Oklahoma begins spring practice on Saturday as the Sooners officially start the post-Landry Jones era.
Let's take a look at five questions facing Bob Stoops and his squad before playing their spring game on April 13.
1. Who will be the new face of the offense?
The Sooners will have their first quarterback competition in six years with veteran Landry Jones moving onto the NFL. No matter who wins the job, coordinator Josh Heupel will utilize his signal-caller's athletic ability on designed runs. Junior Blake Bell, freshman Trevor Knight and sophomore Kendal Thompson are battling for the starting job, and all three of them can run effectively. Still, while it's a nice luxury to have a mobile QB, the primary focus this spring is which player can most effectively throw the football. We saw just how much damage Bell was able to do over the last two seasons when OU would run the “Belldozer” package, especially near the goal line. He has 24 career rushing scores. Expect more of the same next fall when necessary, but Bell's passing ability seems to be overlooked. He completed 14 of 19 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in last year's spring game when he outplayed Drew Allen, and he'll have a plethora of talented receivers to work with as well as a deep backfield led by Damien Williams to help him out on the ground. There might very well be a competition at QB, but I can't see Bell losing the job barring a disastrous offseason showing. He has only thrown 20 passes in his career but he knows this offense inside and out.
2. Will the revamped defense learn quickly?
US PRESSWIREAll-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin is the only returning impact defender for OU.
Coordinator Mike Stoops must find a way to stop some of the highest-scoring offenses in the Big 12. There's no question that the Sooners were embarassed defensively against West Virginia and Texas A&M, so OU wants to have a more flexible and aggressive defense next fall. But that's easier said than done. Creating big plays (OU forced just 16 turnovers last fall) and negative-yard plays (the Sooners had just 53 tackles for loss in 2012) will be the focus starting in spring ball. And that will start, according to Stoops, with being in position to be more aggressive rather than staying back and being more reactive. The other problem area for OU last year was third-down defense, as the Sooners allowed opponents to convert 42 percent of the time. Seven defensive starters are gone, so there will be plenty of competition as the Sooners try to avoid a third consecutive three-loss season. All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin is really the only returning impact defender.
3. Who will get the bulk of the carries in the backfield?
Not many really knew who Damien Williams was when he decided to head to Norman from Arizona Western. The main focus was on Dominique Whaley, Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. But the junior college transfer went on to win the starting job and finish with 946 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. There will be stiff competition for carries once again, though, as the senior Williams will try to fend off Clay, redshirt freshman Alex Ross and incoming freshman Keith Ford. If Williams and Clay continue to give the Sooners their expected production, though, OU could think about redshirting Ford.
4. Is there an early enrollee or two that could make an instant impact?
Four early enrollees will participate in spring drills, with Canadian Josiah St. John being the most intriguing. He was the top JUCO offensive tackle in the country and should be a valuable backup. Ahmad Thomas, meanwhile, could immediately provide production at safety as the Sooners look to become more aggressive on defense. And end D.J. Ward could be disruptive off the edge against the run and pass.
5. What about defensive tackle?
The Sooners have only three defensive tackles that are participating in spring drills, and the rest of them will arrive over the summer. JUCO transfer Quincy Russell could eventually earn a starting job, but Jordan Phillips, Torrea Peterson and Jordan Wade will get their chance this spring. Phillips has the most experience of that trio. But recruits Kerrick Huggins, Charles Walker and Matthew Romar could find their way into the mix as well when they arrive later in the offseason.