Oklahoma Sooners: Bronson Irwin

Seventeen Big 12 players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft. Many other Big 12 alums will have a chance at the next level as undrafted free agents.

Below is a list of undrafted players who reportedly have agreed to free agent deals. This is not a final list, as teams are still working to sign undrafted free agents. But these are the players we know of so far.

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU
Texas
Texas Tech
West Virginia
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.

Big 12 all-bowl team

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The Big 12 had some memorable bowl performances, and some not-so-memorable ones. Below, we honor the memorable ones with the Big 12's all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters were marvelous, too, but Knight was simply incredible, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the two-time defending national champs.

RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas. Brown did everything he could to keep the Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, he had little help from the rest of the offense.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett proved just as much a handful for Michigan as he does Big 12 teams.
RB: John Hubert, Kansas State. In his final game at K-State, Hubert went out with a bang, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats rolled Michigan.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. The Wolverines became the next team unable to guard Lockett, who had another stellar outing with 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. Big 12 defensive backs cannot be looking forward to this guy coming back next season.

WR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma. Saunders hauled in two of Knight’s touchdown passes, the second a 43-yarder coming off a gorgeous double move that gave OU the lead for good.

TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech. Amaro became the NCAA's all-time single season tight end record holder for receptions and receiving yards, reeling in eight catches for 112 yards against the Sun Devils before revealing he would be turning pro.

OT: Bronson Irwin, Oklahoma. Irwin held up remarkably well against Alabama’s mighty front in his first career start at right tackle, as Knight was sacked only once. Irwin, a guard his entire career, had to move outside because of an injury to Tyrus Thompson.

OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech. Webb attempted 41 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Clark was a big reason.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State. The Wildcats moved the ball at will against Michigan. Along with Clark, Whitehair is one of the best young returning offensive linemen in the league.

OG: Beau Carpenter, Texas Tech. After missing three straight games with a concussion, Carpenter returned to help shut down Arizona State All-American DT Will Sutton, who basically was a non-factor.

C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma. Even with a makeshift offensive line, OU somehow won the battle in the trenches against Alabama. Ikard, an All-American and quarterback of the line, deserves a ton of credit for keeping the line together.

DEFENSE

DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma. Grissom was a man possessed against the Crimson Tide. The former tight end had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, the latter of which he returned for a touchdown to clinch the Sooners’ victory.

DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State. Despite the loss, Barnett tied a career high with five tackles and one sack and repeatedly found his way into the Missouri backfield.

DT: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders desperately missed Bush late in the regular season. His performance against Arizona State underscored why, as Bush delivered three tackles and a sack and freed up Kerry Hyder to make plays, too.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSooners LB Eric Striker sacked AJ McCarron three times in the Sugar Bowl.
DE: Jimmy Bean, Oklahoma State. Bean had a breakout game in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Not even Alabama could block Striker off the edge. Striker had a monster performance against the Tide with seven tackles and three sacks, with his final sack forcing the game-clinching fumble in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

LB: Will Smith, Texas Tech. The senior had a National University Holiday Bowl-high 14 tackles, as the Red Raiders held Arizona State 17 points below its season average.

LB: Blake Slaughter, Kansas State. One of the better linebackers in the Big 12 all year, Slaughter had another fine game in the desert with seven tackles, including one for loss, as Michigan’s offense was held in check all night.

CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. The Sooners gave up some big plays in the passing game, but Colvin was the exception. He also had a critical, touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter that resulted in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.

CB: Demetri Goodson, Baylor. The Bears gave up 52 points, but they might have given up more had Goodson not collected an acrobatic interception inside the Baylor 5-yard line.

S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett led the Wildcats with eight tackles, and he delivered the exclamation point against Michigan with a 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.

S: Tanner Jacobson, Texas Tech. In his last college game for a while, the walk-on freshman had a very solid performance with seven tackles. Jacobson is leaving the program for a two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma. “Moneycutt” nailed a season-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that allowed OU to keep momentum. It was the third-longest field goal of his career.

P: Spencer Roth, Baylor. One of the few bright spots for Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was its punter, who was busier than he had been all season. Roth averaged almost 44 yards on seven punts, and pinned UCF inside the 20-yard line three times.

Returner: Reginald Davis, Texas Tech. After Arizona State had trimmed Tech’s lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, Davis answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-yard touchdown return down the sideline. The Sun Devils failed to retake the momentum again the rest of the game.
Oklahoma players have no illusions about the nation’s perception of their chances to win the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Finding someone outside the Sooner state who is picking OU to beat Alabama is like finding someone who had heard of Champion Baptist College before Monday night.

OU enters the game as clear underdogs and several Sooners have been asked by classmates if they are scared to play Alabama. That’s right, scared … and they aren’t happy about it.

“If you ask any guy that question, you’ll get a sour response from anyone,” guard Bronson Irwin said. “If you say yes to that question, you’re probably in the wrong sport. This is top-level football. If you’re scared of anyone, you’re already beaten in my mind. A lot of this game is mental and a lot of the games are won before you start.”

Ask any Sooner about the Crimson Tide and their mouths fill with praise and respect for the two-time defending BCS champions. Yet they’re sick of people acting like they don’t belong on the same field as the SEC power.

“They’re a great team and they have been a great team for the last few years,” senior safety Gabe Lynn said. “It’s going to be a good challenge but, yeah, we’re kind of sick of being overlooked.”

Maybe the Sooners are sick of being the underdog because it’s a role they’ve played several times this season, much more than a program with Oklahoma’s tradition is accustomed to. With a lackluster passing game and injury-filled season, many questioned OU’s chances in several games this season.

“We’ve kept the same attitude all year long,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “We’ve battled injuries, we’ve battled adversity, but we’ve always found people to step up and perform and continue making plays. People got down on us at times during the year, but here we are, a 10-win team going to the Sugar Bowl against a great Alabama team. In our locker room, we’ve had that attitude all year long that the next guy has to step up and make plays.”

OU lost fullback Trey Millard, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson during the season. Several starters, including All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, missed games and/or played with injuries this season. Those injury woes have led to doubts that OU could win 10 games and earn a BCS berth.

Yet that’s exactly what the Sooners did.

“It builds hunger,” Colvin said of the doubters. “We’ve been going through that a lot this year. A lot of the teams we’ve played we’ve been ruled out. With Oklahoma State I’m pretty positive that everybody picked us to lose that game. We don’t really get affected by that. I think we enjoy that a little bit, being the underdog and having us against everybody else.”

Funny thing is, it’s not like this has never happened before. Florida lost to Louisville in last year’s Sugar Bowl and Alabama was upset by Utah in 2009 when the nation expected those SEC squads to roll in New Orleans.

The Sooners hope to make it three times in six years an underdog has upset an SEC power in the Sugar Bowl.

“It’s one of those things where it’s a bowl game and anything can happen,” All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard said. “It comes down to preparation, who prepares better, who practices better leading up to the game and who executes better on the field. SEC vs. Big 12 doesn’t matter. It’s one game. Anything can happen in one game.

“If we go out there and play well it’s going to be a good game for us. We’re excited for the opportunity. We realize that a lot of people are doubting us and deservedly so. Alabama has been the king of college football and they deserve all of that respect. It’s up to us to go down there and play them well and go get a Sugar Bowl victory.”

And prove doubters wrong. Again.

Sooners' report card: Offense

December, 16, 2013
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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.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesSenior Brennan Clay led a cadre of Oklahoma running backs which helped the Sooners rush for over 3,000 yards as a team this season.

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.

NORMAN, Okla. -- Just the thought of his defense spending the majority of the game on the field makes Mike Stoops uncomfortable.

“If we play 90 to 100 snaps, it’s not good,” the Oklahoma defensive coordinator said. “You can’t win a game against Baylor playing 90 to 100 snaps. That’s not a game you want to be in.”

[+] EnlargeRoy Finch
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerRoy Finch and the Oklahoma offense must stay on the field to keep Baylor's high-powered offense on the sidelines.
Oklahoma’s offense could be its best defense when it meets Baylor at Floyd Casey Stadium on Thursday. By running the ball, controlling the tempo and keeping the Bears' offense on the sideline, the Sooners' offense could be the difference.

“You hope that your offense can control the football and that you can control the tempo of the game,” Stoops said.

It’s a formula that has worked before against the Bears. Kansas State held BU to 58 offensive plays in its 35-25 loss to the Bears on Oct. 12. Not surprisingly, the Wildcats held the Bears to season lows in plays (58), yards (446), touchdowns (5) and plays of 10 yards or more (12).

Giving Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk, Antwan Goodley and the rest of the Baylor playmakers too many opportunities to make plays will result in big plays and plenty of points. It’s simply unavoidable. But limiting their offensive plays and opportunities can make their offense look human and make the ultimate goal of winning the game within reach.

Fortunately for the Sooners, this game plan fits right in line with the approach that has carried them to a 7-1 record. Opponents average 63.8 offensive plays against the Sooners this season, five plays per game less than any other Big 12 team. It’s a big reason why OU sits atop the conference in yards allowed per game (314.3) and ranks second behind the Bears in points allowed (18.8).

The Sooners average 234 rushing yards per game and have leaned on that running game to carry the offense this season while their passing game has been inconsistent. Running the ball, controlling the clock and converting on third downs is a formula the Sooners used to defeat Texas Tech, 38-30, in their last game.

“If we can limit the opportunities they get by not turning it over and converting on third downs we help our cause,” OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “It’s not a complicated formula, but it’s important that we get the type of execution we had a week ago.”

Ideally, OU will have to find a way to get a lead then use its running game and short-passing game to run out the clock while Petty and company helplessly watch from the bench. The approach has been widely discussed in the halls of the Switzer Center over the past week as the Sooners know their offense and defense must work as one unit to slow the Bears’ explosive attack.

“The short passes have to be like runs,” Norvell said. “They’ve [OU receivers] got to be catch the ball no nonsense and get up the field, no dancing, and that’s the mentality we have to play with. We’ve got to make a three-yard catch eight yards and a six-yard catch nine yards. We’ve got to get the first down first and then worry about making something flashy happen.”

OU is converting just 40.7 percent of its third down conversion attempts, ranking fifth in the conference. But the Sooners have improved in recent weeks, converting 14 of 28 attempts combined against Texas Tech and Kansas in back-to-back weeks. Like any big game, making key plays in key moments will decide the outcome.

“It’s critical that we stay ahead of the chains, not get in third and long,” quarterback Blake Bell said.

In its lone loss to Texas, on third down OU had to gain six or more yards on 50 of its 59 plays against the Longhorns. It averaged -0.31 yards per play on third down. Quite simply, the Sooners won’t win if they have another performance like they did against the Longhorns.

“Staying on the field obviously comes down to your first- and second-down plays,” guard Bronson Irwin said. “I think getting yards on those plays puts you at third-and-manageable, whereas if you’re at third-and-long your percentages for staying on the field are going to be a little lower. I think being effective and efficient on first and second downs is going to be a huge part of this game.”

The moral of the story? OU wants to make this game ugly because its not sure it can win pretty. It’s an approach that has been pushed upon them by the struggles of its passing game but one the Sooners have grown to embrace.

“That’s kind of the mentality we have,” Norvell said. “This team has become a blue collar team. We kind of felt that way in the spring, and we’ve got a fighter’s mentality. We’re going to pound on you for four quarters and then try to win it in the fourth. That’s the way we’ve got to be, and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is. If we end up on the right side of the ledger that’s really all that matters.”

Planning for success: Oklahoma

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma has outscored Texas 146-58 on its way to winning the last three Red River Rivalries. It seems like the Sooners’ average victory of 29.3 points would give OU a clear mental advantage heading into Saturday’s game at the Cotton Bowl.

Yet, the Sooners refuse to admit any type of psychological edge heading into the game, even with the Longhorns’ stumbling their way to a 3-2 record this season.

“I don’t look at that at all,” coach Bob Stoops said. “One year to the next. To me, they’re totally different teams. They are, we are, that’s a long time ago now. So in the end, you earn it year to year with what you’re doing, not because you may have won it the year before.”

But the Sooners have done it in dominant fashion, averaging 496.7 yards per game including 677 yards in their 63-21 win in 2012. OU has made the plays when it matters, converting 51.9 percent of its third down conversion attempts while averaging 6.91 yards per play on third down in the three victories.

Those stellar performances have allowed seniors like cornerback Aaron Colvin, guard Bronson Irwin and running back Brennan Clay to have their eyes on going undefeated against the Longhorns during their careers.

“It would be pretty cool to go 4-0 against Texas,” Irwin said. “It’s important to win every game, but being that this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest rivalry we have, it’s important for everyone involved. I’m looking forward to it.”

Yet if Irwin hopes to achieve his dream of never losing to the Longhorns he believes the Sooners will have to approach this game as if they haven’t had any previous success against UT.

“This is a new year,” Irwin said. “You see it every year; teams turn around and have different offensive or defensive styles. We got the best of them the last three years, but they’re going to give us their best on Saturday.”

The Sooners understand their win streak over the Longhorns has been hard-earned and UT, regardless of how it has played this season or in previous meetings, has the talent to beat OU anytime they meet on the Cotton Bowl turf.

“It’s a new year,” quarterback Blake Bell said. “They have different guys, we have different guys. Each year, it’s going to be tough. We have a lot of talent, they have a lot of talent. We’re going to come out there and give them our best shot and we’re going to be ready.”

Planning for success: Oklahoma

October, 3, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Heading into the offseason, Oklahoma wanted to get better at running the football. The Sooners had success on the ground in 2012 but couldn’t run the football whenever they wanted to lean on their ground attack, even if the defense knew what was coming.

The 35-21 win over Notre Dame is a sign the Sooners might have accomplished their goal. OU turned to its running game to try to end the game against the Irish and had success, running out the clock after getting the ball with 5:39 left in the game.

[+] EnlargeDamien Williams
Robin Alam/Icon SMIThree senior running backs, including Damien Williams, lead the Sooners' ground attack.
OU has been successful running the ball during its first four games, averaging 256.8 rushing yards per game, but the Sooners' success against a stout Irish front led by defensive tackle Louis Nix III sent a message that OU’s running game is much improved.

“It does feel good,” said guard Bronson Irwin of the ability to run the ball whenever they want. “At times last year, we struggled to run the ball and this year we have been doing a good job. It has been nice to establish a really strong running game but at the same time we know there is more out there.”

As TCU visits Norman on Saturday, OU will aim to continue to have the offensive balance it has shown during the past two games with Blake Bell at quarterback. OU’s run numbers have dipped with Bell at quarterback -- 203 rushing yards per game-- but it has shown the ability to improve as the game goes on, averaging 73.5 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.

“I know that we’re a tougher line this year, a more physical line,” center Gabe Ikard said. “Those are two things that Coach [Bill] Bedenbaugh made sure were the emphasis right when he got here. We have a lot of great defensive lines in this conference, starting with TCU. They’re a very physical team up front. We just have to continue to build and get better than last week.”

Having one of the deepest groups of running backs in recent years has helped the running game immensely. No Sooner is averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game as OU has spread carries around to Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch. Clay leads the Sooners with 59 carries for 339 yards and two touchdowns.

“Coming in to the year, it just felt like the running backs were a big asset to the offense and we have been,” Finch said. “We’ve lived up to the hype.”
Chuka NdulueJackson Laizure/Getty ImagesJunior defender Chuka Ndulue is transitioning from defensive end to defensive tackle for the Sooners.

NORMAN, Okla. -- It’s rare that Oklahoma returns its leading sack artist from the previous season with such little fanfare.

Yet Chuka Ndulue has seemed almost like an afterthought when the subject of the Sooners’ defensive line came up this summer. The junior had five sacks as a defensive end in 2012 but is transitioning to defensive tackle this season, making his potential impact relatively unknown as he gets comfortable with a new position.

The position change has required Ndulue to pack on the pounds this offseason, going from a listed weight of 256 pounds to 274 pounds. The added weight is already paying dividends during preseason camp.

“He’s put on weight, you can feel it,” said guard Bronson Irwin, who consistently battles Ndulue in practice. “When he hits you with that bull rush, he’s not 260 anymore, you can definitely feel it.”

Ndulue used a protein-heavy diet which required eating six times a day to help put on the extra pounds. Multiple trips to Chipotle became a daily routine as the Texas native focused on bulking up.

“Oh man, I feel fat,” Ndulue said. “But it feels kind of good, though, because I get to eat a lot and build it up. My mom hasn’t seen me in about four months, so she’s kind of going to be shocked. The last time she saw me, I was 256 [pounds] so it’s going to be funny.”

His weight gain is not a laughing matter to Sooners fans. The defensive tackle spot is the weakest position on the team and Ndulue’s weight gain could help the junior become an impact player in the middle and lessen OU’s concerns about the position.

“Chuka is really doing a good job in there,” coach Bob Stoops said of Ndulue’s move to defensive tackle. “He’s gained some good strength and size and is doing a good job. I think he’s strong and he’s playing explosively so I think he’s in a good position."

Even though he led the Sooners with five sacks last season, Ndulue was never the relentless terror on the perimeter that incited nightmares for opposing quarterbacks and offensive tackles. But his quickness and speed, which was considered average on the outside, becomes better than average at defensive tackle and a clear asset for Ndulue.

“Inside, I feel quick,” he said. "The O-linemen, especially the new guys, are like 'You’re too quick to be down here.' I like that.”

That doesn’t mean Ndulue is destined to be a terror and all-conference performer in the middle. He still has to understand the position and the technique required to have success with 300-pound behemoths trying to push him around in the trenches. But he’s making progress.

“Technique-wise he’s playing better and sounder,” Stoops said. “I think he’s becoming more of a leader on the field in that group. He’s playing well. He’s having some success and finding more consistency in what we’re asking him to do.”

Ranking Oklahoma's position groups 

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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.

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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Crimson Countdown: G Bronson Irwin 

June, 19, 2013
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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. 68 Bronson Irwin
Guard, 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, senior



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Ranking Oklahoma's position groups 

June, 17, 2013
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The last several days, ESPN Insider Phil Steele has been rolling out the rankings of his top individual position units in the country. In that vein, SoonerNation has ranked OU’s position units for the upcoming season, from best to worst:


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Looking ahead: Sooners in 2014 draft 

April, 29, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- On Thursday, offensive tackle Lane Johnson became the 13th Sooner under Bob Stoops to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. In 2014, Stoops could have another first-rounder in cornerback Aaron Colvin.

SoonerNation breaks down Colvin’s prospects as well as what the rest of the 2014 OU draft class could look like:


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Oklahoma 10: Post-spring rankings 

April, 16, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Following Saturday's spring game, SoonerNation has updated the "Oklahoma 10" -- a composite ranking of the 10 best players on the team. The list:

1. FB Trey Millard (Last ranking: 1): Millard was held out of the spring game as a precaution, something Bob Stoops usually does with his stars. Despite manning an unheralded position, Millard certainly fits the bill of a star. You wouldn’t know it by the number of touches he gets, but Josh Heupel’s new option-oriented offense -- which, like Millard, was kept on the shelf Saturday -- could get the ball in Millard’s hands more often. That’s always good for the Sooners – and bad for opposing defenses.


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