The Norman Transcript

April 12, 2014

Red-White Game won’t showcase all the starters

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — It has been a bit over four months since Oklahoma played in front of a real audience. That will change at 2 p.m. today when the Sooners take the field for the Red-White game.

However, this won’t be anywhere near a full preview of what OU intends to put on the field in August. At least 11 potential starters, including wide receiver Sterling Shepard, tight end Blake Bell, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, offensive linemen Tyrus Thompson and Adam Shead, and safety Julian Wilson, won’t play due to injuries.

Instead, the scrimmage will be an afternoon establishing roles and getting a leg up in several position battles that have brewed throughout the spring.

“Just development and developing depth, players that haven’t played as much showing us and prove to us daily that you’re ready to play at a consistent level, that we can put you on the field and trust you,” OU coach Bob Stoops said when asked what he wanted to see today.

· Quarterbacks Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen: Trevor Knight is the established starter, but there is a much-needed competition between Thomas and Hansen. There has to be one. Knight left two games due to injury last season. The Sooners’ coaching staff believes a No. 2 quarterback that can play in critical situations is a necessity.

Thomas is clearly the leader in this race. He should be. He’s coming out of redshirt and today will mark Hansen’s 14th practice.

“They’re all young and because of that they make some mistakes, some simple things and simple plays that you’d like them to make sometimes, but they just need more time on task,” OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “They’re getting better every day, recognizing defenses, understanding what we’re doing and they’re making the strides we want them to.”

· Wide receivers Dannon Cavil and Jordan Smallwood: Both are coming out of redshirt and need to establish themselves heading into the fall. Cavil and Smallwood are both the type of receivers the Sooners would like to use. Cavil is 6-foot-4 and Smallwood is 6-2 and both are over 220 pounds.

There are several more receivers competing for playing. K.J. Young and Derrick Woods are in that group.

“Those guys are all athletes. They’ve shown real flashes that they can do things, but now it’s about building up a competitive ground that competes every day and make plays,” receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “We’ll kinda see who rises to the top as we go through spring.”

But the Sooners have been actively pursuing bigger receivers on the recruiting trail the last two years.

· Dakota Austin, Stavon Taylor and Cortez Johnson at cornerback: This is a true competition battle for the cornerback spot Aaron Colvin vacated.

“They’re getting better. All three of them have improvement to make,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “They’re getting better. They’re working at it and we just need more consistency.”

This one should be easy to watch. When corners make mistakes, big plays are the product. All indications are Austin and Taylor are a little ahead of Johnson.

One will wind up as Zack Sanchez’s backup on the other side.

· Alex Ross and Keith Ford at running back: Both of them will play next season, so it isn’t like a poor performance will relegate one to the bench. Ford showed how explosive and physical he can be as freshman. Ross has drawn raves throughout the spring. Both have the frames to run between the tackles, which is the essential element the Sooners are looking for.

Two things to look for today: ball security and pass protection.

“What’s going to keep you on the field is ball security and keeping people off the quarterback,” running backs coach Cale Gundy said. “That’s going to give you a chance to stay on the field and do other things.”

· Eric Striker and Devante Bond at outside linebacker: Is Striker really battling for a position? Well, yes.

Striker was great as an edge pass rusher last season, but he has to prove he can play the run and cover to be an every-down linebacker. The Sooners have tried him at the nickel spot, which is essentially the strong side linebacker this spring. Bond is more of an every-down linebacker at 235 pounds.

“Adding Devante Bond this spring was a plus,” linebackers coach Tim Kish said. “He’s certainly going to provide a lot of depth for us. He’s going to have an opportunity to compete to play in certain situations. He’ll have a role. Everybody’s going to have a role and it’ll be a good situation for everybody.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

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