NORMAN — A new season begins for Oklahoma on Saturday, and with that, comes a new depth chart.
OU coach Lincoln Riley released his Week 1 two-deep on Wednesday, answering myriad questions about who is expected to start and who is expected to back-up against Missouri State.
Perhaps the biggest revelation was freshman offensive lineman Anton Harrison earning the starting nod at left tackle.
“Anton Harrison has had a tremendous camp,” said Riley on Tuesday during his weekly press conference.
Harrison, a 6-foot-5 true freshman from Washington, D.C., will play alongside left guard Marquis Hayes, center Creed Humphrey, right guard Tyrese Robinson and right tackle Adrian Ealy.
Another notable depth-chart decision was junior T.J. Pledger securing the first-string running back slot outright. He will be relieved by freshmen Marcus Major and Seth McGowan.
“T.J. Pledger is setting the pace right now in that room,” Riley said. “He’s really practiced well. He’s been our most consistent player. He’s in the best shape he’s been in here, healthy, just really doing some nice things.”
Charleston Rambo unsurprisingly will start as one of two outside receivers. Marshall graduate transfer Obi Obialo will join him at the Y slot. Riley is undecided with his remaining outside receiver, noting it will either be sophomore Theo Wease or senior Theo Howard, a graduate transfer from UCLA.
Defensively, junior college transfer Perrion Winfrey has locked up the starting nose guard spot and sophomore Brian Asamoah enters the lineup as the starting weakside linebacker.
Tre Brown and Jaden Davis will start at cornerback, while Delarrin Turner-Yell and Pat Fields will start at safety.
Davis received the nod over junior Tre Norwood, who suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in fall camp last year. Norwood is healthy again and will likely rotate in often in the secondary.
Riley said it's been a tricky offseason to choose starters with the limited practice time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The competitions have certainly been there, but they’ve definitely been different,” Riley said. “It’s been more difficult to conduct competitions and try to get guys enough reps and make up for lost time.”
OU’s depth chart is likely to fluctuate with the program’s total active COVID cases unknown.
• No update on suspended players: OU receiver Trejan Bridges, defensive end Ronnie Perkins and running back Rhamondre Stevenson are expected to miss Saturday’s season opener due to a suspension stemming from last season.
Asked if there was any update on their status, Riley said there wasn’t one but said it could come at any point.
Riley also remained consistent with his policy of not publicly speaking about players that have opted out for the 2020 season.
OU defensive tackle Jalen Redmond has reportedly opted out of the season, according to ouinsider.com. While Riley did not confirm the report, Redmond was not included on OU’s Week 1 roster.
• No fans, no excuse: OU defensive end Isaiah Thomas isn’t overly concerned with capacity-reduced stadiums this season.
OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch helped Thomas, and other players, keep everything in perspective with less fans expected to be in the stands than usual in 2020.
“I don't think that's going to be a big problem for us,” Thomas said. “Coach Grinch actually mentioned to us [Wednesday] that in high school we didn't play in front of 80,000 every Friday. And for the [junior college] kids, they didn't play in front of 80,000 people every Saturday. So we can't act like this is new to us.”
Thomas, who is likely to see plenty of playing time on Saturday at defensive end, said OU has to play to its standard and not use the lack of noise as an excuse for poor performance.
“We can't look to the fans for them to hype us up or anything like that,” he said. “So, I think we'll be fine and we'll adapt to it.”
• Learning from his mistakes: Sooners nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles left OU’s defense shorthanded early against LSU in last season’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl.
Radley-Hiles was ejected during the game's first half for a hit on running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire that was deemed targeting.
The Sooners’ 63-28 loss was enough of a sour note for the team to enter the offseason, but Radley-Hiles has also had to address the targeting penalty as part of his growth from a year ago.
“I got to take a step back and reflect on a lot of things, just the LSU game, just how things ended,” he said. “But I believe as a man, you have to take your Ls and turn them into lessons and I feel as if I did that. I understand where I was wrong and I've grown from it. I've become a better player and overall, just a better man from that experience.”
Radley-Hiles is expected to start the season at nickelback on Saturday.