Oklahoma Football: 6 Players Exceeding Expectations for No. 6 Sooners

Eric PennellCorrespondent IINovember 8, 2011

Oklahoma Football: 6 Players Exceeding Expectations for No. 6 Sooners

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    Before the season began, I wrote an article naming six players who, judged on past performance and a gut feeling, would have breakout seasons for the Oklahoma Sooners. They were either underclassmen who had been stuck behind a superior senior or an underachiever destined to right the ship.

    To put it simply, I was hit and miss. I hit on Lane Johnson and Demontre Hurst, pushed on Corey Nelson and Trey Millard and absolutely flopped on R.J. Washington and Austin Haywood. Hey, four out of six isn't bad, right?

    Enough semi-tooting my own horn. Here is a similar list, made with hindsight instead of hunch, of six Sooners that have outperformed their expectations this season.

LG Adam Shead

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    Redshirt freshman Adam Shead began the year a bit buried on the depth chart. He was a moderately touted recruit from Cedar Hill, TX but hadn't received much attention from local fans or media.

    The 6'4'' 314 lbs. Shead has quickly become one of head coach Bob Stoops' favorite lineman, however, routinely getting mentioned in press conferences as a standout player.

    His playing time was increasing through the first half of the year, but when All-Big 12 center Ben Habern went down with a broken forearm, Shead's giant frame was needed to help support the line. Gabe Ikard slid over to center and Shead filled his spot at guard.

    He has been rock solid, helping contribute to a line that has kept Landry Jones virtually sack free all season, producing an NCAA-best 0.4 sacks per game.

    Now all we have to do is figure out how exactly to pronounce his name. Shed? Sheed? She-ad?

DE Frank Alexander and DE Ronnell Lewis

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    Speaking of sacks, we now move on to one of the most formidable sack duos in all the land. Senior Frank Alexander and junior Ronnell "The Hammer" Lewis have combined to help Oklahoma lead the nation in sacks, averaging a whopping 4.7 per game, one full sack more than the second place team.

    Together, they have combined for 99 tackles (26 for loss), 13 sacks, 13 pass deflections, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. This kind of production looks more like a couple of linebackers, not two defensive ends.

    These two had high expectations coming into the season, but have busted through that proverbial ceiling and are each having All-Big 12 and possibly All-American seasons.

    Frank matured greatly over the offseason and has become a leader on the team and Ronnell Lewis is the unquestioned leader of the kick coverage units.

WR Jaz Reynolds

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    With two incredible one-handed touchdown grabs in as many weeks, sophomore WR Jaz Reynolds has become an instant cult classic in Sooner Nation, prompting the creation of a special Twitter account in his honor (@JazReynoldsHand).

    This is a big upgrade for the Houston native, considering he served a two game suspension earlier in the season for an insensitive, poorly worded Texas-related tweet.

    Jaz has emerged from the doghouse to accumulate 32 catches for 578 yards and five touchdowns, all third on the team behind Kenny Stills and Ryan Broyles (sigh). His 18.1 yards per catch leads the team.

    One big question in the preseason was who was going to be the third receiver behind Stills and Broyles. Jaz has more than answered the call, especially the last few games.

    It is almost eerie how his emergence coincided with Broyles' season-ending ACL tear last week. Just in time, I suppose.

SS Aaron Colvin and FS Javon Harris

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    Probably the biggest question mark coming into the season was how the two new safeties were going to fare against a pass-heavy Big 12. Things were shaky at first, with a few highly publicized breakdowns in coverage against Tulsa and Florida State, the Sooners' first two games. 

    The two have played lights out since then, however.

    Sophomore strong safety Aaron Colvin, a converted corner, is second on the team in tackles (59) and pass deflections (6), while also contributing 4.5 tackles-for-loss. His versatility in both run support and coverage have been vital all season.

    When Gabe Lynn was forced into a starting role at corner against Texas Tech and subsequently burned like a well-done steak, Colvin was moved to the outside to take his place and successfully stop the bleeding.

    Junior free safety Javon Harris responded to early criticism with two huge interceptions against Florida State and has kept up his brilliant play since then. He has tallied 41 tackles, three interceptions with 94 return yards, five pass deflections and two forced fumbles this season.

    Given the preseason doubts and their performance, it turns out these two safeties were much safer picks than we expected (insert canned laughter, here).