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March 22, 2005

Step Right Up

Every year Oklahoma has needed a few players to step up in spring practice, however the need has never been so great as the 2005 addition of spring drills. There are holes to fill everywhere with the departure of an Outland award winner, an NCAA record holding return man, a receiver that owns every record in the Oklahoma books, and oh yeah a Heisman trophy winning quarterback.

That's not to mention players like Vince Carter, Dan Cody, and Brodney Pool. Such players are not easily replaced, even with the talented youth that is currently holding court in Norman.

Over the next few weeks the Sooners will be fully entrenched in the most competitive spring practices of the Bob Stoops era. SoonerScoop.com will be bringing you exclusive interviews, notebooks, chats, depth charts and more throughout spring football.

If you are not a subscriber to SoonerScoop.com please accept our invitation for a 7-day free trial by clicking here. With spring practice starting this week, now is the perfect time to join.

Several players will need to step up for the Sooners to stick to the winning ways that have become so accustomed under head coach Bob Stoops, but who are some of the most crucial players that must evolve into their roles more quickly than others?

New offensive ideas?

At the top of the most important player in any sport, is a quarterback on a football team. So it should come as no surprise when it's noted that the need for any of three talented quarterbacks to step up is at the top of the spring's priorities.

In past years, the coaching staff rarely tipped their hand about a quarterback playing above the rest but there was usually some clear indication due to either repetitions or just performance that made it clear who the man for the job was. This year the good money is on junior Paul Thompson, and redshirt freshman Rhett Bomar. However, that's not to forget the talents of one of the nation's top quarterbacks from the class of 2003, Tommy Grady.

Prior to his two season-ending knee surgeries there was hope that the Sooners could use Jason White to open up the offense with several formations and plays that could be used for the Sooners to put his mobile feet to work. After the injuries the Sooners made changes again and allowed him to use his vastly improved passing to move the Sooners offense through two prolific years of offense.

Now with the battle between Thompson, Bomar, and Grady it comes time to see which idea actually is favored. Thompson and Bomar can do many of the option and bootleg plays that White began to use in the 2001 Red River Shootout prior to his injury. Meanwhile Grady might be the most natural passer of the lot and would be happy to step up and take the reigns of a guy throwing the ball 35 times a game.

What the playbook may look like may depend on what quarterback steps up to take control of the offense itself.

Stop the deep ball!

There are times when a team just has your number. Then again there are times when deep passes are raining like boos for an Orange Bowl halftime show. This was the case on Jan. 4 against the USC Trojans, as the Sooners couldn't find an answer to one bomb after another launched by Heisman trophy winner Matt Leinart.

The Sooners lost both starting safeties, and while some may call this a blessing in disguise after a rugged performance in the national title game there is nothing that can replace experience. Players like Tony Cade, Brett Bowers, and Jason Carter will get plenty of reps at the safety position as the only three on scholarship that are currently on campus.

All three bring talent to the table, while Cade is the ferocious hitter with a nasty streak Bowers is a ball-hawking center fielder who could help the Sooners with their down numbers in interceptions. Then of course there is Carter who was one of Oklahoma's prize recruits a in the class of 2002 but as of yet has not fulfilled his promise. Carter brings to the table an ability to cover receivers that is probably unmatched by his peers, yet another talented safety who brings a different talents to the table.

Whose going to protect the new QB?

The left tackle position looks to have been nailed down by potential All-American Davin Joseph. Once upon a time Merv Johnson, long-time Sooner coach and confidant said Joseph could go down as one of the best to ever wear the Crimson and Cream and until last year that promise seemed unfulfilled. However, after the season in which the man next to him, Jammal Brown, took home the Outland trophy offensive line coach Kevin Wilson still publicly stated that Joseph might be the best lineman he had.

On the other side becomes a real question with the competition likely to come down to Akim Millington and Brandon Keith. While Millington is going into his sophomore season, Keith has not yet arrived on campus. Obviously the extra chance for reps and going into his second set of spring practices gives Millington an edge. However, it's unclear whether or not Millington will step up and become the player his talent indicates he could be.

At the other three positions, don't be surprised to see Kelvin Chaisson get a lengthy look at center, with Chris Bush replacing him at left guard. At right guard figures to be a massive cluster of possible contestants including J.D. Quinn, and Bret Rayl. Aside from Joseph there may not be a single position that is locked in, yet another piece of what makes this year's spring practices so interesting.

Pass Rushers wanted

It's rare in Oklahoma's history that a pair of bookends on either line have played together as long, and been as successful as Dan Cody, and Jonathan Jackson. Now Big 12 quarterbacks may sleep easier with the loss of the two Sooner greats, but a player arguably more talented than either still remains.

Larry Birdine may be Oklahoma's most prototypical player on campus, not named Adrian Peterson. After some serious smack talk prior to the national championship game, Birdine comes into the spring with something to prove as the new star at defensive end as well as shaking off a sub-par performance in the game itself. If Birdine can consistently show the talent that provided some real moments of brilliance over the past few seasons he can quickly vault himself among the nation's elite defensive ends.

At the other end there is some question between Calvin Thibodeaux, who is returning from a knee injury last fall, and C.J. Ah You who is one of Oklahoma's three mid-term enrollments. Thibodeaux looked ready to emerge as a real playmaker last season before his injury and Ah You has been a part of a division one program - BYU - prior to his stint at Snow junior college.

This is forgetting promising young players like John Williams, and the very highly recruited Alonzo Dotson. Both could come out and emerge as real threats to the previous three's playing time.

Replacing the best

There is no way to describe the loss of players like Mark Clayton, Mark Bradley, Brandon Jones, and Will Peoples. The four rank in the top 15 for Oklahoma in nearly every receiving category and helped lead Oklahoma to a few of the most prolific offensive seasons in the school's illustrious history.

With players like Travis Wilson and Jejuan Rankins there is talented experience, but beyond the two seniors there is a combined zero catches among the rest of the receivers.

There are high hopes for redshirt freshmen Quentin Chaney and Lendy Holmes but until they are seen in live action, even in practice, it's hard to determine just what their contributions might be to the 2005 season. Chaney's great size could push him towards early playing time, but Holmes is explosive with the ball in his hands and also will be highly competitive for playing time.

With undoubtedly the best receiver class in Oklahoma history on it's way to Norman this summer, don't be surprised to see a hungry group of young receivers aware that an impression needs to be made.

These are just some of the key battles that will be taking place over the next month in Norman. If you're not already a member don't miss out on all the exclusive info from SoonerScoop.com to make sure you're up to date with all the comings and goings of the most crucial Spring practices in the last decade.


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