Oklahoma Football: 7 Most Important Spring Practice Position Battles
As the Oklahoma football squad prepares for spring practice, key personnel questions abound.
For example, the key positions of quarterback, tailback and safety are uncertain at this juncture.
Luckily, the Sooners will get the opportunity to start working on these areas when they hit the turf in a few weeks.
When spring practice commences, expect tight competitions to begin, some of which will undoubtedly persist into fall camp.
With that, here are the seven most important position battles Oklahoma faces heading into spring practice.
Finally, in just a few weeks, Blake Bell and Co. hit the gridiron and begin the chase for the starting quarterback position.
The candidates joining Bell are redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, sophomore Kendal Thompson and incoming freshman Cody Thomas.
Each quarterback is a dual-threat athlete. The looming uncertainty is which player exhibits the best decision-making and leadership under center.
Hopefully, we'll have a clearer picture when the spring game arrives April 13.
It's possible the starter won't be unveiled until the fall. The last time the Sooners saw a quarterback competition—in 2007, won by Sam Bradford—the winner wasn't known until late August.
Tailback is certainly clearer than quarterback, but it's still an intriguing situation.
Damien Williams and Brennan Clay—the team's top two rushers from 2012—are back. Naturally, they should get a solid helping of playing time once again.
But what about promising redshirt freshman Alex Ross and incoming phenom Keith Ford?
Both Ross and Ford are former Under Armour All-Americans and are poised for stardom in Norman. It will be very intriguing to see how much action they get in the spring.
If Williams and Clay play to their potential, Ross and Ford may not get much playing time this season. In that case, redshirting Ford would be wise.
On the other hand, don't be surprised to see Ross and/or Ford make immediate impacts and compete for playing time and possibly more.
Defensive Line (End and Tackle)
With several contributors from the 2012-13 D-line departing, we should be in for interesting depth chart battles.
Chuka Ndulue, one of the bright spots on the embattled D-line of 2012, will almost certainly start again at defensive end. The other end of the line, however, is much less certain.
David King, who started most of the games at defensive end last season, is gone.
Possible replacements for King include Geneo Grissom, who started the Sooners' last game, and Chaz Nelson. Keep a close eye on incoming 4-star recruit D.J. Ward, as well. He could realistically start as a freshman.
Lastly, 2013 commits Matt Dimon and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo add valuable depth and could earn their way into the rotation.
At defensive tackle, it's a good bet that JUCO transfer Quincy Russell will start considering Bob Stoops' flattering comments about his abilities.
Currently, Jordan Phillips, Torrea Peterson and Jordan Wade are the only defensive tackles on the team roster. Of the three, Phillips has the most experience, with 10 game appearances.
OU also picked up 4-star recruit Kerrick Huggins, Charles Walker and Matthew Romar at tackle. There's a good chance at least one of them will work his way into the mix immediately.
With ultra-reliable Aaron Colvin back in the secondary, one cornerback spot is locked down. Senior Demontre Hurst, however, is gone, leaving the other corner spot open.
This should be an entertaining competition. There seem to be plenty of capable candidates.
The likely contenders figure to be juniors Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes, seniors Gabe Lynn and Kass Everett and incoming commits Stanvon Taylor and L.J. Moore.
It's hard to say who wil rise above the other contenders. By virtue of experience, Lynn (especially), Wilson and Everett may have an advantage. However, recruits Moore and Taylor are both highly touted and should make immediate impacts.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, no less, is clearly already excited about Taylor.
Let the games begin.
Free and Strong Safety
Both of OU's departed safeties from last season—Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris—will be missed. Replacing these key defensive backs may seem daunting, but several talented players are ready to step up.
Granted, this is premature. But the front-runner at strong safety, due to his playing style, appears to be incoming freshman Hatari Byrd.
Byrd, a 4-star talent, received praise from Scout.com for his aggressiveness and hitting ability. The 6'2", 200-pound California native also possesses desirable size for safety.
Gabe Lynn, at 6'0", 199 pounds, was listed as Javon Harris' backup at strong safety last season. He may challenge Byrd for the starting role. Regardless, expect to see him be a fixture in the secondary given his veteran status.
At free safety, it's certainly possible another freshman, Ahmad Thomas, earns the starting spot. Thomas, at 6'0", 210 pounds, is also physically advantaged.
Although he's listed on SoonerSports.com as a linebacker, incoming freshman Dominique Alexander (6'2," 195 pounds) could enter into the discussion as well.
Other contenders may emerge at safety, but the picture is somewhat murky at this point.
Sophomore Eric Doughtie, at 197 pounds, is one of the few Sooners on the current roster big enough to be a suitable candidate for manning the safety spot.