NORMAN — Oklahoma enters the 2013 football season without four-year starting quarterback Landry Jones, its two leading receivers from 2012 and the vast majority of last year's contributors on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Despite all that lost experience, the Sooners seemingly have as good a shot as any team in the wide-open Big 12 Conference.
As college football fast approaches — Big 12 football media days are less than a month away — here is a look at next year's Oklahoma squad, position-by-position.
Who's gone: Drew Allen (transferred to Syracuse), Landry Jones (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Blake Bell (6-6, 263, Jr.), Trevor Knight (6-1, 202, RFr.), Kendal Thompson (6-1, 191, So.)
Who's new: Cody Thomas (6-5, 220, Fr.)
Analysis: Bell outshined Knight and Thompson in the spring game, but all three quarterbacks led scoring drives and showed their ability to move around in and out of the pocket — something that was missing from the OU offense during the Landry Jones era. By the end of spring practices, Bell and Thompson appeared to have separated themselves a bit from Knight. It remains to be seen how much Thompson's offseason arrest for public intoxication will hurt his chances.
Unit MVP: Bell
Grade: B. Bell remains the odds-on favorite to win the job, but OU coaches have got to feel good about any position battle — especially this one — when there really isn't a bad choice.
Who's gone: Dominique Whaley (eligibility expired)
Who's back: Brennan Clay (5-11, 197, Sr.), Roy Finch (5-7, 167, Sr.), Trey Millard (6-2, 259, Sr.), Aaron Ripkowski (6-1, 260, Jr.), Alex Ross (6-1, 218, RFr.), David Smith (5-10, 206, RFr.), Damien Williams (5-11, 214, Sr.)
Who's new: Keith Ford (5-11, 208, Fr.)
Analysis: One of the most stacked units on the team, Oklahoma's running backs could be primed for big, big things in 2013. Clay finally began to showcase his full potential late last season. Williams emerged as a big-play threat any time he touches the ball. Finch seems back in the coaches' good graces, so he could end up a big part of the offense. Millard's value as a blocker can't be overstated, but he has shown electric ability with the ball in his hands.
Unit MVP: Millard
Grade: A. OU's backfield is loaded with talented, diverse playmakers. Williams and Clay will likely get the bulk of the carries next season.
Who's gone: Justin Brown (eligibility expired), Kenny Stills (entered NFL Draft),
Who's back: Lacoltan Bester (6-3, 208, Sr.), Trey Metoyer (6-1, 184, So.), Durron Neal (5-11, 201, So.), Jaz Reynolds (6-2, 198, Sr.), Jalen Saunders (5-9, 160, Sr.), Sterling Shepard (5-10, 188, So.), Derrick Woods (6-1, 186, RFr.)
Who's new: Austin Bennett (6-0, 170, Fr.), Dannon Cavil (6-5, 205, Fr.), Jordan Smallwood (6-2, 190, Fr.), K.J. Young (6-1, 182, Fr.)
Analysis: Many teams might be a bit concerned after losing their two leading receivers. Not Oklahoma, though, and it's a credit to Jay Norvell's strong recruiting and talent development. Saunders and Shepard became major threats in the slot positions last year, and both appear primed to make big leaps next season. Metoyer was branded a superstar-to-be before his freshman season began. That didn't work out last year, but he's certainly got the talent to contribute moving forward.
Unit MVP: Saunders
Grade: A. Bester, Neal, Saunders and Shepard left spring as the starters, but any of the unit's talented players could command playing time.
Who's gone: No one
Who's back: Sam Grant (6-7, 250, RFr.), Brannon Green (6-2, 264, Sr.), Taylor McNamara (6-5, 253, RFr.)
Who's new: No one
Analysis: Under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has typically gotten major production out of its tight ends. Until last season, when Green made the unit's only three receptions all year and the position became somewhat obsolete in the Sooners' prolific attack. McNamara was injured early in the season and then granted a medical redshirt.
Unit MVP: Green
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