Oklahoma Football: Who Will Replace This Year's Starters?

Alex JosephAnalyst IJuly 29, 2012

Oklahoma Football: Who Will Replace This Year's Starters?

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    After analyzing each senior on Oklahoma's roster earlier in the week, senior week continues here at Bleacher Report—only this time the focus on who may replace them next season

    There are 20 seniors on Oklahoma's roster this season. Of those 20, 13 are starters and at least three others will be receiving a fair amount of playing time this season. There's just no getting around it—next season is going to be stressful. 

    However, when you're a prestigious program that recruits well, rebuilding can also be exciting. Even though 20 seniors are leaving the program, there will be dozens of talented guys coming in. For every starter Oklahoma is losing, there will be somebody there to replace him. 

    This may be jumping the gun a bit, as the official depth chart for this season isn't even finalized yet, but we at least have a pretty good grasp on who will be making the leap from reserve to starter next season. 

Quarterback

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    Current Starter: Landry Jones

    Next Year's Replacement: Blake Bell (6'6", 254 pounds) 

     

    After electing to forgo the NFL draft, Landry Jones decided to come back for his senior season at Oklahoma. While this was a good decision for both his draft stock and Oklahoma's title hopes, it also prolongs the inevitable: Who is going to replace him? 

    The backup quarterback job has been a bit controversial and confusing while Jones has been at the helm. Last season's depth chart didn't even truly give out an answer, as No. 2 was listed as "Drew Allen OR Blake Bell," not one or the other.

    Due to the Sooners' red zone woes last season, the "Belldozer" package was installed. This is where Bell, a behemoth of a quarterback, strolled into the game, took a snap, and then plowed his way through the defense and (most of the time) into the end zone. This is where things got confusing, as the amount of playing time Bell received made it seem as though he was the backup. 

    However, the true backup was likely Allen, who was known to be the more skilled passer and have a better understanding of the playbook. This fact was believable after seeing that Bell only threw four passes last season, completing only one while also throwing an interception. Still, Bell's spring game performance may have just added to an already confusing subject. 

    Bell completed 14 of 19 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown during Oklahoma's Red and White spring football game, proving to the public that he could in fact throw a football. Of course, outplaying Allen in one spring game doesn't necessarily mean Bell has taken over full duties as No. 2 quarterback, but with another season of playing time, I'd say the odds are in Bell's favor. 

    With Bell as the starting quarterback next season, the Sooners will be able to implement a more dynamic running game full-time instead of just on third down (when Bell usually comes in now). If Bell's arm proves to be capable of handling a spread offense, the Sooners already dangerous offense could become even more lethal. 

Running Back

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    Current Starter: Dominique Whaley

    Next Year's Replacement: Roy Finch 

     

    This one isn't really a shocker, as Finch was the primary back to take over the workload when Whaley went down with an injury last season. However, putting Finch as the full-time replacement means less considering the Sooners' likelihood of featuring more than one back in the running game. 

    The Sooners should have a three-headed-senior-monster at running back next season with Finch, Brennan Clay and junior college transfer Damien Williams. I really love what Finch brings to the table—he's easily the most exciting running back on the roster to watch. His jukes and spin moves make him look like a video game running back, and he was still able to average 5.5 yards per carry last season.

    However, with all that being said, I'm not even sure Finch is capable of taking on a full-time workload. His shifty running style make him a great change-of-pace running back, but as a starter, things could be different. Williams might even be a better choice as a full-time starter, but I feel like Finch will earn the No. 1 depth chart spot. 

    However, Williams, who is transferring into Norman from Arizona Western junior college, could possibly start this season if he proves to live up to his hype. Last season, Williams ran for 1,931 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. Along with being a strong, physical runner, Williams is also a better-than-average receiver out of the backfield. 

    Obviously playing for the Sooners will be a step up in terms of talent, but Williams could fit in very nicely. As of now, though, Finch is Whaley's replacement next season. 

Left Tackle

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    Current Starter: Lane Johnson 

    Next Year's Replacement: Daryl Williams (6'6", 313 pounds) 

     

    After the Sooners lost left tackle Donald Stephenson to the NFL draft, last season's right tackle Lane Johnson appears to be the most likely candidate to take over at left tackle this season. However, after Johnson graduates in the spring, the Sooners will be finding a new replacement.

    While there are several candidates for the job, including junior college transfer Will Latu or reserve Tyrus Thompson, I think the Sooners might be best served in sliding this season's right tackle across the line once again. 

    Sophomore Daryl Williams appears to be the best candidate to start at right tackle for the Sooners this season, but when Johnson leaves for the NFL, Williams taking over at left tackle would be a great decision. At 6'6" and 313 pounds, Williams definitely possesses good size for the position, and with a year of playing as a starter under his belt, he'll also be the most experienced choice. 

    So, then, the question becomes who will replace Williams at right tackle? That's a little more difficult, but Latu is probably the early favorite. Though he's never played a snap of Division I football, Latu is at least coming in as an experienced lineman who has had success at the college level. 

    The Sooners have a lot of depth, though, so if Latu isn't the choice, there is going to be somebody who fits the bill. 

Center

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    Current Starter: Ben Habern

    Next Year's Replacement: Gabe Ikard (6'4", 295 pounds) 

     

    This may come as a surprise to some, as Gabe Ikard is currently the starting left guard, but after taking over for an injured Ben Habern and having success last season, it's likely that the Sooners will find a way to get Ikard under center next season. 

    Ikard is a no-brainer NFL prospect, and the versatility he's shown on the line make him the best lineman Oklahoma has to offer. While deep-snapper Austin Woods would be a candidate to take over for Habern, his battle with cancer has forced the junior to take some time away from football. 

    The Sooners also picked up Ty Darlington, last year's No. 2 center according to ESPN, but the smart thing to do would be to redshirt him and allow him to use this season to learn/get bigger in the weight room. Then, as a redshirt freshman, he'll serve as Ikard's primary reserve and eventually take over the position after Ikard graduates. 

    I'll concede that it's odd to think that the Sooners would have two starting offensive linemen switch positions next season, but it's really for the betterment of the team. So, again, the question becomes who will take Ikard's place at left guard, not Habern at center. 

    Sophomore Adam Shead is the best choice. As a redshirt freshman, Shead started five games at left guard last season when Ikard moved over to center. Shead, at 6'4" and 313 pounds, is the future at left guard for the Sooners. He's too talented to keep out of the starting lineup for two more years, so moving Ikard over to center makes a lot of sense. 

Right Guard

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    Current Starter: Tyler Evans 

    Next Year's Replacement: Bronson Irwin (6'5", 305 pounds) 

     

    Let's put this into perspective: The Sooners are losing (for sure) Lane Johnson, Ben Habern and Tyler Evans. Though the Sooners have the talent to replace them, they are losing quite a bit of experience—together, the three have started 73 games for the Sooners. 

    The only way you can replace that much experience is to have faithful and committed backups, and that's exactly what Tyler Evans brings to the table. Even though Evans has played as a reserve his entire career, his chance to start will finally come through next season. 

    Irwin will be a senior leader on the line next season, and his experience on special teams and as a versatile reserve will come in handy during his only year as a starter. That is, of course, if Irwin is in fact rewarded a starting job. The Sooners definitely have a bevy of talented and young interior linemen, but I have to believe that Irwin's experience and seniority will win-out. 

    That makes Oklahoma's starting line (according to me, just now) for next season: Daryl Williams (left tackle), Adam Shead (left guard), Gabe Ikard (center), Bronson Irwin (right guard) and Will Latu (right tackle). Again, the Sooners would be starting three seniors—things are looking good. 

Punter

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    Current Starter: Tress Way

    Next Year's Replacement: Dylan Seibert (6'3", 215 pounds) 

     

    I officially deemed Tress Way the most underrated player on the entire roster in my last article, so losing him after this season is going to hurt a lot more than people probably realize. 

    Seibert, a walk-on from Booker T. Washington high school, is the only other punter on the roster. Unless kickers Nick Hodgson or Eric Hosek switch positions, it appears as if Seibert is in line to inherit the punting duties. 

    Seibert was a part of two state championship teams at Booker T, which is always a good thing to have on your resume as a walk-on. However, he will be replacing some pretty big shoes when Way leaves. With another consistent season, Way will have averaged over 40 yards per punt each season as a Sooner. 

    Trust me, that's harder than it sounds. 

Defensive End

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    Current Starters: David King, R.J. Washington

    Next Year's Replacements: Chaz Nelson (6'2", 239 pounds), Chuka Ndulue (6'3", 256 pounds) 

     

    The Sooners are losing all five defensive linemen after this season—ALL FIVE. Needless to say, the defensive line is going to be the biggest rebuilding project on the entire team next season. However, the Sooners should have replacements for both David King and R.J. Washington, and they may even have a few guys to pick from.

    I'm predicting that junior college transfer Chaz Nelson and sophomore Chuka Ndulue emerge from the pack and win starting jobs next season. Neither one are as physically imposing as King, or as sound as Washington, but both could prove to be big-time playmakers, especially Nelson.

    In fact, if King or Washington aren't getting the job done, I wouldn't be surprised to see either Nelson or Ndulue slip into the starting lineup at any point this season. Nelson flew a bit under the radar, but upon signing with Oklahoma, his stock was actually on the rise. The Sooners wouldn't have brought Nelson in without figuring he would compete for a starting position. 

    Ndulue saw playing time in seven games last season as a redshirt freshman, so another season of reserve experience should go a long way in helping him transition to a starting role next season. 

Defensive Tackle

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    Current Starters: Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee, Casey Walker

    Next Year's Replacements: Jordan Phillips (6'6", 318 pounds), Marquis Anderson (6'3", 265 pounds), Jordan Wade (6'4", 290 pounds), Torrea Peterson (6'3", 277 pounds) 

     

    This is both a simple and difficult position to predict. After Oklahoma loses all three of its rotational defensive tackles, talented underclassmen are going to have to step into a starting role with limited experience. One name stands out above the rest, though. 

    Redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips may be the best defensive lineman on the roster, but without any game experience, we can't be so quick to declare such things. However, in the mean time, we can all drool over his size and athleticism. Phillips is the biggest defensive lineman on the roster, and after a great spring, he has likely earned some playing time this season despite having three seniors ahead of him on the depth chart. 

    However, after Phillips, things get a little trickier. Marquis Anderson is probably the next best candidate to take over a starting job. Even though Phillips was the talk of the spring, Anderson's name got brought up quite a bit, as well. He's not nearly as big as Phillips (not many are), but he does have an athletic frame that will prove to be useful against bigger offensive lines. 

    Freshman Jordan Wade and sophomore Torrea Peterson are the other two defensive tackles that will be fighting for a starting job next season. Wade, who had a solid spring, was actually graded higher by ESPN than Phillips in the 2011 commit class

Strong Safety

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    Current Starter: Javon Harris

    Next Year's Replacement: Gabe Lynn (6'0", 199 pounds), Cortez Johnson (6'2", 191 pounds) or Julian Wilson (6'2", 191 pounds) 

     

    Replacing Javon Harris for Gabe Lynn probably sounds like some sort of cruel joke to most Sooner fans, especially after how the two performed for the majority of the 2011 season. However, if defensive coordinator is able to bring the most out of Harris at strong safety, why wouldn't he be able to do the same for Lynn? 

    Lynn came into the program as a highly-touted defensive back. According to ESPN, Lynn was the No. 1 player in Oklahoma and the No. 8 safety in the nation. Lynn, however, has spent the last two seasons playing as a reserve cornerback. For a guy who was so decorated (Army All-American game, All-USA first team defense) coming out of high school, Lynn hasn't lived up to any of his potential yet.

    While Lynn has seen the majority of his playing time at the boundary corner position, making a move to strong safety could be a really great transition. When things have gone wrong for Lynn in the past, it's always been in man-to-man coverage. Making the switch to strong safety would put Lynn on less of an island and give him some space to work. 

    Lynn will be a senior next season, and he will be doing everything in his power to get on the field. If that means switching positions, I can guarantee he's going to do it. However, if Lynn isn't the man for the job, or if he stays at cornerback, the position will be up for grabs between transfer Cortez Johnson and sophomore Julian Wilson. 

    Though they are literally carbon copies of each other in terms of size, Johnson may have the upper-hand just due to his familiarity with Coach (Mike) Stoops. Stoops recruited Johnson while he was at Arizona, and he started Johnson in the Wildcats' secondary as a freshman. When Stoops came to Oklahoma, Johnson decided it would be a wise idea to follow in his footsteps. 

    Johnson is a versatile defender, though, and if he isn't vying for a starting spot at strong safety, he could be taking over at the boundary corner. 

Cornerback

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    Current Starter: Demontre Hurst 

    Next Year's Replacement: Aaron Colvin (6'0", 181 pounds) 

     

    This "prediction" is kind of dependent on whether or not the Sooners can find a good replacement for Harris at strong safety. If nobody is getting the job done, than Aaron Colvin will be the guy to move back to strong safety and take over the starting role.

    However, my guess is that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops moved Aaron Colvin to cornerback because he knew he could be the No. 1 cornerback once Hurst graduated. Colvin is an NFL-caliber defensive back that is versatile enough to play multiple positions, but he has great size to be a cornerback at the next level. 

    Colvin will be starting as the No. 2 (boundary) cornerback this season opposite of Hurst. Once Colvin slides over and takes Hurst's job, the battle will be on for Colvin's current position. This could turn out to be a really heated battle going all the way up until the first week of next season, as the Sooners have a group of talented defensive backs that could earn the spot. 

    If I had to guess, Cortez Johnson would be at the top of the list (if he isn't made into the starting strong safety), followed by junior Joe Powell and junior college transfer Kasseim Everett. Powell had a really good spring as he battled Lamar Harris for a starting job, only to be up-ended by Colvin's move from safety. Everett, who was very successful at the junior college level, will be more comfortable with a year of reserve experience under his belt.