Phillips, Tapper will be key for Sooners

NORMAN, Okla.-- Bob Stoops has made changes in the coaching staff, the offense and defense are transforming and there’s an underlying vibe of unrest among some Sooners’ fans.

It’s an important season at Oklahoma.

The Sooners named redshirt freshman Trevor Knight their starting quarterback deciding the risk was worth the potential reward. Knight is one of several players OU is counting on this season that could define their success in 2013. Here are five other players who will have a major impact this season:

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips: The sophomore might be the most important player on this list. He’s supremely talented but hasn’t shown the will to be dominant that made Gerald McCoy and Tommie Harris great. If he can develop into a difference maker in the middle of OU’s defense, the Sooners’ chances of slowing down Big 12 offenses increase tremendously. If not, OU could be in trouble.

Linebacker Corey Nelson: It’s a make-or-break season for the senior. The Sooners are counting on him to be a leader on their defense and, most importantly, the best linebacker on the squad. Nelson needs to become a playmaker again after a disappointing junior season. OU’s success on defense will depend on its linebackers and Nelson needs to be the best of the bunch.

Defensive end Charles Tapper: Bob Stoops has raved about Tapper during the preseason as the sophomore appears poised to emerge as a key part of OU’s defense. His limited football background isn’t holding him back and his unusual athletic ability might help him become a star. OU desperately needs a consistent pass rush from its defensive line and Tapper could be the guy with his combination of strength, speed and quickness.

Fullback Trey Millard: Expect the role to expand for Millard, arguably OU’s best player. With OU using more quarterback in the run game, the senior becomes even more valuable as his versatility will allow the Sooners to transform their offensive attack on the fly. He’s a devastating blocker, quality pass catcher and stellar runner. He will be a difference maker in OU’s offense, one way or another.

Receiver Sterling Shepard: Shepard could become critical for the Sooners’ passing game as opposing defenses focus on Jalen Saunders. He was impressive as a true freshman and could be ready to break out as a sophomore. His maturity, competitiveness and ball skills should help him take advantage of the additional space created by Knight’s running ability.