Oklahoma Football: Players with Most to Gain in Spring Practices
Expect the momentum from the Oklahoma Sooners’ magical 2013 season to continue during spring practices.
Players will report to camp in Norman with the goal of bettering their performance from a year ago. For some, it’s eliminating any doubt that they’re fit for the job while others begin the season at a new position.
With that said, expect a lot of interesting storylines to unfold during the Sooners’ spring practices from March 8 to April 12, per college football expert Phil Steele.
Join B/R as we take a closer look at some of the players with the most to gain over the next month.
RB Keith Ford
Although Keith Ford played sparingly in 2013, he showcased why the Oklahoma coaching staff is so high on him.
In five games, the Cypress, Texas, native rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Not only did he demonstrate breakaway speed in open space, but Ford also displayed a knack for taking on defenders head on.
His mix of athleticism and bruising running was a contributing factor to his 5-star rating in the class of 2013. Ford was ranked as the 247Sports composite No. 1-overall prospect in the state of Texas and No. 24 overall.
With all three of the Sooners leading running backs from last season—Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch—set to graduate, the team must find another option at running back.
Look for Ford to come up big in the spring and establish himself as the front-runner for the starting job.
LB Eric Striker
Oklahoma’s defense is set to become a major problem in 2014. The unit returns a whopping nine starters, including its entire front seven.
One of those intriguing returners is linebacker Eric Striker.
In 13 games, the rising junior recorded 50 tackles (10.5 for loss), 6.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries, one fumble forced and returned his lone fumble return back for a touchdown. He led the Sooners in both tackles for loss and sacks.
But Striker’s best performance came against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl—seven tackles (3.0 for loss), 3.0 sacks and a fumble forced.
Against the Tide, Striker created problems all over the field. Expect the Oklahoma coaching staff to use the spring to make that performance a regular thing for Striker.
This is a guy on the verge to becoming one of the best linebackers to come through Norman in quite some time.
WR Durron Neal
Although he was Oklahoma’s No. 4 receiver in 2013, Durron Neal has a lot to gain from spring practices.
Both Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester are graduating, leaving the team without a No. 2 receiver behind Sterling Shepard. It’s a perfect opportunity for the St. Louis, Mo., native to step up.
In nine games last season, Neal caught 13 passes for 176 yards. More impressively, when given the opportunity, he has shown the ability to make tough catches and big plays for the offense.
At 5’11”, Neal may be short, but he is extremely physical and has no problem fighting for those extra yards after the catch.
Extra practice in getting the timing down with quarterback Trevor Knight could prove extremely beneficial for the soon-to-be junior.
CB Zack Sanchez
Although Oklahoma will return nine starters on defense, the biggest hole will come in the secondary. The loss of senior’s Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn contributed to that.
Expect that to mean a bigger role for rising sophomore cornerback Zack Sanchez.
In 13 games last season, the Keller, Texas, native recorded 46 tackles (0.5 for loss), 13 passes broken up and two interceptions. He took one of those picks back for a pivotal touchdown in the Sooners 41-31 win over Kansas State.
Both Colvin and Lynn stood out on defense because of their ball-hawking abilities. It will now be up to Sanchez to fill that role next season.
With an entire offseason of practice under his belt, that should be no problem for Sanchez in 2014.
QB Trevor Knight
Following a stellar performance in the Sugar Bowl, quarterback Trevor Knight all but wrapped up the starting job for 2014.
In an impressive 45-31 win over Alabama, the redshirt freshman displayed experience beyond his years. He threw for 348 yards, four touchdowns and one interception on 32-of-44 passing.
Given his relative inexperience at the position—had thrown for 471 yards and five touchdowns prior to Sugar Bowl—Knight could benefit from more practice under center.
The San Antonio, Texas, native began the 2013 season as the starter. However, after two poor performances in his first two starts, Knight was soon benched in favor of Blake Bell.
With Bell all but moved to the tight end position, it’s Knight’s job to lose.
TE Blake Bell
Nobody is poised to gain more from spring practices than Blake Bell.
That’s because the rising senior, and former quarterback, is set to make the move to tight end.
At 6’6” and 252 pounds, Bell has the frame to succeed at the position. Not to mention, he’s displayed his athleticism with the ball, pounding his way for 24 rushing touchdowns during his freshman and sophomore campaigns.
But the biggest factor Bell has going in his favor is his determination to help Oklahoma succeed.
“He (made the switch to tight end) for himself, but he also did this because it is the best thing for the team,” former Sooners center Gabe Ikard said, per The Oklahoman’s Jason Kersey. “He loves being at OU…and wanted the opportunity to play for a national championship next year.”
It’s not like he’ll have too much competition.
Although it’s a brand new position, Bell has the drive and athleticism to succeed.