NORMAN — Today, Oklahoma will hold its first of 14 spring practices before the Red-White Spring Game on April 17. Here are four story lines to follow during the spring: → How will the offensive line begin to shape? Going into last season, OU’s greatest unknown was its offensive line, which turned out to be the weakness of the team. Going into the spring, offensive line remains an unknown. The Sooners lose their top three linemen from last season, and this spring also will be without injured returning starters Ben Habern (leg) and Jarvis Jones (foot). But OU’s coaching staff is excited about the potential of Donald Stephenson, who returns to the field after being suspended all of last season for a violation of team rules. He’ll start out at left tackle protecting quarterback Landry Jones’ blindside. Veteran Cory Brandon also comes back to anchor the other side of the line at right tackle. Brandon got off to an awful start last season, and eventually was supplanted in the lineup by Jarvis Jones. But Brandon quietly rebounded late in the year and performed well in wins over Oklahoma State and Stanford. Tight end Eric Mensik, who played admiringly in emergency relief during OU’s final two games last season at tackle, will stay on the line for now, and be the Sooners’ top tackle reserve. With Habern and Jones out, the middle of the line during the spring probably won’t be the line in the fall. But their absences will provide opportunities for other linemen to develop. In perhaps the most interesting position change on the entire team, freshman tight end Gabe Ikard will begin the spring as the first-team center in place of Habern. If he performs well, it’s not unthinkable that Ikard will remain on the line to add depth. And if Habern’s rehab from a broken leg lags, the Sooners will have three additional options at center in Ikard, walk-on Brian Lepak and incoming freshman Austin Woods, who has enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. At guard, competition will be tight between Stephen Good, Tyler Evans and Tavaris Jeffries who combined for 14 starts last season. Incoming freshman Bronson Irwin, who too enrolled early, will also be in the mix at guard. →Can OU’s young wide receivers continue to surge? For a good while, OU’s wide receivers challenged the offensive line for weak spot on the team. Drops and inadequate route-running plagued the unit. But late in the year, receiver was far from being a weakness. Previously seldom used Dejuan Miller broke into the starting lineup midway through the season and was spectacular in the Sun Bowl with six catches for 84 yards. Rising sophomore Jaz Reynolds was also terrific in the Sun Bowl, turning a pair of third-down grabs into first downs. Both players will enter the spring in the starting lineup flanking slot receiver Ryan Broyles, who could be a preseason All-American. If Miller and Reynolds continue to improve on the outside, defenses will struggle to double Broyles in the seams next season. And that will only make OU’s offense that much tougher to defend. →Who will emerge as the second defensive tackle? Basically the biggest question mark of what should be another outstanding defense, the Sooners must find another defensive tackle to line up next to rising standout Jamarkus McFarland. Veteran Adrian Taylor would be that player, but he is currently recovering from a gruesome ankle injury. And while he might be able to return before next season, Taylor won’t be able to man the position by himself like he did last season. Third-year players Stacy McGee and Casey Walker will get their shots to prove they’re ready to step into that role. So will freshman Justin Chaisson, who was recruited as a defensive end, but possesses enough bulk to play some at tackle. Worst case, the Sooners have four freshman defensive tackles set to arrive during the summer they could plug into the rotation, including 4-star recruit Eric Humphrey. Which of OU’s talented young safeties will separate from the rest? The Sooners have recruited several positions well in recent years, but none as well as safety, where OU has stockpiled talent. But only so many safeties can play at once, which is why the competition will be intense this spring among Joe Ibiloye, Kevin Brent, Marcus Trice, Javon Harris and incoming freshman Tony Jefferson, who is enrolled for the spring.
OU spring practice dates→March 8: Practice 1 →March 10: Practice 2 (Break for Spring Break) →March 22: Practice 3 →March 24: Practice 4 →March 26: Practice 5 →March 27: Practice 6 →March 30: Practice 7 →April 1: Practice 8 →April 5: Practice 9 →April 7: Practice 10 →April 9: Practice 11 →April 10: Practice 12 →April 13: Practice 13 →April 15: Practice 14 →April 17: Red-White Spring Game →Note: All practices are closed except for the Red-White Spring Game.