Oklahoma Sooners: Brannon Green

Grading the class: 2012

February, 6, 2014
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.


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.
NORMAN, Okla. -- The look of despair and disappointment on the face of Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard spoke volumes.

It’s rare that a win over a Top 10 team feels so bittersweet.

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrey Millard, who has played running back, fullback and tight end in his time at Oklahoma, has 13 career touchdowns.
Ikard was excited his team had just knocked off then-No. 10 Texas Tech, 38-30, last Saturday, yet the entire mood of the conversation changed when the senior was asked about the season-ending injury to fellow senior Trey Millard, who tore two knee ligaments -- including his ACL -- on special teams.

“My heart is just broken for him,” Ikard said. “He’s one of those guys who just loves the game, and for it to happen on something like getting rolled up on a kickoff, that’s tough to swallow for everyone on this team.”

It's heartbreaking because Millard returned for his senior season to finish his career with his teammates as a critical cog in the OU machine. His numbers --17 carries for 97 yards, 11 receptions for 78 yards and two touchdowns -- don’t come close to representing his value. Millard often paved the way for an OU rushing offense that averages 234 rushing yards per game, and he has been the Sooners’ top special teams player for the past three seasons, according to coach Bob Stoops.

“He’s the best player on our football team,” Ikard said. “He’s the most versatile person on our football team. He’s the heart and soul of this team, and he’s one of the leaders.”

Millard, who has played 48 career games for OU, had the ability to line up at fullback or tight end and excel during his four-year career.

“All you can say about Trey is he is the best in the country in doing what he does,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s been that way for a long time. We’re going to miss him. Other guys are going to have to step up and play well.”

As the Sooners strive to play without Millard it will be like trying to hang a picture without a hammer. It’s still doable but you’ll have to get creative to find a way to get the job done and your task just got much more difficult.

One player won’t be able to replace Millard. Tight end Brannon Green and fullback Aaron Ripkowski will be asked to fill the void on offense, with several candidates likely to fill his role on special teams. A huge portion of Millard’s value was in his ability to do so many things, thus allowing the Sooners to adapt without changing personnel.

And, with Baylor looming next on OU’s schedule, Millard’s injury couldn’t come at a worst time. The Sooners will undoubtedly try to control the ball against the Bears, leaning on its running game to help stop Baylor’s high-powered attack by keeping Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk on the sidelines.

“We’re going to miss him a lot,” Ikard said. “We’re going to have to make some serious adjustments on the offensive side of the football without No. 33 out there.”

The Sooners have used two tight end formations, featuring Millard and Ripkowski, to have running success this season. After Millard was injured early in the fourth quarter, OU used Green and Ripkowski in those two tight end formations and had success with 16 fourth-quarter rushes for 81 yards (5.06 yards per carry) against the Red Raiders.

Even with that success, Stoops isn’t looking forward to the task of replacing Millard.

“That’s tough because Trey is so versatile,” Stoops said. “We don’t have anybody else like that nor does anybody else. He’s pretty unique.”
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. 82 Brannon Green
Tight end, 6-foot-2, 264 pounds, senior

You’ve seen them while prepping your fantasy football team. Or reading ESPN Insider Chad Ford while getting ready for the NBA Draft. The “tier system” is an effective way of making sense, differentiating and analyzing a cluster of players. Everyone from pro sport general managers to college coaches out on the trail recruiting employ this method.

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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Returning the tight end position to a strength of the offense and cementing Oklahoma’s special teams among the nation’s best are two goals high atop the priority list of Jay Boulware. The Sooners’ new tight ends and special teams coach has hit the ground running after joining the program on March 1.

The Sooners have relatively low numbers at tight end with senior Brannon Green, redshirt freshman Sam Grant and redshirt freshman Taylor McNamara as the lone scholarship tight ends on the roster. Adding tight ends will be key for the Sooners in the Class of 2014.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- In Bob Stoops’ first season in 1999, Oklahoma spread everyone out and threw it around.

In 2004, the Sooners put Jason White under center and handed off to Adrian Peterson.

As Stoops pointed out last week, the Sooners have often "played to their personnel." That includes last season, when, after it became abundantly clear the Sooners’ fourth-best receiver was better than any tight end, OU went almost exclusively with four-wide formations.

[+] EnlargeTaylor McNamara
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIThe Sooners need redshirt freshman Taylor McNamara to become a passing-game threat in 2013.
“We had some young [tight ends], a new guy from junior college,” Stoops said. “We weren’t the same with them on the field. Our best grouping was with wide receivers, which was quite obvious to anybody who watched us.”

In recent weeks, the Sooners have taken criticism from ESPN analysts Trent Dilfer and Jon Gruden for not using tight ends. They say it put too much pressure on quarterback Landry Jones to throw the ball downfield.

In several OU victories, Jones’ arm was good enough to overcome the limitations of not having a tight end checking off a route underneath the coverage, streaking down the middle of the field or helping to block in the run game.

But in the Sooners’ three 2012 losses, not having a tight end came back to haunt them, as OU was unable to maintain balance with the run or attack the Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M defenses off play-action.

The OU coaching staff recognized this liability and tried to lure another junior-college tight end to Norman before signing day. But after losing out on Beau Sandland and Emmanuel Bibbs -- the two juco tight ends they thought could provide an immediate impact -- the Sooners were forced to go with what they have.

Only this time, they won’t have Jones’ arm to fall back on. To be successful in 2013, the Sooners will have to run the ball with better efficiency. And they’ll have to also be lethal with play-action. Which means Sam Grant, Taylor McNamara and Brannon Green, whom the Sooners deemed weren’t ready last year, had better be ready to play this time around.

“I feel much better about it,” Stoops said. “The two freshmen [Grant and McNamara] have come along, are stronger blockers, have a stronger presence about what they’re trying to do. Same thing with Brannon Green, more experience in what we want him to do.

“I believe they’ll have more opportunities.”

Despite losing Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, the Sooners figure to be strong at wideout again. Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard should be prolific, and Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal, Dannon Cavil, Jaz Reynolds and others have big-play ability. But as OU transitions to an offense more reliant on the ground game -- as well as the running ability of its inexperienced quarterbacks -- tight end play will be paramount.

It’s no coincidence that when the Sooners have run the ball best, they’ve had stellar tight end play.

Quentin Griffin had Trent Smith.

Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray had Brody Eldridge and Jermaine Gresham.

Even Adrian Peterson had James "Bubba" Moses and Joe Jon Finley.

Stoops says he likes what he saw from the tight ends in the spring. After redshirting last year, Grant showed promise as a blocking specialist. McNamara has put on weight and is finally healthy after undergoing shoulder surgery last season, then tweaking a hamstring after being cleared for spring ball. Green has come along, too.

They’ll never be confused with the 2007 tight end grouping of Gresham, Eldridge and Finley. But if they can be just solid enough to be used, that might be adequate.

The Sooners are always going to play to their personnel. But OU has always been better when the tight ends are included.

Spring game storylines: Oklahoma 

April, 11, 2013
NORMAN, Okla. -- Saturday, the Sooners will put the finishing touches on spring ball with the Red-White spring game.

With a quarterback derby, three first-year assistants and several new starters on defense, this has been one of the most storyline-rich springs of the Bob Stoops era. Of them all, here the seven most compelling storylines to watch for Saturday:

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Position breakdown: Tight end 

February, 18, 2013
NORMAN, Okla. -- Tight end was the position that wasn’t for the Sooners in 2012.

OU’s first-year tight end triplets did not develop as rapidly as the coaches had hoped. Then Jalen Saunders was cleared, and the Sooners went almost exclusively with four-wide sets without a tight end.

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Not only did the Sooners seldom use the tight end position in 2012, they altogether abandoned it. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel leaned on four-wide sets and lined up fullback Trey Millard at tight end whenever the situation called for it.

[+] EnlargeBrannon Green
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireTight end Brannon Green had three catches for the Sooners in 2012.
The Sooners scoured the recruiting trail for a junior college tight end but struck out with their top two targets, Beau Sandland and Emmanuel Bibbs.

Despite not landing a juco tight end, Bob Stoops said he wants the tight end packages to be a bigger part of the offense next season. And he feels that, with an extra year in the program, freshman Taylor McNamara and Sam Grant could be ready to hold down the position, along with juco transfer Brannon Green.

“I see it being a bigger part,” Stoops said. “I think it was more the inexperience. We tried it and there were too many, just overall, we didn’t feel they were quite ready to play at the level we needed.”

Coupled with the tight end inexperience, Stoops added that the emergence of transfer receivers Jalen Saunders and Justin Brown swayed the Sooners to run more four-wide sets, too.

“I think [that's the case] more than anything, and the experience that the wide receivers all had,” Stoops said. “As odd as it sounds to say, considering where we started with all of them, they were so productive and doing so well, we felt that was taking advantage of our personnel and experience the best.”

But with Brown and Kenny Stills gone, Stoops said he sees the Sooners returning to more tight end sets in 2013.

“We like our young guys and our guys coming up,” Stoops said. “We want our tight end packages to be more involved, definitely.”

Season report card: Oklahoma

January, 16, 2013
We're grading each Big 12 team's season right now, and we'll move on to the next team on the list: The Oklahoma Sooners.

OFFENSE: The year got off to a rocky start out in El Paso, with the Sooners needing late touchdowns from Brannon Green and Damien Williams to break away from a near upset to the Miners. After another ugly game against Kansas State full of costly turnovers, the Sooners hit their stride. It all started with 41 points on the road against Texas Tech in a stadium the Sooners historically struggled in, but a 63-point outburst in the Red River Rivalry had Oklahoma fans thinking big again. Landry Jones was still continually unappreciated, but he helped win shootouts down the stretch against Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, and carried the Sooners in a tough game against TCU. The streakiness hit a bad spot in the Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M, which costs them in my grade. The running game was OK, but not outstanding outside of some long runs from Williams, but credit Jones for developing chemistry with a whole new unit of receivers. This was a gutsy finish from the offensive line, too, which dealt with a ton of injuries this year. Lane Johnson, Gabe Ikard and Ty Darlington all played well down the stretch. GRADE: A-

DEFENSE: The memories of 500-yard outings from Tavon Austin and Johnny Manziel are fresh in their minds, but this defense wasn't as awful as some believed. The linebackers were quiet this year in Mike Stoops' well-publicized scheme that stressed gap responsibility and freed up Tony Jefferson to make well over 100 tackles and leave for the NFL. Before Nov. 10, Oklahoma had given up more than 24 points just one time, and that team (Notre Dame) played for the national title. The end of the season wasn't as rosy, and the Sooners gave up 34, 49, 48 and 41 points. It was a bad finish, but Oklahoma did fix its problems stopping the deep ball from last year. That's something, and it helped Oklahoma win eight consecutive Big 12 games, which is no small feat. GRADE: B

OVERALL: Bob Stoops has gone a postseason crusade making it clear mediocrity isn't enough, but this really is a tough balance. Oklahoma's won 10 games in three consecutive seasons after a disappointing eight-win campaign in 2009, and won at least a share of a Big 12 title in two of the last three seasons. Oklahoma hasn't been to the BCS since the 2010 season, but they've won a whole bunch of games, just not enough to come anywhere close to the national championship game, which Stoops set as a standard early in his coaching tenure in Norman. Oklahoma's season ended ugly, but all three losses were to teams in the top 11 this year, and A&M might have been the hottest team in the country to close the year. This was an unsatisfying year in Norman, but how unsatisfied can you really be with a share of the Big 12 title? GRADE: B+

More Big 12 report cards:


Film review: Oklahoma 52, Kansas 7 

October, 21, 2012
It would have been easy for Oklahoma to suffer a letdown against Kansas. Instead, Jayhawks fans wish the Sooners would would have let up in OU’s 52-7 win at Owen Field on Saturday. Quarterback Landry Jones was superb, the OU defense was dominant and the special teams did something that had never been done in program history.

Receiver Kenny Stills' 44-yard touchdown catch

The Sooners' first touchdown pretty much sums up the game. After a play-action fake to running back Damien Williams, Jones threw a beautiful pass to Stills right over the shoulder of KU cornerback JaCorey Shepherd. Three of Stills' six catches came on that scoring drive.

A closer look at the play shows why this game turned into a blowout:
[+] EnlargeCasey Walker
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesDefensive tackle Casey Walker scooped up a fumble and ran it 45 yards.

  • Shepherd gave Stills a 10-yard cushion and still got beaten deep.
  • Jones made an terrific throw right onto the hands of Stills with Shepherd in position to make a play if the throw had been underthrown.

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Stats: Examining Landry Jones' struggles 

September, 27, 2012
Oklahoma’s 24-19 loss to Kansas State last Saturday seems to have made Sooners fans forget just how good Landry Jones can be. His struggles were the driving force behind OU’s first loss of the season but the Sooners will need the senior if they have any hope of competing for a Big 12 championship this season.

No matter how bad it seems, Jones is the only quarterback in the league who has led his team to a Big 12 Championship during his career.

[+] EnlargeJones
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireOU quarterback Landry Jones has not spread the ball around as much in 2012.
In 2010, Jones led the Sooners on a five-game winning streak to capture the Big 12 title and win the Fiesta Bowl. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information, SoonerNation was able to take a closer look at what many consider the best stretch of his career.

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Film room: K-State 24, Oklahoma 19 

September, 23, 2012
Oklahoma's hopes of competing for a championship -- either Big 12 or BCS -- took a major hit with the 24-19 loss to Kansas State at Owen Field on Saturday. The OU offense shot itself in the foot with three turnovers, two by senior quarterback Landry Jones. Here’s a closer look at the Sooners' loss after further review:

Jones third-down incompletion targeting Kenny Stills on OU’s first possession

Two plays after Jones missed a wide-open Brannon Green for a touchdown on play action, he missed Stills in the corner on third down. This play was important for various reasons:

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NORMAN, Okla. – Thanks to a pair of key Oklahoma fumbles, the Sooners trail Kansas State 10-6 at halftime in a key Big 12 showdown.

Stat of the half: The Sooners entered the weekend having scored touchdowns on all 10 of their red-zone possessions. Tonight, they have scored just six points on three red-zone chances.

Player of the half: Kansas State linebacker Justin Tuggle has only one tackle, but it was a huge one. Deep in OU territory, Tuggle sacked Sooners quarterback Landry Jones and stripped the ball, which was recovered by K-State’s Jarrell Childs in the end zone for the only touchdown of the first half.

What’s working for the Sooners: Spearheaded by free safety Tony Jefferson, who already has 11 tackles, the Sooners have kept quarterback Collin Klein at bay. The K-State offense has only one field goal, and no pass play longer than 12 yards.

What’s not working for the Sooners: The Sooners have moved the ball, but have been unable to capitalize in the red zone. Jones overthrew a wide-open Brannon Green off play-action on OU’s opening possession, forcing the Sooners to settle for a field goal. Then backup quarterback Blake Bell fumbled out of the Belldozer package inside the K-State 5-yard line.

What OU needs to do to come back: If the Sooners can take care of the ball, and take advantage of their opportunities in the red zone, they should be fine. The defense is playing well, and the Sooners are getting sparks at receiver from Sterling Shepard and Roy Finch.
In their first game as a unit, Oklahoma’s wide receivers had their ups. But also plenty of downs. Penn State transfer Justin Brown was the only receiver to grade out in the 90s with a 90 out of 100. Kenny Stills was second with an 84. Position coach Jay Norvell conceded that his unit could have played much better in El Paso.

“Lot of things we could do better,” he said. “Depth on our routes, knowing where we are on the field. Trey (Metoyer) had a couple of go balls where he was too close to the boundary. But Trey hadn’t played a real game in two year.

[+] EnlargeBrannon Green
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireBrannon Green caught the first pass of his OU career -- and first by a tight end for the season -- against UTEP.
“There are the things that sometimes happen when you have a lot of young guys. But we’ve got to play with more precision, execution.”

Norvell also noted the receivers struggled with their perimeter on bubble screens and runs to the outside. He was also disappointed with the unit’s yards after catch, which were minimal.

“We need to make more plays,” Norvell said. “And all get on the same page, and we will. That’s what good teams do, they get better. We’ve got a lot of good players, and we’ll improve in the coming weeks.”

Dominique Whaley forged his career last season as a running back that wouldn’t put the ball on the ground. But in his first game back from the broken ankle, Whaley fumbled late in the second quarter with the game tied 7-7. Fortunately for Whaley and the Sooners the ball rolled out of bounds.

Center Gabe Ikard said as a captain he considered talking the fumble over with Whaley. Then on Monday, he saw Whaley working on his ball security by carrying a ball with his arm strapped to a bungee cord.

“I was like, ‘Eh, I don’t think I’m going to say anything,” Ikard said. “He knows. That happens sometimes, but Dom Whaley will get that taken care of.”

• Tight end Brannon Green confessed that his heart almost stopped when Landry Jones threw the ball his way during the fourth quarter at UTEP.

“It was pounding,” he said. “Kind of like a blur.”

Despite the nerves, Green snagged the pass for an 18-yard touchdown that put the Sooners ahead 17-7.

“The good thing was I didn’t even have to move by hands,” Green said. “The ball hit me right in the chest.”

It will be interesting to see how the tight end rotation works out going forward. Green played very well in his OU debut, but projected starter Geneo Grissom returns this week after serving out a one-game suspension. The Sooners also played true freshman Taylor McNamara in El Paso. Green, however, said he’s looking forward to Grissom rejoining the rotation.

“We’re all getting reps,” Green said. “I’m glad Geneo is back. If he gets a touchdown, I’m going to be just as happy for him.”

• Since the moment he stepped on campus, Sterling Shepard had a goal for his freshman season: to play in OU’s season opener against UTEP. The true freshman accomplished that goal on Sept. 1, playing limited action behind slot receiver Stills in his first collegiate game.

“I knew I could play at this level,” Shepard said during Tuesday’s media session. “I wanted to test myself and show that I could. In practice, I just tried to show myself in every practice and it paid off.”

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Stoops, Players Want To Effect Change
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sits down with Gene Wojciechowski to discuss his team's stand against racism.