NORMAN — Last week, ESPN's Bruce Feldman ranked his top 10 redshirt freshmen primed to do big things in 2011.
Hitting the board at No. 5 on Feldman's list was Oklahoma defensive end Geneo Grissom. The Hutchinson, Kan., native “has the looks of a future starter,” Feldman writes “and he might've played last season had he not sustained a broken foot.”
By the end of last season, Bob Stoops was calling his 2010 freshman class the best he'd ever recruited. And not just exclusively because of the 13 who made immediate impacts; also because of freshmen like Grissom who redshirted last season due to injury, depth or a need to develop physically.
This spring, at least eight of these players — and maybe more — will be worth watching. Eight players who seem primed to impact the 2011 season:
GENEO GRISSOM, DEFENSIVE END
Had he not suffered a hairline fracture in his foot in the preseason, Grissom would have almost certainly factored into the rotation at end despite OU's strong depth there.
“We were going to play him, too,” Stoops said after the injury. “That's the quality of player we think he is.”
Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander are the favorites to start next season at end. But don't be shocked if Grissom makes a strong push to be in the starting lineup, as well.
TORREA PETERSON, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
If there was any position OU needed help last season, it was defensive tackle, where the Sooners were ravaged by injuries. Unfortunately for Peterson, he too was injured, missing the first half of the season with a knee injury that forced him to redshirt. Had he not been injured, like Grissom, Peterson probably would have ultimately contributed.
Casey Walker and Daniel Noble, who both missed several games because of injury, are back at tackle, and the Sooners signed a pair of intriguing prospects in Marquis Anderson and Jordan Phillips who have the potential to play right away. The competition at tackle will be fierce. But before he got hurt, Peterson showed lots of promise and is capable of working his way into the two-deep before the opener.
JAMES HAYNES AND JULIAN WILSON, DEFENSIVE BACKS
The biggest blow to the Sooner defense due to graduation is at safety, where OU will have to replace three-year starter and consensus All-American Quinton Carter and two-year starter Jonathan Nelson.
Stoops has suggested Tony Jefferson and Joe Iblioye will remain in the nickelback role, and the way Javon Harris was used and performed last season suggests he'll fill one of the starting safety spots. That leaves the other starting safety spot wide open. Sam Proctor, who started there in 2009 before losing his job to Nelson, figures to be the favorite. Others like Kevin Brent and Lamar Harris will also be given a shot, but keep an eye out for Haynes and Wilson, who athletically are versatile enough to play any of the secondary positions.
JUSTIN MCCAY, WIDE RECEIVER
With the instant success of the other freshmen, it's easy to forget that McCay was the No. 1 prospect in OU's class, according to Rivals. Problem was, for all his athleticism, McCay stepped on campus raw as a receiver, converse to the more polished Kenny Stills and Trey Franks.
With the healthy return of Dejuan Miller and summer arrival of 5-star signee Trey Metoyer, playing time will be difficult to come by at receiver. But for now, McCay's combination of size and speed could and should be utilized on the coverage units.
ADAM SHEAD, TYRUS THOMPSON AND DARYL WILLIAMS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
The Sooners technically return four starters on the offensive line. But in truth, after center Ben Habern and left guard Gabe Ikard, the other three spots are up for grabs.
Tackles Donald Stephenson and Jarvis Jones and guard Tyler Evans figure to fill out the starting lineup. But they'll be pressed by the promising trio of Shead, Thompson and Williams, whom Stoops repeatedly singled out for standing out in closed practices.
All three could vie for starting roles; at worst, they'll be factors in the two-deep rotation up front.