OU position groups to improve: No. 4

Spring football is just over the horizon.

Oklahoma is coming off a banner 2013 campaign featuring an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win over SEC power Alabama. Yet, the Sooners have several position groups they need to address if they hope to make a national title run in 2014. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the top-five position groups that need to improve during OU’s spring practices. On Tuesday, we continue the series with the Sooners running backs at No. 4.

The breakdown

On campus: Keith Ford, So.; Alex Ross, So.; David Smith, So.

Summer arrivals: Joe Mixon, Fr.; Samaje Perine, Fr.

Summary: Oklahoma is replacing three departed seniors -- Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch -- who rushed for 4,824 yards during their careers in crimson and cream with a group full of sophomores and freshmen. The Sooners built their running game on the shoulders of the departed seniors for the past three seasons, a realization which brings concern and hope. The concern is about the lack of experience on the current roster, while the hope is from the understanding that Finch and Clay handled the burden of OU’s running game as sophomores.

Ford is the favorite to win the job after forcing himself into the lineup as a true freshman despite sitting alongside three veteran runners in the film room. Ford issues with fumbling the ball, but he averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a freshman and brings a tough, slashing running style to the table. Ford can prove his fumble troubles are behind him this spring and remove all doubt, while making himself the clear favorite to get the bulk of the carries in 2014.

Ross has a size/speed ratio that is difficult to match but has struggled with the miscellaneous duties of lining up at the running back position for the Sooners. If he ever begins to excel in his duties without the football, he’ll get more opportunities to show his special skills with the ball in his hands. And if it happens this spring, he could secure himself a role before elite recruits Mixon and Perine arrive in the summer.

Smith, who is well-liked by his teammates and respected for his commitment to the program, faces a long road to making a major impact in the backfield. This spring provides him the opportunity to change that.

Mixon will step on campus as the most versatile running back on the roster. He can run like an elite running back and catches the ball like a receiver. He could make an immediate impact.

Perine brings a tough, physical runner into the mix. He’s been quietly overlooked since committing to the Sooners last spring, but he joined Mixon in the ESPN 300 and could be the perfect complement to his fellow 2014 signee.

The list

No. 5: Tight ends