This could be big spring for Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners

Big things were expected from Oklahoma last season.

The Sooners went into the season ranked No. 1 in almost every preseason poll, and they were supposed to be the team that stopped the SEC’s run of national titles.

Instead, Oklahoma wasn’t even the best team in its own state. Oklahoma State won the Big 12 title, in the process routing the Sooners 44-10 in the regular-season finale. The Sooners also lost to Baylor and, shockingly, Texas Tech, and finished tied for third in the league. Still, OU won 10 games, including the Insight Bowl over Iowa.

Oklahoma at-a-glance
Coach: Bob Stoops (14th season)
Last season: 10-3 overall, 6-3 in Big 12
Spring practice dates: March 5-April 14
Returning starters
(minimum 7 starts last season)
Offense (6): G Tyler Evans, TB Roy Finch, G/C Gabe Ikard, QB Landry Jones, T Lane Johnson, WR Kenny Stills
Defense (8): SS Aaron Colvin, FS Javon Harris, CB Demontre Hurst, S/LB Tony Jefferson, T Jamarkus McFarland, LB Corey Nelson, T Casey Walker, LB Tom Wort
Special teams (2): K Michael Hunnicutt, P Tress Way

There hasn’t been much talk about the Sooners this offseason; indeed, if an Oklahoma team can be under the radar, these Sooners fit that bill. Oklahoma returns 14 starters and should go into the season as the Big 12 favorite.

Yes, there are some concerns on offense, mainly at tailback and wide receiver. Defensively, new coordinator Mike Stoops, who returns after an eight-season run as Arizona’s coach, has a lot of work to do on the secondary.

Overall, though, the Sooners look to be in good shape. Both lines should be among the best in the Big 12. The issues at tailback and wide receiver don’t necessarily have to do with talent but rather with developing a pecking order at each position. QB Landry Jones will be a four-year starter. Special teams should be solid, if not excellent.

If things go well this spring, it could be a big fall.

Carey Murdock of SoonerScoop.com – a Rivals.com website that covers Oklahoma – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.

[ Related: Big 12 spring preview: Preparing for new rivalries ]

The biggest problem: The secondary. The defensive backfield was torched by Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the last half of 2011. Mike Stoops returns to Oklahoma and faces one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career as he prepares an Oklahoma defense to face what has become one of the most explosive offensive conferences in college football. The Sooners must replace a starter at cornerback (Jamell Fleming) and solidify their safety rotation; the safeties struggled as much as anyone against the deep pass. QB Landry Jones also has to find some receivers he can count on this spring, although that won’t be easy with projected starting WR Jaz Reynolds expected to miss spring practices because of a kidney condition. Jones needs to reconnect with Kenny Stills, who struggled after the since-departed Ryan Broyles was lost for the season with a torn ACL against Texas A&M. Jones also has a completely new stable of tight ends after James Hanna and Trent Ratterree graduated and up-and-coming youngster Austin Haywood transferred. Jones will spend plenty of time throwing to junior college transfer Brannon Green and early enrollee Taylor McNamara this spring.

On the spot: QB Landry Jones. He was considered a top-level Heisman candidate and a likely first-round NFL pick heading into the 2011 season. Jones chose to return to Oklahoma this season, and for good reason. He was not the same quarterback after Broyles was lost to injury. Jones’ two fumbles against Oklahoma State in the de facto Big 12 championship game last season helped the Cowboys build momentum as they handed the Sooners one of Bob Stoops’ worst losses ever. Jones needs to prove he can be a complete quarterback and must improve if the Sooners are going to win any championships in 2012.

Blake Bell could become a polarizing figure at Oklahoma.
(US Presswire)

On the verge: QB Blake Bell. Bell could end up being a polarizing figure at Oklahoma. He became a fan favorite last season running the “Bell-dozer” formation. He was even named offensive MVP of the Insight Bowl win over Iowa. The biggest question is whether Bell is just a short-yardage specialist, or a player who can be the next great throwing quarterback at Oklahoma. Bell wasn’t sharp passing the ball out of the “Bell-dozer,” but he didn’t have to be. At 6 feet 6 and 250 pounds, he can run through just about any linebacker. But to be an every-down quarterback, he’ll have to be more effective throwing the football. There’s also backup QB Drew Allen. Both have seen limited action in OU’s true offense, and they will battle this spring to be the next-in-line signal-caller at OU.

General overview: The Sooners will have a tough time fixing all of their offensive issues this spring. Dominique Whaley, their best running back a year ago, will sit out spring drills recovering from a broken ankle suffered against Kansas State last season. The Sooners have talent coming in, but none of those players will be in Norman for spring practice. Roy Finch and Brennan Clay can only run so many plays every day in practice at running back. Though Trey Metoyer has enrolled early, the receiving corps won’t get a true boost until the fall. Mike Stoops should be able to get plenty of work done this spring implementing his fixes to the secondary. The offensive and defensive lines appear to be solid and just require a little tweaking and some natural progression. The biggest question will be whether Jones has enough bodies around him to make this offense better over the course of 15 practices.

For in-depth coverage of Oklahoma athletics, go to SoonerScoop.com

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