State of the position: running back

In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up before signing day on Feb. 5. After kicking the series off with quarterbacks on Monday, we continue with running backs.

Starter/contributors: Keith Ford (sophomore)

The lone non-senior to see significant carries in OU’s backfield in 2013, Ford could have been a bigger contributor if he hadn’t suffered a case of fumblitis as he was starting to get into the rotation. He had at least five carries against Texas and Kansas and was emerging as a main threat at running back until his fumble against the Jayhawks. He never regained the coaches' trust until the Allstate Sugar Bowl when he resurfaced with the starters. He should be a main contributor in 2014 with his physical running style and decisive cuts. He had 23 carries for 134 yards and one touchdown.

On the cusp: Alex Ross (sophomore), David Smith (sophomore)

Ross is another talented youngster who could play a major role in OU’s backfield in 2014, although it’s clear Ford passed him on the depth chart last season. Ross brings a combination of size and speed that is hard to duplicate but he needs to bring consistency and gain the trust of the coaching staff before he becomes a guy the coaches can build a game plan around.

Smith didn’t have a carry as a redshirt freshman so he’ll have to take his game to another level to carve himself a role in the offense.

On the recruiting trail: Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson)

Mixon and Perine, two members of the ESPN 300, could become a nightmare duo for Big 12 defenses. Perine is a physical runner who will make defenders pay while running the ball and Mixon’s slippery running style and versatility could get him on the field alongside his fellow running backs. If both freshmen are ready to play -- meaning they’re ready to handle pass blocking responsibilities and everything outside of carrying the football -- the Sooners could have a deeply talented and young group.

Overall Grade: C

It’s going to be nice for running backs coach Cale Gundy to have a meeting room full of potential stars this fall. But none of them have accomplished anything as a Big 12 running back. Can they carry the load? Can they bring durability, dependability and versatility to OU’s offense? Can they make game-changing plays when the Sooners need a spark? Those questions are unanswered. Upside has never gained a first down … but it would be a surprise to watch the Sooners’ grade remain below a B at this time next year. There’s too much talent on the roster.