, Muskogee, OK

April 12, 2013

Plenty of storylines in Sooners’ spring game

By John Shinn
CNHI News Service

— NORMAN – Oklahoma will pull back the curtain at 2 p.m. today at Owen Field. For the first time since the loss to Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, the Sooners will be on the field for all eyes to see.

The spring game will have some obvious differences from how the Sooners ended to 2012 season. New quarterbacks are the most evident transition, but there should be several matters worth eyeing this afternoon.

Here are the most important things to watch:

• Which quarterback is making the best decisions: Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight all provide mobility and elusiveness OU’s never really had over the last 15 years. Ignore that today. They’ll be wearing blue jerseys and cannot be hit, so breaking a half-hearted tackle attempt isn’t worth awing over. Which quarterback can deliver the ball to open receivers is the question the coaching staff wants answered. Pay attention to which one does or doesn’t throw the ball into double coverage; does or doesn’t plant his back foot and gets rid of the ball; does or doesn’t throw the ball away.

The one that makes the best decisions today is the leader in the race to replace Landry Jones. The ones that don’t are fighting for second place.

• Can the linebackers cover slot receivers: It’s a question that didn’t get an answer last season. OU went with a defensive-back scheme against the four-wide receiver offenses in the Big 12 Conference. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has vowed to keep at least one linebacker on the field under those circumstances and would like to use two as much as possible. Those linebackers must be able to cover slot receivers, or at least tackle them quickly after catching the ball, for them to be used in those situations. Today will provide a good test.

• What does “knock-’em-back” football mean: OU’s defensive line has said since spring practice began that this is the style it will employ in 2013. Slogans, however, do not win games or improve defenses.

Watch to see if the line of scrimmage is actually moving backward after the ball is snapped. A huge element that was missing from OU’s defense last season was disruptive plays from the defensive line. If the Sooners are really capable of playing “knock-’em-back” football, then quarterback pressures and negative running plays should be apparent today.

• How much is the tight end used: Today could really be a showcase event for the tight ends. Fullback Trey Millard won’t play much, if any. A lot of those passes he caught last year will be available for them. Pay particular attention to Taylor McNamara. He redshirted last season after suffering a torn labrum early in the season. It’s a lot easier to break in new quarterbacks with a big target getting open over the middle.

It might not be a prelude of what’s to come in the regular season, but OU wants to develop the position as a passing threat. It needs to just to keep defenses honest. Today is a very good opportunity to show it is possible.

• How deep OU is at running back: Damien Williams and Brennan Clay aren’t expected to do much today. They’re seniors and showed last season they can be workhorse running backs. The guys to watch today are redshirt freshmen Alex Ross and David Smith. Both are 200-plus pound running backs that have drawn raves in the spring because of their size and speed. They’re going to compete with Williams and Clay for carries this season. Today is their chance to show if that’s the case.

Also, today’s a good day to see if an offensive position has been found for senior running back Roy Finch. The 5-foot-7, 167-pound senior only had seven rushing attempts and two receptions last season. He spent more time on the field as a kick returner than anything else. The Sooners need to get more out of him. Today could show if the coaching staff has figured out how.