Oklahoma Sooners: Tyrus Thompson

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.
Oklahoma had one of the nation’s best running games in 2013. The Sooners rode their ground game to an Allstate Sugar Bowl win and 11-2 record.

[+] EnlargeTy Darlington
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTy Darlington will take the reins at center for the Sooners in 2014.
OU’s offensive line was the foundation of the team's success a season ago but it will be retooled in 2014.

Gabe Ikard won’t be around to anchor Oklahoma’s offensive line for the first time in four years, but the overall depth and quality of the group could take the unit to new heights.

Injuries at the end of the season have sidelined guard Adam Shead and tackle Tyrus Thompson, both of whom have extensive playing experience, giving several younger linemen the opportunity to get additional practice snaps this spring.

“We’re missing a guy or two but we have some guys that have played a lot of football,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We have some backups that haven’t played a ton but have seen some action and they’re going to get a bulk of the work in spring ball. It’s an opportunity for them to grow and mature and prove they belong on the football field.”

Tackle Daryl Williams is the experienced veteran of the group and guards Nila Kasitati and Dionte Savage along with tackle Derek Farniok return after starting games in 2013. This spring is the chance for guys like tackles Sam Grant, after a recent move from tight end, and Josiah St. John to make an impression before six offensive line signees arrive this summer.

“I think we’re definitely light-years ahead of where we were last year,” junior center Ty Darlington said. “We’re getting to get a lot of guys reps, which is awesome -- a lot of guys that probably normally wouldn’t get reps are getting reps, and that’s good. I think we’re definitely making some progress.”

As the guy slated to replace Ikard, Darlington is clearly the man in the spotlight. He saw spot duty behind the All-American and three-time All-Big 12 interior lineman during his first two seasons on campus and is excited for the next step in his career.

“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “This is why I came here, to be able to step into a role. Gabe was great to me for two years. He really took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. He was a great friend on and off the field. Now he’s gone, and I’ve got to step up and fill that void as the center and in a leadership position. I’m excited for it.”

It went largely overlooked but Ikard was the main reason the Sooners could play musical chairs at quarterback n in 2013. The senior handled all the calls and brought a calm and consistent voice to the offense while Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson took turns behind center. It’s those areas where Ikard could be missed most.

But Darlington feels his mentorship under Ikard and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will pay off as he steps into the starting lineup.

“I’m more confident than I’ve ever been as far as just understanding the whole scheme of football,” Darlington said. “I learned so much in the past year with Coach [Bill] Bedenbaugh. I’m continuing to learn a lot more. From fronts to coverages and blitzes, we’re learning so much as a group. I feel like I’m definitely better than I’ve ever been as far as the mental part of the game.”

If Darlington can step in for Ikard without a letdown, the Sooners offensive line could cement its spot among the Big 12’s best for the second straight season and be the foundation of what might be a special season.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Friday with offensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the offensive lines at the moment:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoe Wickline's move from the OSU staff to Texas is an important storyline in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats will be stout inside. Guard Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney are All-Big 12 caliber. Veteran starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks are gone at tackle, but Bill Snyder signed two of the top 15 juco tackles in the country in A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes. If Allen and Hayes can solidify the bookends, K-State could be stout up front.

3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.

4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.

5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMITexas Tech's Le'Raven Clark is one of the best offensive tackles in the Big 12.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have an NFL talent in left tackle Le'Raven Clark, who earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. Despite Clark, the Red Raiders line struggled last year, giving up 33 sacks (second-worst in the Big 12). But it should be improved in 2014. Juco tackles Dominique Robertson (ESPN JC 50) and Shaq Davis are on the way, and 2013 RT starter Rashad Fortenberry could be back, too, if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver. Losing guard Beau Carpenter to dismissal hurts, but Baylen Brown has starting experience. Brown, Alfredo Morales, James Polk and center Jared Kaster all return after combining for 31 starts along the interior last season.

7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.

8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.

9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.

10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).

Grading Oklahoma's class: 2010

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Oklahoma is poised to add several recruits into the fold on Wednesday, with its 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 past five recruiting classes. On Tuesday, we continue the series with a review of the Class of 2010, including recruits who exceeded expectations, those who were solid signees and complete busts.

This class featured seven players in the ESPN 150 and a ton of star power led by the “Cali Trio” of Kenny Stills, Brennan Clay and Tony Jefferson. The class was ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrey Millard earned first-team All-Big 12 honors during his final three seasons in Norman.
Fullback Trey Millard: The No. 59-ranked athlete in this class, Millard was exceptional during his four seasons in Norman. He was a mainstay on special teams, a devastating blocker from his fullback spot and a nightmare with the ball in his hands. He exceeded expectations and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors during his final three seasons.

Cornerback Aaron Colvin: An afterthought on signing day, but he was arguably the best player in this class. He started his first-ever Red River Rivalry as a freshman and started three straight seasons at two different positions, earning All-Big 12 honors twice. The nation’s No. 40 safety prospect coming out of Owasso, Okla., Colvin finished with 234 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five interceptions in 50 career games (36 starts).

Tackle Daryl Williams: The No. 53 tackle in the nation, Williams has performed like a highly-regarded offensive line prospect. He started his first college game as a redshirt freshman before injury derailed his first season. Nonetheless, Williams became a anchor on OU’s offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons and enters his final season as one of the Big 12’s best offensive linemen.

Safety Tony Jefferson: The No. 21-ranked player in the ESPN 150, Jefferson stepped on campus with high expectations. He didn’t disappoint, earning Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors in 2010 and All-Big 12 honors in 2012 before leaving early for the NFL. Jefferson finished with 258 tackles, eight interceptions and seven sacks in 40 career games (34 starts). He’s currently a safety for the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted last spring.

Receiver Kenny Stills: The No. 36-ranked receiver prospect, Stills started every game he played in crimson and cream. His speed and football IQ separated him from the competition, as he finished with 204 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns in 38 career games (38 starts) before leaving early for the NFL. He’s currently one of Drew Brees’ main targets with the New Orleans Saints.

Bull's-eye

Running back Brennan Clay: Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150, Clay overcame injuries to become a key performer. He never emerged as a star, but he was the type of consistent, productive player who helps teams win games. He had 1,913 yards and 13 touchdowns in 46 career games (18 starts).

Linebacker Corey Nelson: The No. 62 player in the ESPN 150, Nelson had a solid career. A three-year starter, he had 153 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss in 45 career games (27 starts).

Completely missed the mark

Receiver Justin McCay: McCay never made an impact with the Sooners, transferring after his redshirt freshman season. The No. 142 player in the ESPN 150, McCay transferred to Kansas and currently plays for the Jayhawks.

Receiver Sheldon McClain: Much like McCay, McClain had a higher ranking than Stills as the No. 22-ranked receiver nationally but never made an impact before transferring.

Overall grade

A-minus. Even though this recruiting class featured multiple disappointments, it was littered with stars and contributors. Tyrus Thompson, Julian Wilson, Roy Finch, Blake Bell and Chuka Ndulue are just a few of the other Sooners in the Class of 2010 who became starters or major contributors alongside Colvin, Millard and the rest of the playmakers signed in February 2010.
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 during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Friday, we take a closer look at the offensive tackle position.

Starter/contributors: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Derek Farniok (Jr.)

[+] EnlargeTyrus Thompson
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesTyrus Thompson returns to OU for 2014 and will team with Daryl Williams to give the Sooners what could be the Big 12's best tackle duo.
Williams earned All-Big 12 second-team honors and should be the veteran anchor for OU’s offensive line in 2014. He has been an impact player since his redshirt freshman year and could be poised to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

Thompson started the first 11 games of the season before an injury forced him to miss OU’s final two games. He joined Williams to give OU a pair of quality bookend tackles and help the Sooners allow just 14 sacks in 13 games.

Farniok started against Oklahoma State and played in four games for OU as a sophomore. He’s still developing but should be a quality No. 3 tackle for the Sooners as a junior.

On the cusp: Josiah St. John (Jr.), Christian Daimler (RFr.)

A junior college signee in 2013, St. John didn’t have an immediate impact for the Sooners. OU will really need him to step up and provide depth at the tackle spot in 2014.

Daimler redshirted during his freshman season and should jump into the mix to provide depth behind Thompson and Williams this spring.

On the recruiting trail: None

The Sooners have four offensive linemen committed but none of them is an offensive tackle. The Sooners are in hot pursuit of several tackles prospects, including Utah pledge Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger), along with multiple junior college tackle prospects. OU will need to add one or two tackles to its commit list or shift some players around along its offensive line to set the position up for the future.

Overall Grade: A-

OU might have the best tackle duo in the Big 12 and could go four-deep at the position this fall. Yet the future doesn’t look as bright with Daimler as the lone underclassmen on the roster at tackle. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has some work to do but, at the same time, the future at the position could transform overnight with a position change or two.

Sooners' report card: Offense

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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.

Big 12's biggest shoes to fill

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Jeremy Smith isn’t the lone non-quarterback in the conference with big shoes to fill. As the Oklahoma State running back aims to replace Joseph Randle, here are some other Big 12 players looking to make a mark on the conference like their predecessors.

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: As the Bears aim to replace Terrance Williams, coach Art Briles has been raving about Rhodes during preseason camp. The No. 35 player in the ESPN300 for the Class of 2013, Rhodes appears poised to become a featured receiver in BU’s offense after recording five receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown combined in the Bears’ first two scrimmages.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
John Albright/Icon SMIExpectations are high for Texas nickelback Quandre Diggs, who will take over the role previously filled by NFL rookie Kenny Vaccaro.
“As he gets more involved, the threat becomes more dangerous for our offense, no question,“ Briles said.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: A former defensive back, Brackens has moved down to play outside linebacker and will be counted on to help fill the void left by A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. A tad undersized, he’ll bring speed into the lineup, which will help handle the wide open spread offenses in the Big 12, but will have to adjust quickly to secure his spot in the defense.

Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: Johnson chose KU out of Iowa Western junior college because the Jayhawks needed immediate help at safety. Now he’s set himself up to be a starter at free safety for KU, and the Jayhawks will need him to match the playmaking production of Bradley McDougald.

Linebacker Blake Slaughter, Kansas State: In a rare and unselfish move, Slaughter redshirted last season instead of finishing his Wildcat career as a backup to Arthur Brown. Now he enters his senior season set to replace him. He started four games as a sophomore in 2010, recording 47 tackles. It's unlikely Slaughter will be the defensive terror in the mold of Brown, but his maturity and experience will be key assets for KSU's defense.

Tackle Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma: Thompson is the odds-on favorite to replace Johnson as the Sooners’ left tackle. Junior college transfer Josiah St. John was signed in February to ramp the competition at the position but didn’t arrive until right before preseason camp began, and Thompson appears to have a solid hold on the starting spot. Thompson is supremely talented so don't be surprised if there is not a major drop off at left tackle for the Sooners despite losing Lane Johnson, the No. 4 pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

Nickelback Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been anointed as the Longhorns’ new nickelback to replace Kenny Vaccaro, the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick. Fellow NFLers Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams have also manned the position, which has become a highlight spot in UT’s defense. Diggs has been a key part of UT's defense since his freshman year and the nickelback spot could be a terrific fit for the junior.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The Horned Frogs have a bevy of talented receivers to replace Josh Boyce, but Brown could have the highest upside of any of them. He started seven games as a redshirt freshman and brings terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and athleticism to the table. No Boyce could mean more opportunities for Brown to emerge in the Horned Frogs' offense.

Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: Porter has played various different positions during his Red Raider career and could be the answer at free safety to replace ultra-productive former safety Cody Davis. He enters the season with 130 career tackles and has been a consistent performer since he stepped on campus in 2010. Porter's background at several different positions in the secondary make him the ideal guy to be the face of the Red Raiders' defensive backfield.

Receivers Kevin White and KJ Myers, West Virginia: The Mountaineers won’t be able to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin with just two receivers. But White and Myers are candidates to get plenty of opportunities in Dana Holgorsen’s offense. White, a junior college transfer, brings terrific size at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds and Myers, a redshirt sophomore, has stepped up during camp.

“He’s one of the guys that I’ve got a big plus by,” Holgorsen said of Myers' preseason performance.
It’s midway through Oklahoma’s preseason camp, so there’s no better time to update the position battles that could define the Sooners season.

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

Left tackle: Quite frankly it appears this was more of a competition last August than it is this August. Tyrus Thompson is the clear favorite to replace Lane Johnson after battling Johnson to start at left tackle during last year’s preseason camp. Thompson brings versatility and immense talent to the table, making him difficult to supplant. Derek Farniok and Josiah St. John are in the mix at the position and are looking to join the Sooners’ tackle rotation alongside Thompson and starting right tackle Daryl Williams.

Safety: The coaches really like Gabe Lynn's veteran presence at safety and have Quentin Hayes, another player with at least three years on campus, at the other safety spot. But both players will have to hold off a strong push from true freshmen Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas. The duo arrived on campus with college-ready bodies and undoubtedly will see the field as freshman. Don’t be surprised if one or both show up in the starting lineup at some point this season.

Defensive end: With Chuka Ndulue moving to defensive tackle, OU is looking to replace both defensive ends. Geneo Grissom started the Cotton Bowl and appears solid at one defensive end slot. At the other position, Charles Tapper has been running with the starters but will have to hold off a strong push from other talented youngsters, including true freshman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who is drawing rave reviews for his pass-rushing skills.

Receiver: Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are locked in as playmakers for the Sooners' offense. Both players can be difference makers with the ball in their hands and should get the majority of the snaps at inside receiver. On the outside, Lacoltan Bester is making a strong push this preseason to be in the starting lineup in the opener. Trey Metoyer could be the most talented of the bunch, and Durron Neal displayed playmaking ability in the spring game. Even though Neal and Metoyer have more fanfare, Bester is setting himself up to see plenty of playing time as a senior.
Started Season 1 of Breaking Bad over the weekend. What took me so long?
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.


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NORMAN, Okla.--Tyrus Thompson won’t talk about it but the pipeline from starting left tackle at the University of Oklahoma to NFL roster has been pretty strong in recent years.

2012 starter Lane Johnson was the No. 4 overall selection of the 2013 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, 2010-11 starter Donald Stephenson started seven games for the Kansas City Chiefs as a rookie and 2009 starter Trent Williams earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2012 as a member of the Washington Redskins.

[+] EnlargeTyrus Thompson
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesTyrus Thompson returns to OU for 2014 and will team with Tyrus Thompson to give the Sooners what could be the Big 12's best tackle duo.
“I am not so much focused on the NFL right now,” said Thompson, the favorite to replace Johnson in the starting lineup. “I’m focused on here at Oklahoma, winning a national championship, winning all our games. You know I’m just focused on my time here right now, do the best I can here and when that time comes, that time comes. I'm just taking it day by day.”

It’s a good stance to take as the Sooners signed junior college tackle Josiah St. John in February, largely to ramp up the competition at both tackle spots and ensure Thompson isn’t just sliding into Johnson’s spot without winning the job on the practice field.

This is nothing new to Thompson. The redshirt junior had a heated battle with Johnson to man the position in 2012 before the eventual top-five NFL draft pick beat him out for the starting job.

Thompson had a solid 2012 campaign anyway, playing in all 13 contests, starting five games including starts at left and right tackle. Even though he wasn’t listed as the starter for the majority of the season at either position, he gained valuable experience that the Sooners hope will pay off this fall.

“I have had a lot of good reps,” he said. “I would say that experience really does help a lot, but once again every position is a battle right now. No one is handed anything.”

St. John is likely Thompson’s top competition at left tackle during preseason camp with Jake Reed and Derek Farniok also figuring into the mix. St. John didn't arrive in Norman until days before preseason camp but Thompson doesn’t feel like he has the starting left tackle spot already locked up.

“Everyone is competing for a job right now so I shouldn’t say that but I do have a lot of confidence in myself,” he said.

When the injury bug hit the offensive line last season, Thompson slid in seamlessly at right or left tackle. That opportunity to playing multiple positions and his overall game experience makes it hard to imagine Thompson standing on the sidelines when the Sooners’ first-team offense takes its initial snap of 2013.

“One big thing that I learned last year is that if you make a mistake, don’t hold on to that mistake because it’s going to mess you up for future reps,” said Thompson, who has played in 18 career games in two years at OU. “You let that mistake go and you keep playing, just like they tell [defensive backs]. That would be the one big thing I took from last year.”

Even if St. John, Farniok or Reed don’t emerge to push Thompson during preseason camp, the Pflugerville, Texas native has plans to push himself to further heights. Even though he won’t admit thinking about his NFL dreams, he has eyes on pushing himself to become the best tackle he can be, which could, ultimately, place his name alongside Johnson, Stephenson and Williams on a NFL roster.

“I am pretty confident in myself, but you can improve everything,” Thompson said. “No one is perfect in anything, even Joe Staley for the 49ers, as great as he is, I’m sure if you ask him, there’s things that he can improve on.”
DALLAS -- The Sooners had their turn at Big 12 media days Tuesday. Here are five things we learned:

1. Starting quarterback to be named later

On the opening question of his press conference, coach Bob Stoops took issue with a reporter assuming Blake Bell would be named OU’s starting quarterback.

[+] EnlargeAaron Colvin
AP Photo/Tim SharpOklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin had high praise for the Sooners' young defensive backs on Day 2 of Big 12 media days.
“You're kind of making assumptions if you think he's the guy right now,” Stoops said. “We've got a number of guys in the competition.”

Stoops waited until the week before the opener before naming Sam Bradford the starting quarterback in 2007. He hinted that he would follow a similar formula this preseason.

“We’ve never been real excited,” Stoops said, “about naming a guy too early.”

2. The offensive pace could be slowed

Since 2008, the Sooners have featured one of the most up-tempo offensive attacks in college football. That could change this season.

With a stable of dynamic running backs and a veteran offensive line, Stoops confessed the Sooners will consider going slower offensively and chewing up more clock on the ground to help their defense.

“It's something to consider, definitely, how fast you are going, how effective it is, how it is affecting the defense,” Stoops said. “It's something to look at.

“So hopefully we can stay on the field, eat some clock. Even if we are going no-huddle sometimes, there's opportunity to still use up some of the clock.”

3. A Kendal Thompson package?

Stoops didn’t shoot down the idea of using a backup quarterback package again this season, similar to the one the Sooners used the last two years with Bell operating out of the Belldozer. Only this time, it would utilize the speed of Kendal Thompson and/or Trevor Knight instead of the power of Bell.

“You put Kendal or Trevor back there to run it, they're faster,” Stoops said. “So you've got more options there of what you're able to do with them. Or if they happen to hit a crease, they're not likely to be caught very soon. So there's some of that to consider, and it gives (Bell) a break or gives him an opportunity to avoid taking too many hits.”

4. Russell, St. John update

Stoops didn’t refer to defensive tackle Quincy Russell or offensive tackle Josiah St. John by name, but he did seem optimistic OU’s two missing junior-college transfers ultimately would make it to campus before the start of fall camp, which starts next weekend.

“They’re still working things out,” Stoops said. “We’ll see.”

Russell would bolster a defensive line short on experience and bodies. St. John would have a good chance to be OU’s third offensive tackle behind starters Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams.

5. Young DBs impressing

Cornerback Aaron Colvin reiterated what other program insiders have been saying this summer. True freshmen defensive backs Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, Stanvon Taylor and L.J. Moore could help the Sooners right away.

“They're very mature,” Colvin said. “There aren't many things you have to say to them twice. You tell them one time and they fix it -- that's the sign of a great player.”

Colvin himself played as a true freshman in 2010, even starting the Texas game after starter Jamell Fleming was injured the week before. He said he sees similar attributes in Taylor, also a corner.

“I stay on Stanvon hard, because I expect great things from him,” Colvin said. “He's eager to learn; he wants to be the best. There aren't too many things I need to say in order to get him riled up.”

The 2013 all-OU-Texas team 

July, 18, 2013
7/18/13
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What if you combined the 2013 rosters of Oklahoma and Texas? Who would start? Who would ride the pine? SoonerNation and HornsNation have teamed up to answer that question:

OFFENSE

QB: Blake Bell, Oklahoma


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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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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. 71 Tyrus Thompson
Tackle, 6-foot-5, 316 pounds, junior



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