NORMAN ? So far, the biggest offseason storylines for the Oklahoma football team have revolved around what the Sooners are doing off the field.
Between Parrish Cobb’s arrest following three armed robbery cases in Waco, Texas, Baker Mayfield’s arrest after fleeing and resisting in Arkansas and Joe Mixon’s continuing saga, the headlines haven’t been kind to OU.
But with two and a half weeks until Oklahoma’s spring practice begins, we’ll break down a couple of on-field storylines surrounding the team, beginning with the offensive side of the ball.
When Lincoln Riley got to Oklahoma in 2015, he immediately had to fill a depleted quarterback room. Mayfield obviously controlled the starting job last year, but the backup options were sparse if anything happened to QB1. As the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster, Austin Kendall was the automatic backup, and the true freshman got some work in during garbage time of blowout games. It wasn’t ideal, but if Mayfield went down, the Sooners at least had a fill-in with some game experience.
This time around, the Sooners have a robust rotation behind Mayfield. Not only does Kendall have another season of maturity, but Kyler Murray is finally available after sitting out a season as mandated by NCAA transfer rules. The former Texas A&M quarterback is spending most of his time playing baseball this spring, but he will play in the Sooners’ spring game.
OU also has another new quarterback on campus in Chris Robison, an early enrollee from Mesquite (Texas) Horn. The freshman is a pro-style quarterback who appears to be a charismatic player, not unlike Mayfield.
Provided he doesn’t pursue a professional baseball career after this season, Murray is Mayfield’s likely backup, with Kendall and Robison competing for the third spot.
With Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon departed for the NFL, the Sooners will be looking for the next round of playmakers to fill their roles. It’s impossible to replicate what those three did, but there may be previously untapped potential that could flourish in the upcoming season.
Of the returning players, wide receivers Jeffery Mead and Mykel Jones showed flashes of explosive ability last season and could have bigger roles this year. Even though he was hampered by injury for part of the year, wide receiver Mark Andrews built on his freshman year’s success and finished with 489 yards and seven touchdowns. A fully healthy Andrews could have an even bigger role in 2017. In the backfield, rising sophomore Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson, returning from a neck injury suffered in the 2016 preseason, could benefit from the departure of both Mixon and Perine.
Coach Bob Stoops and his staff also brought in an impressive haul for the 2017 recruiting class, including three four-star wide receivers and two four-star running backs. Of the incoming wide receivers, junior college addition Marquise Brown looks to have capabilities similar to Westbrook with his size and speed, but early enrollee Cedarian Lamb had one of the most productive high school careers in Texas high school football.
The running back corps should also be bolstered by another junior college transfer in Marcelias Sutton. Originally from eastern North Carolina, Sutton (5-10, 195-pounds) played at Lackawanna for two seasons. Along with Sutton, early enrollee Trey Sermon also has a good chance to enter the Sooners’ rotation early. At 6-1, 221 pounds, Sermon, ranked as Rivals’ No. 10 running back in his class, is a big back, capable of playing every down.
The usual suspects
While the Sooners search for the next wave of playmakers, there’s one big constant holding over from 2016: the offensive line. Every starter along the line is back, including center Erick Wren, who was given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. Left tackle Orlando Brown, who’s started every game in the last two seasons, also decided to come back for his redshirt junior year.
Starters Ben Powers, Dru Samia and Bobby Evans also are returning, along with top reserve Jonathan Alvarez. Cody Ford, who started three games at left guard before breaking his leg against Ohio State, also should be back and fully healthy.
Last season, the offensive line helped Perine become OU’s all-time leading rusher. The unit also kept Mayfield’s sacks to a minimum and aided the running backs in averaging 236.8 rushing yards.
OU is adding a couple of offensive linemen in this upcoming class, including Louisiana product Adrian Ealy, but it’ll be tough to break into a rotation of veterans.