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Oklahoma football: Grading the Sooners before the Cotton Bowl

With Oklahoma players finishing up their final exams, here is a unit-by-unit look at the team, with grades for each position group.
by Jason Kersey Published: December 13, 2012

Senior Lane Johnson moved into the starting lineup just before the season began, and played extremely well. The former junior-college quarterback drastically improved his NFL Draft stock with his strong play this season.

Defensive line: B-

The OU defensive line has played well at times, and poorly at others. Senior David King switched between playing end and tackle with some success, and after he returned from his mysterious two-game absence to start the season, tackle Casey Walker played well.

The senior-dominated group loses every major contributor from this season except sophomore Chuka Ndulue.

Sophomore Geneo Grissom, who switched to tight end last summer but returned to defense, saw increased playing time at the end of the season.

Linebackers: C-

In new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' system, linebackers weren't relied upon as playmakers like they were under Brent Venables. As the season progressed, Stoops tinkered with six- and seven-defensive back units against spread offenses like Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, with little success.

Earlier in the season, though, juniors Tom Wort and Corey Nelson often struggled and were inconsistent. Freshman Frank Shannon emerged as a strong option in pass coverage.

Secondary: B

The secondary was the OU defense's strongest unit for much of the season.

Safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Aaron Colvin emerged as the defense's top overall players, but even they struggled in shootout wins over Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.

Senior safety Javon Harris had a strong season overall, despite the overall unit's late-season lapses. He led the Sooners with five interceptions.

Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson each saw lots of playing time in nickel and dime packages, and showed flashes of their potential. Wilson was there with Jefferson to break up a fourth-down pass in the end zone that sealed the Sooners' regular-season finale win at TCU.

Special teams: A

After returning no kicks or punts for touchdowns a year ago, the Sooners recorded three in the 2012 regular season.

Brown and Saunders each scored on a punt return, and Roy Finch took a kick back for a touchdown

Brown averaged 13.6 yards per punt return, while Clay and Finch were each solid on kickoffs, averaging 26 and 32.4 yards a return, respectively.

Michael Hunnicutt had a kick blocked in the season opener, then went eight games without a miss before misfiring on one attempt in each of OU's last three games. Punter Tress Way was solid, averaging 43.6 yards per punt with a long of 75.

by Jason Kersey
OU Sports Reporter
Jason Kersey became The Oklahoman's OU football beat writer in May 2012 after a year covering high school sports and OSU recruiting. Before joining the newspaper in November 2006 as a part-time results clerk, he covered high school football for...
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