NORMAN — Oklahoma started practicing again Tuesday after taking last week off for spring break.
The Sugar Bowl champion Sooners enter the 2014 with enormously high expectations and as the heavy favorites to win the Big 12 championship.
Here’s my best stab at the 10 best players on Oklahoma’s 2014 team. Remember, this list is entirely subjective and fully open to debate.
Considering we can’t watch practice and there aren’t any games to judge these guys by, I’ll update the list again after the April 12 spring game, and then I’ll plan on updating it after every game next season.
Not only do I expect debate on this list, I encourage it. Leave a comment below, tweet at me or shoot me an email with your opinion.
1. Sterling Shepard, Jr., WR: Scored two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl and has been one of the team’s most reliable offensive weapons over the past two seasons. The only reason his stats weren’t better last year is because of all the quarterback turmoil and inconsistency.
2. Eric Striker, Jr., LB: Recorded 6.5 sacks, but spent all season disrupting opposing quarterbacks. Striker’s big plays in pass rushing were critical in Oklahoma’s wins at Notre Dame and in the Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama. He enters 2014 as one of the nation’s elite pass rushers.
3. Charles Tapper, Jr., DE: Had an impressive break-out season as a sophomore, recording 5.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss and a team-leading eight QB hurries. The Baltimore native is nearing stardom.
4. Frank Shannon, Jr., LB: Led the team with 92 tackles — seven for loss — while also recording two sacks and an interception. He’s started 15 games over the past two seasons, including all 13 last year.
5. Daryl Williams, Sr., OT: Has started 23 games on the offensive line the past two seasons, and switched from right to left tackle for the Sugar Bowl. He’s the most experienced member of the 2014 offensive line.
6. Trevor Knight, So., QB: I know there will be people who question the Sugar Bowl MVP being ranked this low, but that was one game — albeit a huge one. Knight left two of his four 2013 starts with injuries, so let’s see how he does early next season before putting him in the top five.
7. Zack Sanchez, So., CB: The Freshman All-American started all 13 games last season, recording 46 tackles and two interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown at Kansas State. Sanchez struggled at times, but played extremely well most of the season, especially considering his inexperience.
8. Geneo Grissom, Sr., DE: Grissom had a monster Sugar Bowl, making Heisman Trophy runner-up AJ McCarron the victim of 2.5 of his 4.5 sacks for the season. Has the freakish athlete finally turned a corner entering his senior year?
9. Dominique Alexander, So., LB: The Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year replaced senior captain Corey Nelson in the starting lineup after his season-ending injury and was excellent, especially for a true freshman. The Tulsa Washington product finished the season second on the team in tackles behind Shannon.
10. Michael Hunnicutt, Sr., K: It’s easy to take a kicker for granted when he’s as consistently good as Hunnicutt, but he belongs on this list. The Groza Award semifinalist has converted 86.1 percent of his career field-goal attempts, and — get this — is one of three Sooners on the 2014 roster to have caught a touchdown pass in an OU game.
* Blake Bell, Sr., TE: Can the former quarterback be an effective tight end? That remains to be seen.
* Ty Darlington, Jr. C: Was stuck behind Gabe Ikard on the depth chart and barely played last season, but started once as a true freshman.
* Keith Ford, So., RB: Showed flashes and will likely be the main running back when the season opens, but didn’t show enough last season to make the cut this time.
* Quentin Hayes, Sr., SS: Started all 13 games last year and got better as the season progressed.
* Joe Mixon, Fr., RB: I hesitate to put anyone who hasn’t played a game yet on a list like this. Wouldn’t Trey Metoyer have made any of our pre-2012 lists?
* Chuka Ndulue, Sr., DE: The versatile defensive lineman has started 19 games over the past three seasons, but seems to have fallen behind Grissom and Tapper on the depth chart.
* Jordan Phillips, Jr., DT: Was excellent before his season-ending back injury four games into the 2013 schedule. Could easily move into the top-10 early next season.
* Adam Shead, Sr., OG: Started the first 10 games last season before season-ending injury. Shead has been injury-prone throughout his career, and isn’t going through spring practices.
* Tyrus Thompson, Sr., OT: Started the first 11 games last season before missing the Oklahoma State and Alabama contests. He should be back to full strength by the season opener.
* Jordan Wade, So., DT: Started the final nine games after Phillips’ injury and mostly played well.
* Julian Wilson, Sr., NB: Is missing spring practices after shoulder surgery, but started 11 of 13 games a year ago.