Oklahoma Football: Which Sooners Have the Most to Prove in 2010
As the 2010 college football season is set to get under way, fans, opponents, and critics alike have one common link when it comes to certain Oklahoma Sooners; Proof on the field.
After a rough 2009, in that "What have you done for me lately" fashion, even the most die hard fans have their questions. Questions that flow from offense to defense, and players to coaches.
With a top ten ranking, coaches hinting around about improved offensive line play, and a dead-heat look for the Big XII south race with rival Texas, this does feel like deja-vu for OU fans. This time though, the fans won't go in to the season with blind faith.
The feel around Sooner nation is one of caution. Remember that the injury bug didn't start to bite until just one week before the 2009 kick-off? The 2010 football team is good, but can they be great? That's where the proof factor comes in, because only the field of play will tell that story.
So, coming off an 8-5 season, with a second-year under rated quarterback, and a stacked defense (deja-vu all over again?), let's take a look at just which of Sooners have the most to prove, and what it is they have to prove on the field for the 2010 football season.
Offensive Line Coach James Patton
Coach James Patton came to Oklahoma from Northwestern with OC Kevin Wilson and has held the same spot since his arrival in 2005.
During his run at Northwestern, Patton always turned out a 1,200 yard rusher, and every single senior offensive lineman to play for him went pro. Amazing stat after amazing stat fills James Pattons' bio sheet.
For the 2007 and 2008 seasons at OU, his lines only gave up 27 sacks, produced three 1,000-yard rushers, two 1,000-yard receivers, and several NFL draftees.
But the ten different starters, and eight different starting line combinations, coupled with a ten-year low 3.6 ypc in 2009 have many questioning if Patton has what it takes to think on his feet. Some even wonder if he is the right guy for the job.
Now 2010 brings his most inexperienced line at OU to date, and again the coaching staff has boasted on the lines performance in practice. "I'm really excited about our offensive line." Stoops recently said.
The fans want nothing more than to believe their head coach. The positives are there for them, with the outstanding progression of right tackle Eric Mensic, the return of eight different one-time starters in all five positions, the showing of the freshman class, and Donald Stephenson finally getting eligible to hold down Landrys' blind side at left tackle.
So will Patton show us all now that last year was a fluke, that the bad dream of was just a result of a slew of injuries? My guess is that it's very likely, but with such a young line the problems could still persist. The talent is there, and if history says anything about Patton it's that when he has the horses, his lines can support the Sooner to record heights.
The Travis Lewis Led Linebacker Corps
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Travis Lewis' career at Oklahoma started by busting Brian Bosworths' freshman tackling record with 144 stops. Add to that 11.5 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions, and 3.5 sacks (2 solo), and you can see why Lewis was an instant fan favorite.
But a not-so-stellar 2009 campaign has some wondering if Lewis is a true superstar, or just a sure-fire tackler that took everyone by surprise. Though last years numbers were solid, they were certainly not on par with his freshman standard.
Lewis has stated on how he has kept an eye on the OU tackling record, and if that goal is to be reached, he better go lights out. Because he's still 27 tackles out of the top ten.
As for the MLB spot, it looks like red-shirt freshman Tom Wort will replace the "defensive quarterback" Ryan Reynolds, who lost his appeal for one more year of eligibility this past off-season.
Wort comes with two questions; First, can he stay healthy? Second, can he play in a game how he does in practice?
Both are a toss-up, especially about his health. But so far, so good, and Wort has come out on top (again) over very stiff competition.
On the other side of Wort, will be Ronnell "The Hammer" Lewis at SSLB. A hitting machine making headlines with his voracity on kick coverage, Ronnell just has to show that he can grasp the game plan. If he has a weakness, it would be recognition skills. But that will come with every snap of the ball.
These three players make up the starting linebackers for the 2010 season, and with all the attention, all the talk, every eye will be on these guys to come up big when the OU defense needs a play.
They believe they can, now they just have to make the rest of us believers as well.
You can't watch a pre-season special, or read an article, or see any given Big XII show featuring OU with out hearing about DeMarco Murray and how he will (or won't) preform in 2010.
One thing is clear though, and that's the fact that DeMarco Murray is under a lot of pressure to play big.
Joe Washingtons record 5,881 all-purpose yards is in reach (needs 1,220), the fact that the guys behind him, while talented, have little experience.
Can he be the feature back?
Will his health play a role like every other year at OU so far?
Health that will be watched by more than coaches at the college level. If Murray is to have any real aspirations of an NFL contract, he better not go down with any serious injury. That would most likely spell the end of his playing career.
What more could a running back have to prove than that he is worthy of making his mark on the field, that his body can take the beating this game delivers and make plays?
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Newly voted team captain Landry Jones seems to be striking all the right chords in Norman, and reportedly looking great in practice. Sam Bradford still talks about how he admires Jones' mechanics and footwork, and how he uses it in his own game.
Even though Jones did some things that the dart-throwing Bradford didn't, like winning a bowl game, many still doubt if he is the right guy to lead the Sooners to the game that matters: The BCS national title game, a game that Bradford played in.
With position coach Josh Heuple behind him, along with his gained experience and natural maturation, I believe Landry Jones can be the next quarterback to take Oklahoma back to that championship game, but it will be even more difficult for Landry.
The most difficult position to play in football is quarterback. The most difficult time to play quarterback is right after the departure of a legend.
Landry has to prove that he can follow the lead that Bradford set, not just play well. The quarterback competition is an all-out war for that number one spot, and if one of them gets just a foot in the door, Landry could find himself on the outside looking in.
Wide Receiver Coach Jay Norvell
When wide receivers coach Jay Norvell stepped off the plane in Norman, the fan base was looking to the future with stars in their eyes. From running his own offense at UCLA, to directing the receiving talents of the Indianapolis Colts, Norvell had the resume' to warrant the fans feelings.
After last years showing, the stars went from the eyes, to revolving around their heads.
After a very shaky start, marred by several drive killing drops, some of the guys not named Ryan Broyles did start to pull it together somewhat. But with the talent pool OU has at the position the production should have been better.
As the 2010 season progresses, the one thing people will look for here is if freshman Kenny Stills is really good enough to come right in and play, or is this just a sign that the other guys have still not figured it out.
Norvells' history suggests that he will make that turn and have his guys game-ready. But if they still struggle this season, the fingers that start to point in Norvells' direction may be to many to ignore, with reason too.
You can have a bad game, or even a down year, but you better not make a habit out of low production. Because the next guy in line may start to look more promising.
Interior Defensive Line
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When the Sooner defense is at their best, it's because of the great play at the defensive tackle position. From Dusty Dvoracek, to Gerald McCoy, Bob Stoops has had some of the best in the game.
"The strength of any good defense, you're going to build it inside out," OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables recently admitted.
So who's next for Venables to build with?
If the OU defense is to continue their dominance, it better either be Stacy McGee, Casey Walker, or Jamarkus McFarland. All three are sophomores, all three have little experience. In fact, they only have eleven career tackles between them.
Not to promising when you look at it like that.
On the good side though, they should get help at some point from under rated talent Adrian Taylor. Plus, when the trio have gotten playing time they have played at a high level.
Can they do it for a complete season though?
With early season match-ups against FSU, Cincinnati, Air Force, and then hated rival Texas, Sooner nation will get to find out soon just how these three will hold up. Especially Air Force and Texas, who will have a strong commitment to the run game.
Because like it or not, they are the new regime of this defensive front. So they better hold up, because the teams I just mentioned will test them early and often, and will exploit any weakness they find there.
Out of Patrick O'Hara, Jimmy Stevens, Bryce Easley, and Micheal Hunnicut, Bob Stoops still can't find a single kicker that he likes.
This is a bad sign for the Sooners hopes of a championship, both the Big XII and the national kind.
While the offensive line will draw much attention once play starts, the place kickers may be the one part of the OU football team with the most to prove this season.
After a very poor showing in 2009, the worst of which was at Nebraska when the OU kickers missed three kicks that could have turned that game around, the Sooners enter the 2010 season with even more questions at place kicker.
Stoops has even taken a page out of Mike Leachs' book and turned to an open tryout for all students in search of someone that can be a consistent kicker. The search was fruitless, unlike Leachs'.
So it's back to the old drawing board.
My best guess is that this race will narrow to O'Hara and Stevens. Both have had flashes of what is expected of them, but Stoops wants consistency. The opposite of flashes as it were.
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