The dirtiest job of them all? How about the one I get for this special section — asking and answering the big (and dirty) issues for the Oklahoma football team heading into the 2008 season.
What impact will the no-huddle have on the offense?A positive impact on both the offense and defense. Offensively, the Sooners have a range of versatile players — Brody Eldrige, Jermaine Gresham, DeMarco Murray — able to create mismatches in size and speed. The no-huddle, which will decrease the time defenses have to substitute or line up correctly, should create even more mismatches. Also, playing faster should give Sam Bradford more throws and Murray more carries, which should translate into more points. It will also ensure the Sooners avoid delays of game in the new 40-second play clock. The defense benefits from facing a no-huddle team in practice, since several of OU's opponents do the same. Trying the no-huddle should provide little learning curve, largely because the formations and plays remain the same. But if the no-huddle becomes problematic, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said they won't hesitate in returning to the huddle, which didn't prevent the Sooners from ranking among the nation's best in scoring last season.
How will cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson fare against the Big 12's big-time receivers?With so many prolific offenses in the league, it's a dangerous time to be breaking in a pair of new starting cornerbacks. That's one reason why Dominque Franks was pushed during to preseason — Lendy Holmes was moved to cornerback and back to safety — during two-a-days. Jackson and Franks are penciled in as starters and can't be considered newcomers. They've both been in the system for two and three years now, and that should help ease their transition. Both players also have talent and a knack for big plays. The early part of the season could be rocky, but by the Texas game, cornerback could be a position of strength, not concern.
Can Keenan Clayton become a difference-maker at outside linebacker?Defensive coordinator Brent Venables moved Clayton from safety last year with hopes that he could emerge as a "hybrid” player, capable of covering receivers or tight ends while also stuffing the run. Curtis Lofton and Ryan Reynolds, slower, bulkier linebackers in the traditional mold, had difficulties covering some passes last season. Clayton's superior athleticism and speed should help neutralize that. The biggest question for Clayton will be tackling, which he appears to have improved significantly since the Washington game in 2006, where he whiffed on a couple of critical tackles that led to big plays.
Will inexperience at kicker come back to bite the Sooners when it counts?On a club that has a dynamic offense and potentially dominating defense, clutch kicking could be what derails OU's chances of winning the Big 12 or reaching the national championship. Just ask West Virginia, which missed two field goals in a 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh, knocking the Mountaineers out of the national title game. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens appears to be winning the job over true freshman Tress Way heading into the opener, but this position might not be settled until conference play begins. Be sure to watch OU football with Jake Trotter, our weekly video show about the Sooners every Monday on NewsOK.com as well as the Bedlam Nation Conversation every Friday at NewsOK.com.
CB Brian Jackson