OU coach Bob Stoops kept saying the name Dom Whaley last season as a guy who really impressed him. Nobody listened to Stoops about a walk-on running back until Whaley lit up the field. Then even Sports Illustrated was writing about him. So, we figured we'd listen this year and present the five standouts, thus far, of preseason camp.
TY DARLINGTON, center
This Apopka, Fla., offensive lineman's performance started receiving praise from players before his first practice at OU. Now, Stoops has joined the praise train and gives Darlington a glowing review.
*Quotable: “Ty's a great player,” offensive lineman Bronson Irwin said. “He's got a real high football IQ. …. That's one of the real learning curves when you first get here because the complexity of the offense as well as the defense are totally different.”
*The depth chart: Gabe Ikard is the established starter for the Sooners after he inherited the position when Ben Habern quit football because of injuries. So Darlington is competing for the second spot between junior Austin Woods and redshirt freshman Nila Kasitati.
*Why he could break through: Pure and simple. He's a well-coached coach's kid. He knows the playbook. He's “football smart” and has created buzz around the veteran o-lineman.
*Why he won't: Gabe Ikard has this position on lockdown. Besides that, since his signing in February, Darlington lost weight due to some minor health issues, but those are said to have been straightened out.
JUSTIN BROWN, wide receiver
After just one practice, Stoops described big plans for the former Nittany Lion. He also said Brown will be a punt returner.
*Quotable: “Maturity, experience,” Stoops said. “He's been fighting his butt off in the Big Ten for three years; he's been productive. He's been awfully good, and he was incredibly impressive out there in one day. He can run, he's got strong hands and he's a natural punt returner, which is something else we were really excited about with him. With a big, strong guy like that punt return-wise, he can run through those tackles or people trying to grab his jersey and pull him down, that's not going to happen.
“Looking out there today, and you see him added to the equation. A guy that's a senior that has three years experience of playing and fighting people, crackback blocking on people, catching the ball. He's a natural at catching the ball, so he brings a ton. It's going to be exciting.”
*The depth chart: Brown will be fighting for receptions between newcomers Lacoltan Bester, Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard, who have also been mentioned as notable players during camp.
*Why he could break through: Brown is joining a receiving corps with one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and an offense that is more pass-friendly than what former coach Joe Paterno ran. He's also joined a system that will allow him to routinely make plays.
*Why he won't: As a senior, he has three touchdowns in his career. Then there are all the newcomers (Neal, Shepard, Metoyer) he has to compete with. Plus he'll be adjusting to a new school, new teammates and a new town.
MIKE ONUOHA, defensive end
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops saw a lot of athleticism in the freshman from Edmond Santa Fe.
*Quotable: “They're very athletic guys,” Mike Stoops said of Onuoha and Charles Tapper. “They've got a lot to learn, physically and mentally, but they possess a lot of the physical attributes you want for a defensive end to have. They're both big, long, athletic and fast. That's a great combination to be a very effective player, so they have unlimited potential at this point.”
*The depth chart: Onuoha would be competing for playing time behind seniors R.J. Washington and David King. The chart opened up for Onuoha and Charles Tapper when former d-lineman Nathan Hughes and Geneo Grissom switched to offense.
*Why he could break through: The freshman had a better summer and, so far, preseason camp than expected.
*Why he won't: He's still raw and skinny. Gaining weight would earn Onuoha more playing time.
CHARLES TAPPER, Defensive end
Tappers' aggressiveness is making older players such as defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland repeat what Mike Stoops said: Just because they've played before, doesn't mean they're playing this year.
* Quotable: “Great attributes: speed, strength,” McFarland said of Tapper and Onuoha. “It's going to grow over time. Some people are just football players. I mean plays just fall in their lap because they're aggressive.”
*The depth chart: Like Onuoha, he could be competing with Washington and Favors. He did play tight end during high school, but we don't know if he'll play the position in college ball.
*Why he could break through: A four-star prospect, Tapper could play either defensive end or tight end. At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he's an inch bigger than R.J. Washington and 11 pounds leaner.
*Why he won't: Tapper might need a year or more to develop. After all, he did complete his first full season of football just two years ago.
ALEX ROSS, running back
Sooners like Brennan Clay noticed Ross' wheels. The freshman running back, well, he's a runner, or as Clay put it, “That boy can fly.”
*Quotable: “With the three young guys I have, with David Smith, Alex Ross and Damien Wills, all of them are 210 pounds or more,” running backs coach Cale Gundy said. “I'm excited about having the talent I have back there.”
*The depth chart: Ross will compete for carries against Roy Finch, Clay and Damien Williams.
*Why he could break through: His size and strength could put him ahead of the veterans.
*Why he won't: Injuries. Ross suffered both an ankle and collarbone injury during his senior year, and he's competing at a position with plenty of depth.