Preparations for their season opener against UTEP is well underway for the Sooners football team. Oklahoma had a up-and-down preseason camp which saw several members of their 2012 recruiting class prove themselves ready to make an immediate impact, while injuries and a suspension put a damper on preseason preparations.
Here’s a look at the positives and negatives from preseason camp:
• Receiver position: Before preseason camp opened there were plenty of questions about the Sooners receivers. Now, barring something unforeseen, the receiving spot appears to be a strength for OU.
Penn State transfer Justin Brown has brought a veteran, experienced presence to the receiving corps, junior Kenny Stills is explosive and appears to be finding a comfort level at slot receiver and Trey Metoyer has special talent.
And yet it’s the depth behind those three that could be the best news. Junior college transfer LaColtan Bester has made a smooth transition, freshman Sterling Shepard has impressed and fellow frosh Durron Neal held his own during preseason practice. And if Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders is declared eligible, he’ll make an immediate impact.
OU appears to have six (possibly seven) quality receivers who could help the offense this fall.
• Blake Bell’s improvement: Make no mistake, Bell has made a terrific improvement within OU’s offense since the Insight Bowl. The sophomore has refined his passing skills and overall knowledge of the offense. He has turned potential into production while earning the backup quarterback role heading into the season.
While he’s widely known for his touchdowns out of the “Belldozer” short-yardage package, there should no longer be any questions about Bell’s ability to run OU’s regular offensive system.
Tapper and Onuoha are relatively new to football, having each starred on the basketball court and spent their summers on the AAU basketball circuit. They’re raw athletes who needed to learn and adapt quickly to make an impact. Both true freshmen handled all the obstacles extremely well and played themselves out of redshirt seasons.
Simon didn’t arrive in Norman until late July and yet he immediately impressed during preseason camp and will likely provide depth at cornerback this season. His exceptional athletic ability will make it tough to keep him off the field as he gains more experience.
• Team seems more focused: A year ago, the Sooners were on ESPN’s “Training Camp with the Sooners” and talking about protecting their No. 1 ranking heading into the 2011 campaign. To be fair, they were simply answering the questions they were being asked. Nonetheless, they didn’t talk about playing at a championship level each week in 2011, they talked about not slipping up and losing a game.
This season, the Sooners are talking about trying to be more consistent and paying attention to the little things. That could bode well for OU’s future.
• Bevy of playmakers and plenty of options on offense: The Sooners have several talented options on offense. Running back Dominique Whaley appears healthy, explosive running back Roy Finch has been working in the slot and could be a lethal threat working against opposing linebackers and safeties.
At receiver, the Sooners have terrific size with Stills, Metoyer and Brown, who will create mismatches against defenses and make it very difficult to play man-to-man, particularly with Landry Jones at the helm. To cap it off, do-everything fullback Trey Millard brings unique talent and versatility to the lineup.
OU’s skill players and the versatility of those players should make its up-tempo offense even harder to stop in 2012.
• Offensive line depth: The Sooners lost two returning starters along the offensive line in a matter of days. Center Ben Habern decided to quit football and guard Tyler Evans was lost for the season with an ACL injury.
Fortunately for OU, interior line depth was a strength heading into July. Center Gabe Ikard moves over from guard, Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin step in at guard with Nila Kasitati backing up at those three spots.
Another injury along the offensive interior could be devastating, however.
• Stacy McGee’s suspension: The senior defensive tackle has been indefinitely suspended after violating university policy. Joining Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker as one of three veterans who were expected to be the anchors of OU’s defensive interior, McGee’s status is unclear.
The most troubling part of McGee’s suspension is the realization he is a veteran who allowed an off-the-field issue to keep him from beginning the season in good standing. Bad decision, bad example.
• You never know how the freshmen will respond: It doesn’t matter how good the true freshmen, including Trey Metoyer, Gary Simon, Sterling Shepard, Charles Tapper or Eric Striker, have looked during preseason practice.
None of them have made a play in crimson and cream yet.
Until they prove themselves in games, it’s hard to count on them to be impact players for OU. And even if they perform well in September, they still haven’t experienced a full college season and demands of playing at a high level at a program like OU. Making plays and remaining consistent sounds a lot easier than it is.
• Secondary depth: Depth in the secondary could become a major issue for the Sooners, particularly if the injury bug hits. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said he feels good about his first six, which includes cornerbacks Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst, safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris along with nickelbacks Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson.
Behind those six defenders, Simon and Zack Sanchez could provide some equality depth if their youth doesn’t hamper them and former walk-on Jesse Paulsen has earned a backup role at safety. Nonetheless, an untimely injury or two could have the Sooners depending on inexperienced players in the secondary. Again.