Sooners shoot for more than Big 12 title
August 24th, 2011 By Corey Chavous
Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops (pictured) looks to lead his Sooner squad to its first national championship since 2000. The team, winners of its last two bowl games, is ranked #1 in the 2011 AP preseason poll.
The Sooners return one of the nation’s most explosive duos in QB #12 Landry Jones (6’4, 230, RS-JR) and WR #85 Ryan Broyles (5’11, 187, SR). Jones has prototypical size, but more importantly he’s tough to blitz. He processes information quickly and can make most of the throws with ease. Jones suffers from streakiness at times and he needs to be more consistent with his fundamentals.
Broyles provides an extreme security blanket and he’s really an extension of the running game with the multiple bubble screens he gets from the slot. While he’s still maintained some of his freshman year-gear, he’s more of the team’s intermediate and RAC (run after catch) receiver at this point. Teams often choose to double team him in the slot (see Mizzou ’10). Jones will also have several other viable targets in TE #82 James Hanna (6’4, 237 SR), WR #4 Kenny Stills (6’0, 181, Soph) and senior #24 Dejuan Miller (6’4, 216, SR). Hanna proved to have potential as a vertical threat with ball skills and Stills earned Frosh All-American honors. Miller may be the wild card of the group and he could very well provide the size at the position lacking since the departure of former All-American Malcolm Kelly.
The running game lost the team’s stud in DeMarco Murray but do return pint-sized dynamo #22 Roy Finch (5’8, 173, Soph). Finch showed flashes but could be displaced by true freshman #23 Brandon Williams (5’11, 189). Williams should provide a speed element for the offense.
The offensive line is led by two juniors who provide stability at inside spots. C #61 Ben Habern (6’2, 291) has started quite a bit the last two years and wins with quickness inside. RG #75 Tyler Evans (6’4, 326, JR) is a road-grader, but he could be challenged by the up-and-coming Adam Shead.
Two senior offensive tackles provide a security blanket for Jones. #76 Jarvis Jones (6’6, 308, SR) played both tackle spots as the team rotated linemen in 2010. To grab a full-time starting spot, he needs to do a better job of cutting off opponents at the point of attack. If not, he’ll be rotating again. LT #59 Donald Stephenson (6’5, 303, SR) is a quick-footed athlete who adjusts well on the move. He could reach All-Conference status if he can begin to open his hips with more fluidity. Too often he exhibits poor hand placement.
The team needs its defensive line to step up. Defensive end Jeremy Beal’s departure leaves a big void on the edge. It will be on DE #84 Frank Alexander (6’3, 259, SR) to take over the top spot. Alexander gets low enough and shows a feel for attacking opponents with some hand usage, but he plays a little light and doesn’t display an elite first step off the ball. He accounted for 13 TFLs in 2010.
His end mate #56 Ronnell Lewis (6’2, 237, JR) is still adjusting to the DE spot, but he provides a speed rush element. DT #97 Jamarkus McFarland (6’1, 294, JR) was one of the nation’s top recruits at the prep level. He provides the leverage at the point of attack and some quickness off the snap, but he has yet to develop into a legitimate force. This should be his breakout year.
The linebacking corps has been devastated by the untimely death of MLB Austin Box and the recent news that WLB #28 Travis Lewis (6’2, 233, SR) will miss eight weeks with a foot injury. Lewis is the team’s leader and it will be important for him to regain his above average speed upon returning to the lineup. He provides a coverage element that will be sorely missed in the team’s first month. His replacement #7 Corey Nelson (6’1, 221, Soph) may be the group’s best athlete and he is coming off a strong spring. His football IQ will be tested until Lewis returns to action.
Both safeties (Jonathan Nelson and Quinton Carter) were drafted in this April’s NFL Draft, leaving a huge void in the middle of the field. The team will likely use SLB #1 Tony Jefferson (6’0, 208, Soph.) all over the place. He lived up to his pre-collegiate status by earning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2010. He can cover, blitz and generally wraps well to get players on the ground. Junior FS #30 Javon Harris (5’11, 203) has similar size to Nelson, but his cover skills will be tested in the pass-happy conference.
The Sooners received a big break with the recent news that starting CB #32 Jamell Fleming (5’11, 191, SR) would return to the team. He can time his run blitzes, finish plays on the ball (19 passes defensed) and shows good overall speed. He may be the team’s best playmaker on this side of the ball. He and junior CB #6 Demontre Hurst (5’9, 172) combine to form a good tandem on the outside. Hurst is undersized, very competitive and gets his hands on a lot of balls.
PK #17 Jimmy Stevens (5’5, 172, SR) is the team’s short range artist and missed just four attempts last year. He may lose his job to #43 Patrick O’Hara (6’0, 192, JR). O’Hara could give the team more confidence in the kicking game if he can stay on the field.
P #36 Tress Way (6’1, 221, JR) uses his above average size to not only punt, but also serve as the team’s kickoff specialist. He’s even taken his share of field goals during his career.
Broyles has gradually lost the punch he showed as a returner in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Although he has scored twice on returns in the past, he seemed content with fair catching a lot of punts as his role within the Oklahoma offense increased in 2010. He averaged nearly 16 yds/return in 2009. Don't be surprised if the team rotates returners early in the year.
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