Oklahoma Football: Predicting the Best Battles for Starting Jobs
Thanks to a loaded 2012 recruiting class, the Oklahoma Sooners have more talent on their roster than they've had for a few seasons.
However, most of these talented recruits are likely going to be subjected to redshirting during the upcoming season. This speaks to the depth that the Sooners currently have at almost every position.
All this depth and talent should make for an interesting offseason. For the next seven months, every day is going to be a competition. Every player will be trying to prove what they can do on-the-field while maintaining a good status off-the-field.
Here are the five positions that should produce the best battles this offseason for starting jobs.
Battling: Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds, Courtney Gardner, Trey Metoyer, Kameel Jackson, Sterling Shepard
Predicted Starters: Kenny Stills, Courtney Gardner, Jaz Reynolds
The Sooners were already talented at the wide receiver position with Kenny Stills, Jaz Reynolds, Kameel Jackson and Trey Franks returning, but the talent coming in with the 2012 recruiting class at the position makes the Sooners scary deep with impressive receivers.
Stills is almost a no-brainer when electing starters. In just two seasons, Stills has racked up 122 catches for 1,635 yards and 13 touchdowns. After Ryan Broyles was lost for the season due to injury, Stills was expected to step up into a much larger role. However, Stills' reluctance to become the star has me a little worried.
Stills is likely the most talented receiver on the roster, but he may just be a better No. 2 than No. 1. Luckily, there are plenty of guys for quarterback Landry Jones to throw to, including last season's breakout performer Jaz Reynolds.
Reynolds made a name for himself within the offense after proving he was Jones' best deep-threat option. His 17.4 yards per catch lead the team, and his dazzling one-handed catches (as shown in the picture) made him a fan-favorite. He may have had some disciplinary issues last season, but his talent can't be overlooked. He will be a starter.
Rounding out the starters could be a handful of different guys, but I'm giving the edge to junior college transfer Courtney Gardner. As a top junior college prospect, Gardner caught 61 passes for 1,099 yards and 13 touchdowns last season at Sierra College.
Gardner is 6'2", 215 pounds and has elite speed. With his frame, Gardner will stay on the outside along with Reynolds, and Stills could become a really dangerous slot receiver.
Battling: Dominique Whaley, Roy Finch, Brennan Clay, Damien Williams
Predicted Starter: Dominique Whaley
The wide receiver battle might be the most exciting competition for the Sooners during the offseason, but the running back battle could be more competitive.
Even though the Sooners run a pass-first, spread offense, their running game isn't lacking. Before getting injured last season, Dominique Whaley was one of the best stories in all of college football. As a walk-on, Whaley made his way from the practice squad to the top of the depth chart.
Whaley ran the ball 113 times for 627 yards and nine touchdowns while healthy, and even though he's going to miss spring practices, I think Whaley is going to come back to the lineup with something to prove.
Even if Whaley does win back the starting gig, this year, the Sooners will likely see a heavy dose of both Roy Finch and junior college transfer Damien Williams. Filling in for the injured Whaley, Finch amassed 605 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
Finch is the most exciting running back on the roster, but his inability to finish near the goal line led to Bob Stoops installing the Wildcat formation and letting "The Belldozer" run wild.
If Whaley isn't ready to go by the beginning of the season, junior college transfer Damien Williams could be the starter. Last season at Arizona Western College, Williams ran for 1,931 yards and 26 touchdowns. Yes, 26 touchdowns.
Obviously, Williams didn't have a problem finding the end zone in junior college, but Division I football is a whole other animal. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this competition.
Battling: Tyrus Thompson, Will Latu, Derek Farniok, Daryl Williams
Predicted Starter: Will Latu
This will likely be the least talked about competition during the offseason, but it's one that shouldn't go unnoticed.
With Donald Stephenson graduating and entering the NFL draft, the Sooners have a spot to fill on the offensive line. That spot just so happens to be arguably the most important position on the line—left tackle.
The left tackle has the responsibility of covering quarterback Landry Jones' blind side, and normally, the left tackle is the biggest and strongest guy on the line. If we're just going by the latter criteria, then redshirt freshman Derek Farniok would have first dibs.
At 6'9" and 325 pounds, Farniok is the biggest guy on Oklahoma's roster by three inches. However, the left tackle competition will likely come down to sophomore Tyrus Thompson (who backed Stephenson up last season) and junior college transfer Will Latu.
Thompson and Latu are roughly the same size, so Latu's experience should make him the early favorite to win the starting spot.
Latu is 6'5" and 315 pounds, but for a big guy, Latu is extremely athletic. His footwork and strength will be huge assets to the position.
Battling: Gabe Lynn, Kasseim Everett
Predicted Starter: Gabe Lynn
With Jamell Fleming graduating and entering the NFL draft, the Sooners are losing their best and most reliable cornerback.
Fleming was a really good player, but even he couldn't make the Sooners' secondary look good last season. Many times last season, the secondary looked confused and played scared while simultaneously over-thinking their assignments.
With Mike Stoops back and coaching the secondary, Sooner fans can only hope that things get back to normal and players start playing up to their potential.
This includes junior Gabe Lynn, whom I have winning the cornerback competition over junior college transfer Kasseim Everett. Lynn was one of the guys who continually looked confused in the secondary last season.
However, Lynn was highly touted out of high school, ranking No. 8 in the nation at cornerback and No. 1 overall in the state of Oklahoma.
Could it be that former secondary coach Willie Martinez just wasn't a very good coach? Can Stoops turn Lynn into the player he was supposed to be?
That's what I'm predicting, but I could be wrong. Everett should provide a lot of competition, and if he has a few good spring practices, he could be starting come Week 1.
Battling: Javon Harris, Tony Jefferson
Predicted Starter: Javon Harris
This is Javon Harris' spot to lose, but I'm sure many Sooner fans wouldn't mind seeing him lose it earlier rather than later. Harris was benched late in the season for now-graduated Sam Proctor due to his underwhelming play, but now, what better options do the Sooners have?
One thing that could happen is that junior Tony Jefferson could move to safety while senior Joseph Ibiloye could move to Jefferson's hybrid linebacker/safety position. Jefferson should be the Sooners' top defensive player this season, and his ability to play multiple positions definitely helps the Sooners out.
However, Harris is a senior this year. His good games (though few and far between) were definitely overshadowed by his bad ones (Baylor, anyone?), but he still finished the season with 47 tackles and three interceptions despite being benched for the last three games.
Harris was a professional after his atrocious performance at Baylor, as he acknowledged to the media the day after the game to own up to his mistakes.
Harris is the type of guy you have to root for, and there's no doubt that he's going to be doing all that he can during the offseason to prove that he's the guy for the job. He's going to want to be on the field for his senior year.
Again, with Mike Stoops in the mix, Harris could benefit from his coaching and take his game to the next level. However, it's too soon to judge what kind of impact Stoops will actually have on this secondary, and Harris could have seen his final days as a starter last season.
I'm still rooting for him, though, and I think he's going to win this competition.
Predicted Depth Chart
LT: (1) Will Latu (Jr.), (2) Tyrus Thompson (So.)
LG: (1) Gabe Ikard (Jr.), (2) Adam Shead (So.)
C: (1) Ben Habern (Sr.), (2) Gabe Ikard (Jr.)
RG: (1) Tyler Evans (Sr.), (2) Adam Shead (So.)
RT: (1) Lane Johnson (Sr.), (2) Daryll Williams (So.)
TE: (1) Brannon Green (Jr.), (2) Taylor McNamara (Fr.)
WR: (1) Kenny Stills (Jr.), (2) Kameel Jackson (So.)
WR: (1) Courtney Gardner (Jr.), (2) Trey Metoyer (Fr.)
WR: (1) Jaz Reynolds (Jr.), (2) Trey Metoyer (Fr.)
QB: (1) Landry Jones (Sr.), (2) Drew Allen (Jr.)
FB: (1) Trey Millard (Jr.), (2) Jaydan Bird (Sr.)
RB: (1) Dominique Whaley (Sr.), (2) Roy Finch (Jr.), (3) Damien Williams (Jr.)
DE: (1) David King (Sr.), (2) Chaz Nelson (Jr.)
DT: (1) Casey Walker (Sr.), (2) Marquis Anderson (So.)
DT: (1) JaMarkus McFarland (Sr.), (2) Stacy McGee (Sr.)
DE: (1) R.J. Washington (Sr.), (2) Chaz Nelson (Jr.)
SLB: (1) Tony Jefferson (Jr.), (2) Joseph Ibiloye (Sr.)
MLB: (1) Tom Wort (Jr.), (2) Jaydan Bird (Sr.)
WLB: (1) Corey Nelson (Jr.), (2) P.L. Lindley (RFr.)
BCB: (1) Gabe Lynn (Jr.), (2) Kasseim Everett (Jr.)
SS: (1) Aaron Colvin (Jr.), (2) Quentin Hayes (So.)
FS: (1) Javon Harris (Sr.), (2) Tony Jefferson (Jr.)
FCB: (1) Demontre Hurst (Sr.), (2) Lamar Harris (Sr.)
K: (1) Michael Hunnicutt (So.), (2) Patrick O'Hara (Sr.)
KO: (1) Patrick O'Hara (Sr.), (2) Michael Hunnicutt (So.)
P: (1) Tress Way (Sr.), (2) Dylan Seibert (RFr.)
KR: (1) Trey Franks (Jr.), (2) Brennan Clay (Jr.)
KR: (1) Roy Finch (Jr.), (2) Kameel Jackson (So.)
PR: (1) Kenny Stills (Jr.), (2) Roy Finch (So.)