Oklahoma's depth at wide receiver took a hit last week when coach Bob Stoops indefinitely suspended Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson.
Even if the trio is suspended much of the season the Sooners have some talented receivers. Kenny Stills is the veteran. The concern is they might have to rely on several incoming freshmen, led by Trey Metoyer, who dazzled this spring.
OU's running game could relieve some pressure off the passing game, especially early in the season when young receivers are learning on the job.
A stat that flew under the radar last season was the Sooners averaged 4.5 yards per carry. OU ranked 38th nationally, a noticeable improvement from the previous year when OU ran for 3.3 yards per carry, lowest in the Bob Stoops era.
Junior guard/center Gabe Ikard said more progress was made this spring.
“We were pretty pleased,” Ikard said. “We put some good things together, but we're nowhere where we're going to be, where we need to be this fall. But we built a good foundation going into summer. We're pretty excited where we're at.”
Led by a veteran offensive line that's combined for 102 career starts, the Sooners won't be a classic ground-and-pound offense but it will be an offense that might be one of the most balanced in the country.
“We have a lot of guys who have been in the fray, seen different looks,” said offensive line coach James Patton. “They should have a very good understanding of our concepts.”
OU has experience and depth on the O-line.
Center Ben Habern will be a fourth-year starter. Ikard and right guard will be third-year starters. Some believe sophomore Adam Shead, who started five games, might be OU's best blocker. But he might not be in the starting lineup if Habern returns to center and Ikard moves back to left guard.
At tackle, Lane Johnson started at right tackle last season, but Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson were the starting tackles in the spring game. There's future depth with mammoth redshirt freshman Derek Farniok.
“We need eight or nine guys,” said quarterback Landry Jones. “We played quite a few of them (all spring), rotated some guards in and out. When Ben comes back, we'll have two centers to keep fresh bodies in there. It's nice to have type of depth.”
OU's running game should be a strength even though it's uncertain which running back will lead the Sooners in carries.
Junior Brennan Clay, coaches said, had the best spring of any back. Junior Roy Finch probably fits best as a slot back.
Can Dominique Whaley return to the 5.5-yards-a-carry contribution before he suffered a broken ankle against Kansas State? If Whaley is close to the Whaley of 2011, it sets up several different rotations/combinations.
The competition heats up when Jenks freshman Alex Ross and junior college transfer Damien Williams arrive this summer.
“We have all those horses in the stable, so we need to get them carries,” Ikard said. “They're all talented at different things.”
If the Sooners could push their per-carry average to 5.0 it would open more possibilities for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
“You look at the things you did wrong, and you're mindful of how your focus goes to those things,” Heupel said. “Situations that you should have checked out of and could have put your kids in a better situation. (Or) a call you make in a certain situation, looking back, you don't like.
“There's constant growth. You never call a perfect game just like you never play one at the position, either.”
Coaches have around 110 days between the spring game and the start of two-a-days in early August.
One summer ritual is to break down spring tape, evaluate personnel, recognize areas of strength and address vulnerable areas.
Heading into two-a-days this fall, the O-line and running game will be viewed as a strength.
One stat often used to evaluate an offensive line is sack totals. The Sooners allowed only 11 last season. But if an offense can also establish the run opposing defenses must “pick their poison.”
“It's good we had mostly bodies on bodies (this spring),” said offensive tackles coach Bruce Kittle. “We had some pretty good movement at times, and our backs did a good job finding space. We're definitely farther along than we were last spring.”
Far enough along the running game could ease some pressure off young wide receivers learning on the job.