sooners fought through the loss of center Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans in preseason camp last year, and Evans is out again after injuring his knee this spring. Here's betting Oklahoma fills the void yet again.
Weakest position: Defensive line
If you watched the Cotton Bowl, you know all you need to know about this position for the Sooners. Texas A&M had arguably the nation's best offensive line, but the Sooners D-line looked like a bunch of high schoolers for much of the game, applying zero pressure to Johnny Manziel and letting him get loose for a record-breaking game in a blowout loss. The Sooners lose four seniors along the line, leaving behind just Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Phillips and Mike Onuoha as contributors from last year's D-line that helped Oklahoma rank just 108th nationally in tackles for loss and 94th nationally in run defense. Oklahoma needs a big upgrade at this position to return to prominence, and I'm not sure the answer to the Sooners being as good along the front line of the defense is coming anywhere but on the recruiting trail.
More Weak and Strong.