2009 was not a good season for the Oklahoma Sooners, but declaration day has passed and several key players are returning, including wide receiver Ryan Broyles, defensive end Jeremy Beal, and linebacker Travis Lewis.
This group doesn't make quite the same splash as last season when Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, and Jermaine Gresham all decided to return to school.
However, these players, combined with a solid recruiting class and lots of young experience, should be plenty to push the Sooners back into the national spotlight in 2010.
We'll start with the quarterback position. Landry Jones returns to school having had a very up and down 2009 season. When Jones was on the mark last season, he was a solid quarterback. Bob Stoops and all of Sooner Nation will be hoping that he will always be on in 2010.
The starting job will be his to lose in spring practice. Redshirt freshman Drew Allen and highly touted recruit Blake Bell will battle for the backup position. Allen will probably get it and Bell could be redshirted with thoughts for the future. Bell is a dual threat quarterback from Wichita, KS and is probably the Sooners' top recruit. Having Bell around at starter for several years after Jones graduates will be huge for Oklahoma.
At running back, the Sooners continue to stock the stable with top running backs all vying to get on the field. DeMarco Murray came back to school to be the man, and the man he will be as he is the only running back with considerable experience. Look for redshirt sophomore Jermie Calhoun to be the backup, with Jonathan Miller also getting time. Miller is coming off of offseason knee surgery, and it will be interesting to see how much he has recovered by the start of the season.
The Sooners also added two new running backs in Brennan Clay and Roy Finch, both four-star recruits according to Rivals.com . Both have excellent speed and are great at catching the football. They should see the field at some point this season to offer a little pop in the offense.
Wide receiver is an interesting position for the Sooners. Aside from Broyles, there was no standout second option. That role was sort of passed around throughout a group of young and inexperienced receivers. DeJuan Miller rose to the occasion, as did Jazz Reynolds and Brandon Caleb, with Cameron Kenney contributing as well. All of those players return, along with incoming freshmen Kenny Stills and Sheldon McClain. Everyone around Broyles will need to contribute in order to take the pressure off of him and open things up for Jones and Murray and the running game.
Now we come to the offensive line. This group was the most beleaguered of any unit for Oklahoma last year. They came in inexperienced, and injuries didn't help. However, as bad as it looked, the line only gave up 15 sacks on the year. The main issue was failing to produce a dominant running game. Seven offensive linemen who started at least one game last season return, along with four other backups who got time.
Stoops is also bringing in five OL recruits, which says that the returning players better get their act together or it's anyone's job. The returning players are familiar with each other and should work together well this year. Look for Corey Brandon, Stephen Good, Ben Habern, Tyler Evans, and Jarvis Jones to be the starters.
Tight end was almost an invisible position for the Sooners after Jermaine Gresham was lost for the season. However, several players stepped up and provided adequate services throughout the year. Trent Ratteree looks to be the starter in 2010, but he could be challenged by redshirt freshman Gabe Ikard and incoming freshman Austin Haywood. Haywood is a Rivals four-star recruit from Moore, OK, which is just north of Norman. Look for him and Ikard, along with James Hanna, to see time at tight end this season.
We now turn to the defense, which was ranked eighth in the country in 2009. At defensive end, the Sooners return all-conference performer Jeremy Beal, which will be a huge boost for an otherwise inexperienced defensive line. Frank Alexander returns at the other end position. Sophomores R.J. Washington and David King will get a significant number of snaps at end, as well. Incoming freshman Chuka Ndulue should also get to see the field as a big speed rusher.
Defensive tackle is a very thin position for Oklahoma. JaMarkus McFarland is the heir apparent to Gerald McCoy at one tackle position, both in size and skill. Adrian Taylor is the other starter, but there is no timetable for his return from a horrific ankle injury suffered in the Sun Bowl against Stanford. Behind those two, there is very little. Redshirt sophomore Casey Walker and a quartet of incoming freshmen are all that is there for backup.
The four incoming players (Eric Humphrey, Daniel Noble, Torrea Peterson, and Damon Williams) are going to have to grow up fast because they are going to get on the field a lot in 2010. Eric Humphrey, a Dallas product, is the most talented of the bunch and should have the biggest impact.
The linebacking corps is very deep and very talented. Travis Lewis returns for his junior year and redshirt freshman Tom Wort returns from an ACL injury that sidelined him all last season. Austin Box, hard-hitting Ronnell Lewis, and Joseph Ibiloye also return, along with incoming freshmen Rashod Favors and Aaron Franklin.
The problem for the Sooners isn't finding people to play; they have plenty of people to play the position. It's going to be trying to put everyone on the field. There is so much depth and talent here. This is definitely a strong point for the Sooners.
The secondary is also very deep and experienced. Sam Proctor should return to safety along with Quinton Carter, who is one of the team's hardest hitters. Jonathan Nelson and Demontre Hurst should fill in at cornerback for Brian Jackson and Dominique Franks, who both left for the NFL.
The Sooners also bring in four top DB recruits who could see the field in five or six defensive back sets. Tony Jefferson and James Haynes are the highest ranked of the four, with Aaron Colvin and Quentin Hayes being the other two.
The Sooners return a lot on both sides of the ball with 14 total starters, along with many others who have game experience, especially along the offensive line. Bob Stoops and his staff have also assembled an excellent class that truly addresses the needs that his team has at this juncture.
While 2009 was a very humbling reminder that no one is entitled to a place amongst the elite of college football, things should be looking up for the Sooners in 2010. A return to the top is very much a possibility and, in Sooner Nation, almost expected.