Oklahoma Sooners: K.J. Young

This week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable player for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts; so no need to worry about a jinx.

We continue with the Oklahoma Sooners.

Most indispensable player: Receiver Sterling Shepard

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard's production will be vital to Oklahoma's success in the passing game in 2014.
2013 stats: Caught 51 passes for 603 yards and seven touchdowns.

Why Oklahoma can’t afford to lose him: A strong case could be made for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight here. He was spectacular in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and has the skill set to be a star in college football. But it’s difficult to slap the “indispensable” label on a player who has only started and finished three games in his college career.

Last season, Oklahoma’s most indispensable player was do-everything receiver Jalen Saunders. This season, the Sooners’ most indispensable player figures to be another do-everything pass-catcher.

Shepard has been a key part of the Oklahoma offense from the moment he stepped on campus. Through two seasons in Norman, Shepard already has 96 receptions for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns.

With Saunders now a member of the New York Jets, Shepard will take over as the Sooners’ go-to playmaker at receiver. But unlike Saunders, who had Shepard and Lacoltan Bester alongside him, Shepard won’t have an experienced receiver flanking him. That makes Shepard all-the-more indispensable.

After Shepard, Durron Neal is Oklahoma’s second-leading receiver from last season, and he finished with only 13 receptions. Neal also missed spring practice with knee and ankle injuries.

Elsewhere, the Sooners are loaded with inexperience at receiver. Jordan Smallwood, Dannon Cavil and K.J. Young redshirted last season. Austin Bennett and Derrick Woods have been used sparingly. Mark Andrews, Jeff Mead, Michiah Quick and Dallis Todd are incoming true freshmen.

In fact, outside Shepard, the only two returning Sooners who had touchdown catches last year are fullback Aaron Ripkowski and place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt.

That’s why Shepard is so valuable.

He gives the Sooners an unequivocal tone-setter and leader for its extremely young group of receivers. And he gives Knight that one dependable target every budding quarterback requires.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring.

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. On Thursday, we highlighted the five disappointing developments of the spring. Today we end the series with five things to keep an eye on when the Sooners return to their preparation for the 2014 season with summer workouts in June.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesGetting junior DT Jordan Phillips healthy in time for preseason camp is a priority for Oklahoma.
Key injuries: The health of several banged up Sooners including tight end Blake Bell (MCL), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (back), and defensive back Julian Wilson (shoulder) will be the biggest summer focus. OU needs Phillips to return to his pre-injury form of 2013. If he does the Sooners' defensive line could be dominant. Bell’s return to health could provide a big receiving target for Trevor Knight and Wilson’s return would add another experienced veteran to a Sooners secondary that spent a good portion of the spring seasoning younger players such as safety Hatari Byrd and cornerback Dakota Austin.

Summer quarterback development: Most eyes will be on redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen as they battle for the backup job behind Knight. But don’t overlook the importance of the summer for Knight, a redshirt sophomore. The summer months and competitive workouts could help Knight’s continued development as a passer and decision maker. In addition, it’s an opportunity for Knight to really emerge as a key leader for the entire team, not just the offense.

Skill position battles: As the uncertainty at some receiver spots and in the secondary linger on into the summer, those Sooners battling for a spot at receiver, cornerback or safety will get the chance to go head-to-head with each other in an attempt to improve and distinguish themselves. It’s an important summer for players such as cornerback Stanvon Taylor and receiver K.J. Young, a pair of second-year players who could earn a starting role if they take their game to another level in the summer heat. In addition, summer arrivals such as safety Steven Parker II and receiver Michiah Quick could arrive on campus and impress immediately, much like Sterling Shepard did before he broke into the lineup as a true freshman.

Leaders emerging: Along with Knight, other leaders should emerge who could ultimately help decide just how successful the Sooners will be this fall. Terrific leadership a year ago from guys such as Gabe Ikard and Trey Millard was the foundation of OU’s 11-2 season despite the musical chairs at quarterback. If the Sooners can replace those departed seniors with similar leadership, their chances of a Big 12 title and national championship run will increase significantly.

No distractions: One of the most important goals of the rest of spring and summer is to limit and/or erase distractions caused by off-the-field decisions. The Sooners have a real chance to make a run at a College Football Playoff berth, so it will be important for the leaders of the team to emphasize the importance of good off-the-field decision making to their teammates so the Sooners can open the season with a roster full of eligible and hungry players.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring. On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. Today, we move on to five questions that remain unanswered.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight is already a good QB, as evidenced by his play last season but now he needs to take the next step in his development.
Which Trevor Knight will trigger the Sooners this fall? Knight left no doubt how good he could be after his MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Now the OU quarterback needs to answer how good he is over the course of a season. It’s easy to forget Knight is just a sophomore with plenty of developing to do if he plans to become one of the Big 12’s top signal-callers. His subpar spring game is an example, as he finished with 53 passing yards and one interception during a disappointing showing. Transforming from a good quarterback to a great quarterback is the next step in Knight’s progression.

Who will be the starting running back? The competition promises to continue into August, but don't be surprised if it continues deep into the season. OU has plenty of good options including sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross, but this competition could be decided by what the Sooners' running backs do without the ball in their hands. Ross had an excellent spring but didn’t star in the spring game while Ford showed he can play at a Big 12 level as a freshman. The running back battle could be the most exciting battle to monitor this fall.

How will Ahmad Thomas be used? The sophomore has really come on since the middle of last season. He saw time against Alabama and held his own, then built upon that performance with a strong spring. It would be a surprise if he’s not a major contributor on OU’s defense; it’s just a matter of where he plays. Thomas is a versatile defensive back who can play safety or nickelback. He’s the type of guy the Sooners can leave on the field -- regardless of the offense they’re facing -- and feel confident he will make an positive impact against the run or pass.

Who will back up Knight? Baker Mayfield is the obvious choice … in 2015. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the standout of the spring game and will have Knight feeling like his starting spot is never secure when he becomes eligible to play for the Sooners after sitting out the 2014 season. This fall, however, Knight’s backup remains a question mark. Redshirt freshman Cody Thomas looks like he could develop into a quality quarterback, and the new NCAA rules will allow the Sooners to quicken his development like never before. Thomas should be considered the favorite to win the No. 2 job but Justice Hansen's decision to enroll early has allowed him to get one spring under his belt and he could arrive in the fall much more comfortable than the average freshman. This is another battle that could last deep into August.

Who will make big plays in the passing game? Austin Bennett. Blake Bell. Jordan Smallwood. Durron Neal. K.J. Young. Those names could emerge as key targets for Knight this fall but none of them have locked down a spot in the offense quite yet. Smallwood, who probably had the best spring of the bunch, will undoubtedly play a role but OU needs someone to emerge as a legit, consistent threat alongside Sterling Shepard or risk watching one of the Big 12’s top returning receivers be double teamed constantly.

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.
  • [+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
    Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight had a rough outing on Saturday.
    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.
  • 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.
The injury bug has hit Norman, Okla. this spring.

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.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Robin Alam/Icon SMIOLB Eric Striker has been taking some reps at nickelback this spring.
Wilson: The senior has missed the spring anyway, allowing Ahmad Thomas, Eric Striker and others to get the reps at nickelback. Thomas is showing great versatility and carving himself a role on the defense. Striker, a returning All-Big 12 second teamer, will be on the field regardless, it’s just a matter of where. Both guys get the chance to prove they can fill a variety of roles on Saturday.

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.
A glimpse at the future is no longer enough.

Oklahoma receivers coach Jay Norvell has several pass catchers in his meeting room who have made occasional plays for the Sooners, showing glimpses of their playmaking ability. This season OU is counting on those players to transform into consistent playmakers. If they don’t, OU could find itself with a passing offense that is shooting blanks.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard is a proven commodity at WR for Oklahoma, but there are plenty of question marks behind him.
“We don’t have as many guys with game time, but I think that’s a good thing,” Norvell said. “We’re going to have to find about five guys out of this group and they’re going to have to grow up in a hurry. It’s about being consistent and being competitive now. The really good players, they do it every day.”

Sterling Shepard qualifies as "really good".

The Sooners’ leading returning receiver will take over for Jalen Saunders as OU’s go-to receiver after two seasons as a complementary piece in OU’s offense. Outside of Shepard, the Sooners' returning receivers combined for 17 receptions and 228 receiving yards in 2013.

Durron Neal's 22-yard catch against Kansas State and Derrick Woods' 20-yard reception against Alabama provided glimpses of their potential. The duo joined Shepard in the same recruiting class but have been looking up at him on the depth chart for their first two years on campus. Neal was one of the nation’s top receiver recruits out of high school, and the Sooners held off a late charge from USC to secure Woods.

Making the occasional play is no longer acceptable for Neal or Woods; it’s either step up or lose their spot. Sophomore Austin Bennett joins redshirt freshmen Dannon Cavil, Jordan Smallwood and K.J. Young as highly regarded receivers nipping at their heels this spring. And four freshmen signees, including ESPN 300 receiver Michiah Quick, will arrive this summer with the goal of forcing themselves into the competition.

The overall depth of talent at the position is one reason the Sooners aren’t overly concerned about finding pass catchers for starting quarterback Trevor Knight.

“It’s a good group, they just haven’t had a ton of time on the field,” said Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who likened the receiver position to OU’s defensive line group, which was a major question mark last spring before blossoming into a major asset in the fall.

“These guys have been developing, training [and are] ready to take over. Those guys are just going to have to be more consistent [to] stay on the field.”

Shepard is the lone known commodity, with all-conference honors in his sights after 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. He’s tough as nails, competitive and rises to the occasion in big games, with four of his seven scores coming in wins over Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.

The Sooners' search for consistent receivers is reminiscent of two springs ago in Norman, Okla., when OU had just lost NCAA all-time receptions leader Ryan Broyles and returned Kenny Stills, who had been a key player during his first two seasons but was being counted on to anchor the receiver spot for the first time in his career. Norvell turned to Stills to raise his overall game and leadership that spring, much like he’s asking from Shepard over the next 12 practices.

“When you become a leader, you gotta make everybody else better,” Norvell said of his only veteran receiver. “He’s not competing against guys here, he’s competing against guys around our league, around the country. He’s got to raise the standard in his game.”

OU hopes the similarities between 2012 and 2014 stop at the concerns about the receiver spot during spring football. In 2012, the Sooners added transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Saunders (Fresno State) in the summer after post-spring suspensions took Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks out of the equation. OU hopes its young receivers improve enough this spring to remove all doubt about the position heading into the summer while creating depth that can withstand any unexpected hits before August.

“It’s a competitive group,” Norvell said. “We’re extremely competitive in the spring, the whole group gets graded every single day on every snap, so it's really easy to know who the best players are. We have a bunch of young guys who have shown flashes but now it’s about being able to go out every day compete and make plays. So, we’ll see who rises to the top.”
Oklahoma begins its spring football drills on Saturday.

An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we’ll make five spring predictions, continuing with No. 2:

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor looks ready to make a leap in his sophomore season and become another stalwart in Oklahoma's 2013 class.
No. 2: The Sooners’ Class of 2013 shows signs it was vastly underrated.

Why it matters: OU fans were less than impressed when the Sooners inked ESPN.com’s No. 17 recruiting class in February 2013. While the Sooners coaching staff swooped in to land a few late bloomers and potential hidden gems, OU fans were lamenting the recruits they had missed out on. Now, one year later, that class appears poised to have a significant impact on the program.

What it would mean: First off, it would underscore the value of evaluation and development. Secondly, it would mean the Sooners have a bright future ahead.

Linebacker Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 newcomer of the year, while running back Keith Ford, cornerback Stanvon Taylor, safety Ahmad Thomas, safety Hatari Byrd, receiver K.J. Young and guard Dionte Savage are on the verge of locking up starting spots. Cornerback Dakota Austin, receiver Austin Bennett, receiver Jordan Smallwood, defensive tackle Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans, defensive end Matt Dimon and quarterback Cody Thomas are among several members of the class who could be contributors.

Over half the class appears ready to make an impact (or already has made an impact) heading into their second season on campus. This spring provides the opportunity for the majority of this class to prove they are ready and able to help spark a successful 2014 season in Norman, Okla.

While the class is appearing to develop quickly, OU has its fingers crossed that its development continues. OU’s hopes of competing for a Big 12 title and national title this fall rests on several members of this class. It’s critical for sophomores such as Ford, Taylor, Byrd and Young to become key pieces of the 2014 squad, otherwise the Sooners could be forced to turn to true freshmen.
Oklahoma begins its spring football drills on Saturday.

With an exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners are eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we’ll make at five spring predictions, continuing with No. 4:

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard (right) will need some help if OU's receiving corps is to step up next season.
No. 4: Concerns about the receiver position diminish.

Why it matters: The Sooners need to find balance and consistency on offense. It’s hard to imagine that scenario with Sterling Shepard as the lone consistent playmaker on the end of Knight’s passes. Oklahoma has a receivers meeting room overflowing with talent but Shepard is the only proven commodity. The Sooners need at least two other receivers to step up and become playmakers this spring.

What it would mean: OU wouldn’t need one of its four receiver signees to make an immediate impact this fall. Michiah Quick’s playmaking might earn him a role regardless, but the Sooners don’t want to count on one of those youngsters this fall. The football I.Q. and attention to detail required to excel as a true freshman receiver makes it a slippery slope to lean on those newcomers when chasing a national title.

It’s hard to believe that none of the Sooners receivers will step up this spring. Durron Neal, Derrick Woods, K.J. Young and Jordan Smallwood are legit candidates to help provide additional targets alongside Shepard. Young has impressed with his hands and ability to make plays on the scout team; Smallwood might have played immediately without a foot injury last summer and Neal understands this spring is his opportunity to start fulfilling the promise he showed when he signed in February 2012. Austin Bennett and Dannon Cavil also have the chance to rise to the occasion this spring.

Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter who steps up, as long as two or more Sooners’ pass-catchers recognize and seize their chance to become a critical part of OU’s offense. Keep an eye on Young and Smallwood, who would bring a unique playmaking combination alongside Shepard.

OU spring position battles: No. 3

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
11:00
AM ET
Spring football provides the opportunity for players to put themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to position battles. Several Oklahoma Sooners will have the chance to make a statement and make themselves the favorite to start or become a significant contributor during spring drills with several starting spots open heading into 2014. This week we’ll review the top five position battles to keep an eye on this spring, continuing with receiver.

No. 3: Receiver

Why it’s important: Trevor Knight is going to need options when he drops back to throw the football. Sterling Shepard is a bona fide playmaker, and has been proving it since he stepped on campus in the summer of 2012. Yet the junior is the lone known playmaker returning to the receiving corps in 2014. OU needs two or more receivers to step their game up in the spring and show they’re ready to be on the receiving end of Knight’s spirals.

Competitors

Junior Durron Neal: Neal arrived on campus with Shepard but hasn’t made a similar impact. He’s shown potential but he needs to become more consistent and earn the coaches trust if he hopes to fulfill the expectations placed upon him when he signed in the Class of 2012.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Woods
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsWR Derrick Woods has shown huge upside (see his acrobatic catch in the Sugar Bowl) but can he put it all together this spring and earn a starting spot?
Sophomore Derrick Woods: One of the best athletes on the team, Woods is starting to apply that athleticism to the receiver spot after playing multiple positions in high school. His leaping catch in the Sugar Bowl was a glimpse at his upside but will he seize the opportunity to become a starter?

Redshirt freshman K.J. Young: A smooth slot receiver who had a terrific redshirt year and is looking to show he will be a playmaker this fall. A strong spring could cement himself a role in the offense heading into the summer.

Redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood: A physical presence with terrific ball skills, Smallwood appears poised to make an impact after a foot injury forced him to redshirt in 2013.

Redshirt freshman Dannon Cavil: He brings great height (6-foot-5, 214 pounds) and the spring gives him the opportunity to get a leg up on the competition before a freshman class that features three guys over 6-4 will arrive in the summer.

Sophomore Austin Bennett: Easily the most overlooked freshman receiver and the only one who escaped a redshirt season in 2013. This spring is his chance to show why for this intriguing slot receiver.

Summer arrivals

Freshman Michiah Quick: The ESPN300 signee is an exceptional playmaker who is dynamic with the ball in his hands. Don’t be surprised if he forces his way onto the field as a true freshman.

Freshman Dallis Todd: The California native has the size and speed to be ready to pounce if any of the receivers currently on campus aren’t ready to play.

Freshman: Jeffrey Mead: A raw talent who could become a matchup nightmare for Big 12 defenses as he starts to focus on football after starring in three sports in high school.

Freshman Mark Andrews: Another big body (6-6, 220) who could overwhelm defenders with his size and ball skills.

Potential outcomes

Best-case scenario: Neal or Woods emerge as a trustworthy sidekick alongside Shepard and one or more of the young receivers on campus show they are ready to take advantage of the one-on-one opportunities the Sooners’ offense will create. If at least four of the receivers currently on campus try to secure themselves a spot in the starting lineup with strong performances this spring, the Sooners offense has a chance to be scary.

Worst-case scenario: None of the receivers on campus look like different players in the spring. They continue to perform the way they have to this point in their careers forcing the Sooners’ coaches to know they may have to lean on one or more of the true freshman to play immediately this fall. It would really handicap the offense if Shepard is the only trustworthy receiver on the roster heading into August.

Grading the class: 2013

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
11:00
AM ET
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.

Thus it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s last five recruiting classes. On Friday we end the series with an early review of the Class of 2013 including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees and complete busts.

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander could be on the verge of becoming Oklahoma's next great linebacker.
After a solid start in the recruiting cycle, OU scrambled to complete its class in 2013 as it came up short on several targets before filling its class with unheralded prospects in the final few months before signing day. The class ended up as the No. 17-ranked class in the nation by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

Linebacker Dominique Alexander: The Big 12 freshman of the year looks like a future star in the Sooners’ defense. His unusual maturity, instincts and hunger to improve should make him one of the Big 12’s top linebackers. He had 80 tackles and two forced fumbles in 13 games (8 starts) as a true freshman. The No. 115 athlete in the nation, Alexander is one of the top hidden gems the Sooners have unearthed in the past five years.

Running back Keith Ford: It went largely unnoticed due to the score but Ford was arguably OU’s featured back during a 36-20 loss to Texas. If fumble troubles had not emerged the No. 27 player in the ESPN 300 likely would have cemented himself as the Sooners’ back of the future as a true freshman, having surpassed Alex Ross on the depth chart. Nonetheless he appears set to have a bright future.

Cornerback Stanvon Taylor: The No. 199 player in the ESPN 300, Taylor started his third collegiate game against Tulsa. He played on special teams in all 13 games and will be in the competition to replace All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin after mentoring under the Sooners’ star for one season.

Linebacker Jordan Evans: Evans stepped in to have an exceptional game against Texas Tech to cement himself as an exciting prospect. The No. 82 defensive end in the nation, Evans could end up being a major contributor for the next few seasons in Mike Stoops' defense.

Bull’s-eye

Guard Dionte Savage: The senior made his first start in the Sugar Bowl and had a solid performance in OU’s win over Alabama. OU signed him to provide depth in case injuries hit and he ended up providing depth when injuries hit, making it an ideal signing.

Defensive end Matt Dimon: The No. 284 player in the ESPN 300 worked his way onto the field as a true freshman and should be in the rotation as a sophomore. He played a special teams role as well including a blocked punt against Kansas.

Defensive tackle Charles Walker: The No. 40 defensive tackle in the nation, Walker redshirted in 2013 but already has been anointed as one of the most impressive redshirting players in the class. Don’t be surprised if he makes an impact as a redshirt freshman this fall.

Receiver K.J. Young: Much like Walker, Young has taken advantage of his redshirt freshman season and seems poised to see the field this fall. He impressed with his ball skills as soon as he arrived on campus but couldn’t play his way out of a redshirt season. Now, with OU looking for playmakers at receiver, Young could make a name for himself this fall.

Completely missed the mark

Tackle Josiah St. John: Junior college players are brought in to play immediately and have an impact in Year 1. The No. 6 player in the ESPN JC 50 did not make an impact despite some injuries at the tackle position.

Overall grade: A

This class has already made a major impact on the Sooners’ program in the 12 months since they signed. Alexander is the star of the class with several other true freshmen consistently seeing the field on special teams. And multiple freshmen who redshirted could earn spots on the field this fall. It’s early but this already looks like a quality class and much better than the No. 17 class in the nation.

State of the program: Receiver

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
11:00
AM ET
In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up before signing day on Feb. 5. On Wednesday, we take a closer look at the receiver position.

Starter/contributors: Sterling Shepard (Jr.)

The lone major contributor returning at receiver, Shepard has the skills to be one of the Big 12’s bests in 2014. He finished with 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. His toughness, quickness and competitive nature will make him part of the foundation of OU’s offense next season. But he’ll need a teammate or two to emerge or risk seeing double coverage for the majority of his junior season. He’s a special player who takes his game to another level in big games.

On the cusp: Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (redshirt freshman), Derrick Woods (So.), Jordan Smallwood (redshirt freshman), Trey Franks (Sr.)

The Sooners will need a few of these young, talented receivers to transform into productive, skilled playmakers. Neal has yet to emerge as the player he was expected to become when he signed in 2012 but has had moments that displayed his potential.

Woods is one of the better athletes on the squad and contributed on special teams. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him emerge as a receiving option.

Young was one of the stars of the scout team last fall. His hands and quickness have likened comparisons to Sooners’ legend Ryan Broyles, so if Young can continue to develop during the spring and summer he could make an immediate impact.

Smallwood might have played himself out of a redshirt season in 2013 if he hadn’t broken his foot. He’ll bring much needed size and ball skills to the receiver spot.

Dannon Cavil (redshirt freshman) and Austin Bennett (So.) join that foursome as potential impact players. Bennett gives OU another quick slot receiver and Cavil has unmatched size (6-foot-5, 214 pounds) .

Franks brings a veteran presence to the receiving spot but saw limited time at receiver in 2013 after a stint at safety.

On the recruiting trail: Dallis Todd (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada), Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), Jeffery Mead (Tulsa, Okla./Union)

Todd, the No. 265 player in the ESPN 300, is another big receiver (6-5, 210) who could create mismatches with his size and athleticism. He has terrific feet and surprising speed which could earn him a spot in the rotation, particularly with so many spots to fill.

Much like Todd, Andrews has unusual feet and ball skills for a player his size (6-6, 220). The No. 295 player in the ESPN 300, Andrews could provide another big target in the passing game.

Mead (6-5, 179) is very similar to Todd but more of a raw talent. A three-sport star in high school, Mead’s ball skills could help him become a nightmare matchup on third downs and in the red zone. He has the talent to play immediately but it could be a tough transition into a full-time football player.

Overall Grade: B-

Shepard is the only reason this grade is not much lower. The junior should become one of the Big 12’s top receivers during his third year on campus, so that’s a terrific foundation to build upon. Yet Jay Norvell’s meeting room will be full of inexperienced players who haven’t proven they can excel in Big 12 stadiums. But there are several unique talents on the roster and if two or three of those players develop into playmakers the combination of size, quickness and ball skills among this group could challenge defenses in ways no other Big 12 squad can match.

WR Young is name to know for Sooners

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
11:00
AM ET
NORMAN, Okla. -- A short amount of time can provide a valuable opportunity and a glimpse at the future.

Oklahoma spent the first few practices of its bowl preparation giving its younger players most of the repetitions, allowing guys like quarterback Cody Thomas the opportunity to start to carve out their futures in the program.

[+] EnlargeK.J. Young
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comFreshman receiver K.J. Young has impressed teammates while redshirting this season.
“We wanted to use these first three days of practice to really give our young guys a look, and it’s been great,” co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “As coaches, it gives us a chance to see what next year’s team is going to look like and it’s given them a chance to get coached hard and get a feel for the competition while the older guys are watching. It’s been a spirited couple of days and fun to watch the young guys compete, and they did some good things. It gives us a good picture and those kids a chance to compete and give you a look at the spring.”

For the freshmen and sophomores, it’s an opportunity to send the message that they could be impact players in 2014. Defensive tackle Jordan Wade, cornerback Zack Sanchez and quarterback Trevor Knight are just a few of the contributors to their 10-2 season who had not played a down of college football at this time a year ago.

Several Sooners have seized the opportunity, but K.J. Young is a name that has continually come up as an impressive performer during practices. The redshirting receiver made a great impression when he arrived on campus and has continued to impress during the short bowl prep period.

“Man, K.J.’s got stick 'ems, he’s got some hands,” linebacker Eric Striker said. “Good hands, good routes, too. He doesn’t drop the ball. K.J. has been doing it all season so it’s not a surprise.”

Said safety Gabe Lynn: “He’s nice at receiver. He goes up and gets the ball at its highest point.”

Young, a three-star signee from Perris, Calif., had some ups-and-downs during his redshirting season but is setting himself up to make an impact on the Sooners’ offense next season, which would be ideal with senior slot receiver Jalen Saunders completing his eligibility in the Sugar Bowl.

“It’s hard when kids are away from home their freshman year,” Norvell said. “He’s made some mistakes but I think, of late, he can kind of see the light. He’s away from home but he’s gotten a chance the last few days in practice to make some plays and he’s really stepping up. We’re really excited about him next year.”

Jordan Smallwood could be another young receiver to keep an eye on. At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, he brings terrific size to the position. He returned to practice this week after missing the regular season due to a Lisfranc (foot) injury.

“He just got cleared, so he’s been out there running around and anxious to make plays,” Norvell said. “Smallwood gives us a different body type than we’ve ever had. He’s just so big, so physical and so strong for a young guy and he really creates matchup problems.”

Thomas also could be putting himself into position to throw his name into the mix as the Sooners continue to search for their quarterback of the future heading into 2014. Knight was in the same position as Thomas a year ago, yet eight months later, Knight was named OU’s starter for the season opener, proof of how valuable taking advantage of every opportunity can be.

“Cody is doing a great job and throwing the ball around really well,” Knight said. “I’m excited for him to get a bunch of reps because this is an exciting time for him. I remember when I was there last year and I can’t believe it’s only been a year, it seems like it was forever ago. But it’s just the starting spot to becoming a really good player.”

Ranking Oklahoma's position groups 

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
9:00
AM ET
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.

Under-the-radar prospects can be found all the time. During the spring evaluation period, during camp season and even after the season, prospects pop up everywhere. Wide receiver K.J. Young falls into that last category. Not many people had heard of the Perris, Calif., product until after Christmas.

Following an Oklahoma offer, things picked up in a hurry. Other schools tried to snatch him away late, but Young stayed solid with the Sooners.

He committed at the airport following his official visit, saying he realized he was home. Prior to his arrival on campus, Young spoke to SoonerNation one more time about what being a Sooner means to him.

[+] EnlargeK.J. Young
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comOklahoma wideout signee K.J. Young said his visit to Norman sealed the deal on his commitment.
SoonerNation: Nobody knew who you were before December. What was that media rush like during those final weeks before signing day?

K.J. Young: It was incredible the way everything just changed. I couldn’t believe OU was interested. But after I took that visit, it was incredible. I knew it was where I wanted to be.

SN: Any lingering thoughts about the recruiting process and how long it took to get noticed?

Young: I could only control what I could control. I couldn’t worry about it. I’m blessed that some schools thought I was worthy to begin with. I’m just going to work as hard as I can to show OU that they’ve made the right choice.

SN: Your size has some wondering if you’ll be lined up out wide or in the slot. Any insight from the coaches on your position?

Young: Coach [Jay] Norvell said there is a great chance that I could play either spot, slot or wide. OU has had a lot of success with slot receivers. Ryan Broyles was incredible and set all those records. It’s a great spot to be.

SN: When we first talked, you mentioned video games a lot when it came to your OU knowledge. Just how big of a factor was that in learning about the university?

Young: It was pretty big. I used to always play with OU on NCAA, and I always did good with them. I knew their team was pretty good. Then I watched a lot of OU games on TV and learned how dominant they could be.

SN:: How different was Norman from your expectations?

Young: It was so different. That visit was what sealed the deal for me. I thought it would be like in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. It was so much better than I expected. It gave me even more of a reason to want to go there.

SN: What does this opportunity mean to you?

Young: My school [Perris Citrus Hill] isn’t really known for its football tradition. We have a couple of guys here that can change that. I know I can be one of those guys. I can be an example for the younger kids to let them know good things can happen. But it’s not just on the field. It starts in the classroom.

SN: Has the reality hit you’re going to be a Sooner?

Young: After signing day, I took some time off to relax and sort of soak it all in. Life has been so great. All it has done is motivate me to work harder, and that’s what I’ve done all spring.

Coaches' corner: WR K.J. Young

February, 18, 2013
2/18/13
1:30
PM ET
After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff was finally able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

The Sooners are confident they landed a diamond in the rough with K.J. Young (Perris, Calif./Citrus Hill). The receiver signee didn't see his recruiting pick up until the final weeks of the process but was a hot commodity in January.

[+] EnlargeK.J. Young
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comReceiver K.J. Young was pursued by Nebraska and Oregon in January.
“K.J. is a guy that everybody kept finding out about a little bit late," OU head coach Bob Stoops said while noting at Oregon and Nebraska were among the schools pursuing Young in January. "He has good size, and an amazing athlete. Everyone started to realize what a great athlete he is. He makes all kind of plays and is a strong kid. A good player who can do a lot of things.”

At 6-foot, 183 pounds, Young appears to have the skills and versatility to play the slot or outside receiver for the Sooners. He flew under the radar until linebackers coach Tim Kish unearthed him for the Sooners after his stellar senior season.

"He really blew up during the course of his senior year," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "He’s a great athlete, explosive and he uses his hands well.”

Once he got a glimpse at his game film, offering Young wasn't a hard decision for receivers coach Jay Norvell. It's easy to see with Young, he has terrific ball skills, open field ability and appears to have a innate ability to make plays.

"It doesn't really matter when you find a guy, when you see the film, the film doesn't lie," Norvell said. "He's a very versatile guy, he has great hands, great body control."

Norvell compared Young to former Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl receiver Marvin Harrison as a 6-footer with long arms and big hands, allowing him to play bigger and longer than his height. He said it's a unique trait which always intrigues him when he sees it in a receiver.

"There's no doubt he'll fit in perfectly in our offense," Norvell said. "He does a lot of things very well and it's hard to deny a kid like that from coming to your program when he can help your team in so many ways."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Drive Through: Projecting the Playoff Field
Week one of the college football season is in the books. Time to talk playoffs, right? Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich take an early look at what the playoff field looks like.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video