Big 12 spring practice preview: Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sooners
2009: 8-5 (5-3)

Landry Jones lined up under center with the first-string offense for the start of Oklahoma’s spring season Monday. Yet despite tossing 26 touchdowns and throwing for 3,198 yards in 2009, he doesn’t feel like he’s earned anything in Norman, Okla.

Last year, he got on the field because of Sam Bradford’s right shoulder injury. This year, he plans on winning the competition with redshirt freshman Drew Allen — even though all expectations are that Jones will win the job.

“It was Sam’s last year,” Jones told The Norman Transcript. “I earned the backup job last year; that’s all I really earned. This spring, I’m still trying to go out and earn that starting spot.”

Sooners head coach Bob Stoops saw the progress Jones made by the end of last season, as the signal caller led the team to victories over Oklahoma State and Stanford. Considering injuries to the wide receivers and offensive line, Jones’ progression is almost miraculous.

“I think as the season went along, he got a lot more comfortable, which is natural,” Stoops said. “The more snaps you get, the more experience you get and the more help you’re getting. It all resulted in pretty positive play.”

After proving that he could make all the throws necessary to win in the Big 12, Jones will now work to become more decisive in the pocket — specifically on the road — and a better decision-maker in order to cut down on his 14 interceptions.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will certainly be a happy man if Jones gets better play from his receivers and offensive line next fall.

Ryan Broyles was about the lone bright spot at wideout last year, hauling in 89 balls for 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore. He led the Big 12 in scoring among non-kickers in addition to being the best punt returner in the conference. Stoops did see improvement in the rest of the receiving group late in the season, particularly in 6-4, 224-pound Dejuan Miller. Miller caught six passes for 84 yards in the Sun Bowl win, and of his 36 catches on the season, 33 came after the start of conference play. Jaz Reynolds and Brandon Caleb will also see targets from Jones, and keep an eye on Kenny Stills, who will try to crack the rotation.

The Sooners played without many of their seniors on the offensive front last year because of injuries, and Stoops is confident in the returning young linemen because of their game experience. Junior Jarvis Jones and sophomore Ben Habern are expected to return to the field after spring break next week, and tight ends Gabe Ikard and Eric Mensik have both made the switch to offensive line in order to provide some depth on the front. Mensik was solid as the right tackle in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State, while Stoops is excited about Ikard’s strength. The line was so decimated by injuries last year that tight end Brody Eldridge was forced to play guard and center to fill in. Stoops believes this unit can be solid in the fall.

Can running back DeMarco Murray go through an entire season — heck, a whole spring — without injury? The oft-injured back had his best season as a redshirt freshman in 2007, averaging 6 yards per carry and running for 13 touchdowns. Since then? Injuries and disappointing play. With Chris Brown gone, the Sooners desperately need a big year from Murray, whose 35 rushing touchdowns rank ninth on OU’s all-time list.

Normally, when a defense loses linemen Gerald McCoy, Auston English and Demarcus Granger, defensive backs Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson and linebackers Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton, it’s cause for concern.

Not in Norman, as plenty of talent is still available for defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Junior Travis Lewis, who led the Sooners in tackles his first two seasons, heads a better than advertised linebacking crew. Tom Wort returns from a knee injury and is expected to compete for the starting job in the middle, while Ronnell Lewis will try to fend off Austin Box for the spot at strongside. The defensive line will feature Jeremy Beal, who led OU with 11 sacks last season, a healthy Adrian Taylor returning to his defensive tackle spot and junior Frank Alexander. Sophomore Jamarcus McFarland is expected to compete for the start at nose guard. In the secondary, Quinton Carter and Sam Proctor remain the starters at free safety and strong safety, respectively, while sophomore Demontre Hurst and senior Jonathan Nelson are expected to get the call at the corners.

While it may take awhile for the defense to gel, by the midway point of the season OU should be as solid as in years past. Will that be enough to put aside a forgettable 2009 season and set its sights once again on a BCS berth, or will this squad be accepting an invite to another minor bowl game?

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