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OU Football: Big shoes to fill in ’18

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Kyler Murray, left, and Austin Kendall, center, will duke it out to be OU’s starting quarterback in 2018.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Sooners have some mighty big shoes to fill on offense in 2018. Three All-Americans will test their talents in the NFL—Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, Mackey Award-winner Mark Andrews, and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Andrews and Brown decided to forego their senior years in Norman to enter the NFL Draft.

Sooner fans need not worry as they have plenty of skill players and most of the offensive line returning this year.

Juniors Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall will battle for Mayfield’s job, and though many believe Murray has a leg up with a superb performance as the back this year, Kendall has received rave reviews from coaches as he redshirted last year. Kendall was named the Sooners’ Scout Team Player of the Year in ’17. Murray transferred from Texas A&M and had to sit out the 2016 season in Norman due to NCAA transfer rules.

Whoever gets the nod (which likely won’t be revealed until fall camp) will have three starters on the front line to protect him. Although two starters are gone up front, the field is crowded. Center Erick Wren has graduated, but the favorite to snap the pigskin this year is Creed Humphrey, a redshirt freshman from Shawnee. He impressed coaches and teammates when practicing with the first unit last year.

Seniors Dru Samia and Ben Powers return to their guard spots and junior Cody Ford, who has seven starts under his belt, will battle Powers for the left side. Junior Bobby Evans returned to his right tackle slot, although he is rumored to slide to Brown’s position at left tackle. Seniors Alex Dalton and Jonathan Alvarez were sidelined with injuries and received medical redshirts last year. Dalton will make a play for the right guard slot, and Alvarez has experience at left guard and center. Senior Quinn Mittermeier played in 11 games as Evan’s backup.

Last December, Oklahoma also signed four-star prospects Brey Walker, a 6-7, 320 lineman from Southmoore and Tramonda Moore, 6-5, 340, from John Marshall. Walker, was listed as the third-best lineman in the country by Rivals, and Moore No. 2. Moore signed with Oklahoma State two years ago but went to junior college to get his grades up then changed his mind and signed with the Sooners.

Sophomore running backs Rodney Anderson and Trey Sermon return to tote the ball. The duo combined for 62 percent of rushing output in ’17. Anderson came on strong in the last half of the season picking up 1,079 of his 1,161 total yards (and 11 of 13 touchdowns) in the final eight games. Sermon rushed for 744 yards and scored five times for the season. Anderson also caught 17 passes for 281 yards and 5 TDs. Sermon added 16 catches for 139 yards and 2 TDs.

Abdul Adams is rumored to transfer, but if he stays, he will contend for carries with Kennedy Brooks, who redshirted last year, Marcelius Sutton, and P.J. Pledger, a four-star product from Bradenton, Fla. Pledger signed with the Sooners last December.

Another big shoe to fill is that of fullback Dimitri Flowers, who has graduated. He was a steady rock at the fullback slot the past four years. Senior Carson Meier saw some action as Flowers’ backup, and he played in all 14 games last year mostly on special teams. Linebacker Ricky DeBerry, who has seen little time on defense, will battle Meier and Jeremiah Hall for fullback this year.

The receiving corps will be solid with the return of Marquise Brown, Cee Dee Lamb, and Mykel Jones in the wideout slots. Brown was second on the team with 57 grabs, but led with 1,095 yards, and scored 7 TDs. Lamb pulled in 46 aerials for 807 yards and 7 TDs, and Jones caught 16 for 310 yards and a score. Senior Nick Basquine, who played in 11 games in 2016, sat out last year with an injury and should be ready to go this season.

Sophomore Grant Calcaterra filled in nicely for Andrews last year catching 10 passes for 162 yards and three scores. He also proved to be a rugged blocker. Lee Morris is likely to see action behind Calcaterra.

OU’s defense must replace its top tackler, pass rusher, and two safeties. Linebacker Emmanuel Beal (95 stops) and linebacker/end hybrid Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (17.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks) will try to take their talents to the next level. Safeties Steven Parker and Will Johnson graduated. Parker has been a steady presence in the secondary the past four years.

Sophomore Kenneth Murray and junior Caleb Kelly return to the linebacking corps. Murray was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12, and the Football Writers Association of America honored him on its Freshman All-American team. Murray had a tough go of it in the Rose Bowl loss to Georgia as he was often out of position and the Bulldogs rushed for 317 yards. The middle linebacker is the primary run stopper. He still led the Sooners with 9 tackles against the Dawgs.

Kelly logged 56 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered a couple of them last year. He should be the top pass rusher this season. Junior Kenneth Mann, who saw action backing up Ward, should take over that end slot. Look for Mark Jackson to take over for Okoronkwo.

Jon Michael Terry, Curtis Bolton, and Levi Draper will get looks in spring training. Draper redshirted last season after shoulder surgery. OU recently signed a couple of linebackers—three-star prospect Brian Asamoah, and four-star Nik Bonitto. Oklahoma plucked Asamoah from Ohio State’s backyard in Columbus. Bonitto is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Sooners also received a commitment from DaShaun White, who flipped his choice from Texas A&M. White, a four-star, is expected to ink next month.

The front line is a work in progress and should improve with more experience. End D.J. Ward has graduated, but the defense’s interior will welcome back tackles Amani Bledsoe and Marquise Overton as the starters. Du’Vonta Lampkin left early for the NFL Draft, but Neville Gallimore and Dillon Faamatau will see lots of action rotating with Bledsoe and Overton.

The Sooners signed two of the best in-state defensive ends, and both are likely to see action this season—Putnam City’s Ron Tatum and Midwest City’s Jalen Redmond. Tatum flipped his choice from Texas after Lincoln Riley took over as head coach at Oklahoma and Redmond didn’t begin football until his junior year in high school and made an immediate impact for the Bombers. Ronnie Perkins, the sixth-best defensive end from St. Louis, also signed with Oklahoma.

The Sooners should be fine at both corners with the return of junior Parnell Motley and sophomore Tre Norwood. Jordan Parker was a starter before being sidelined with a knee injury early in the season. He should make a push for Norwood’s position. Robert Barnes and Chanse Sylvie are favored to take over the safety slots. Oklahoma signed four defensive backs and received commitments from two more. Most notable among them is Brendan Hadley-Riles, a five-star prospect from Bradenton, Fla.

Austin Seibert returns for his senior season as the Sooners’ primary kicker—punting, scoring and kickoffs. He averaged 42.3 yards punting and was perfect on all 81 PATs but missed on four of his field goal attempts.

The return units didn’t produce big numbers in 2017. Lamb did most of the punt returns and averaged 6 yards a pop. Sutton and Jeff Badet shared kickoff return duties last year. Badet graduated, but Sutton should again be the primary return man. He averaged 21.1 yards last year.

None of the returnees scored a touchdown.

OU likely will be favored to win its fourth consecutive Big 12 championship this year. The Sooners haven’t won four straight conference titles in 31 years (1985-88). This year’s schedule begins with a home-heavy September. The non-conference slate includes some coaches with familiar names in college football.

Lane Kiffin, a former head coach at Tennessee and USC, and offensive coordinator on Alabama’s 2015 national championship team begins his second season at Florida Atlantic. He led the Owls to a 10-3 season in his debut after they went 3-9 the year before. Chip Kelly is returning to college football at UCLA after a couple of unsuccessful stints in the NFL. Before that, he led Oregon to a 46-7 record in four seasons including three Pac-12 titles, and one appearance in the BCS Championship Game (losing to Auburn in 2010). The Bruins finished 6-7 last year.

The Sooners also will meet Army for the first time in 57 years. The Black Knights finished 10-3 in 2017 including a bowl win over San Diego State.

In the Way Too Early Top 25 predictions, ESPN pegs the Sooners to finish fourth, Sporting News has them fifth, USA Today predicts they’ll finish seventh, and Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports pick them at No. 8.

Sept. 1 Florida Atlantic – Norman

Sept. 8 UCLA – Norman

Sept. 15 @ Iowa State

Sept. 22 Army – Norman

Sept. 29 Baylor – Norman

Oct. 6 Texas @ Dallas

Oct. 20 @ TCU

Oct. 27 Kansas State – Norman

Nov. 3 @ Texas Tech

Nov. 10 Oklahoma State – Norman

Nov. 17 Kansas – Norman

Nov. 23 @ West Virginia

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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