NORMAN — The only projected starter on Oklahoma's offensive line that has never started a game may have the most potential. His raw skills have been compared to former star Trent Williams. Now he's being asked to fill a key role, protecting Landry Jones' blindside.
Ineligible all last season, left tackle Donald Stephenson has been viewed as one of OU's top O-line prospects since he signed in 2007.
"It's all potential. Potential means you haven't done it, yet," said offensive line coach James Patton. "We're expecting him to do it. But Donald hasn't done it, yet."
The Kansas City area product certainly looks the part. At 6-foot-6, 309 pounds, Stephenson possesses ideal size.
"Donald is starting to come into his own." said center Ben Habern. "He's gotten stronger and still kept his quickness. (His work ethic) is a lot different. When he was young, when he first got here, he was underweight."
When Stephenson arrived on campus, he weighed 275. The tackle positions were set in stone with Williams, the No. 4 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, and Phil Loadholt, now the Minnesota Vikings starting right tackle.
"With those guys gone, he knows he can be a big part of the team this year," Habern said. "He's one of the most athletic linemen I've seen. He's right there with Trent with the athleticism."
Coach Bob Stoops also has compared Stephenson's athleticism to Williams'. That's where the comparisons stop.
Stephenson's work ethic and off-the-field decisions slowed his progress.
In high school, he was charged with three counts of burglary of a motor vehicle, one count of felony theft and three counts of misdemeanor theft at a movie theatre in Leawood, Kan.
Stoops felt Stephenson deserved a second chance. Four years later, the Blue Springs, Mo., junior is being given the opportunity to be the Sooners' left-side anchor.
"He's really done things right all winter and spring and summer from what I understand," Stoops said. "We'll see how he progresses. I'm not going to sit here and brag on him. He hasn't played, yet. He didn't play all last year.
"Until he can show some kind of consistency I'm not willing to say that he has matured. To a degree off the field he has. On the field we'll see. That's yet to be seen."
Stephenson redshirted in 2007, played in seven games as a reserve in 2008 and was ineligible last season. Teammates say his improved discipline was evident this spring and summer.
"He's gained some weight but is still quick," said defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland. "His game is really phenomenal. He approaches it with no facial expression. He just goes and plays his game."
Eight offensive linemen made at least one start last season. Stephenson, who has not attended either of OU's two offensive media interview sessions, is expected to make his first start Sept. 4 against Utah State.
"He's matured quite a bit," said right tackle Eric Mensik. "This summer he worked really hard. It's amazing to see the progress he's made. He's a phenomenal athlete. His potential is amazing."
Again, there's the P word.
"That's (always) been the case," Stoops said. "He had a heck of a lot of talent a year ago and never played a down. That talent there's a lot more that goes into it to be a great player. Hopefully he can do that."