What to watch for in OU football's 2024 spring game: Jackson Arnold, newcomers and more

NORMAN — It's spring game time in Oklahoma.

The Sooners, ahead of their first season in the SEC, host their spring game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.

With quarterback Jackson Arnold settling in a QB1, plenty of transition on the offensive line, some intriguing newcomers on the defensive side and more, the game should offer plenty to watch even if it's little more than a glorified practice.

Ahead of the game, OU beat writers Ryan Aber and Colton Sulley take a look at what to watch for in the game:

What is the No. 1 thing you're looking for in Jackson Arnold's performance Saturday?

Sulley: Last time we saw Jackson Arnold play football on a non-practice field, he turned the ball over four times vs. Arizona in the Alamo Bowl. The No. 1 thing I’m looking for is how he performs in “pressure” situations Saturday. What does he look like when OU’s thin offensive line doesn’t hold up and the pocket collapses? We’ve seen him use his legs quite a bit throughout spring practice, but I’m interested in seeing if he gets rid of the ball quicker and finds a go-to guy to look to on third down. Speaking with him Tuesday, he sounds much more mature, but we’ll see how much of that we can gauge during a spring game.

Aber: I'm right there with you. How does Arnold respond with situations where he has to make a quick decision and does he show growth from the Alamo Bowl? Arnold has the raw talent to be a star but certainly needs to show better decision-making. With a thin offensive line in front of him, the spring game could offer plenty opportunities for Arnold to get tested in that regard. With rain in the forecast, I'm also looking forward to seeing how he handles things if the weather isn't great.

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Jackson Arnold is set to replace Dillon Gabriel as OU's starting quarterback as the Sooners head to the SEC.
Jackson Arnold is set to replace Dillon Gabriel as OU's starting quarterback as the Sooners head to the SEC.

Outside of Arnold, which offensive player are you most looking forward to seeing?

Aber: It's got to be something along the offensive line, right? There are so many questions from that group, but I'll go with center Josh Bates. Bates' physicality has made a strong impression during the spring, after he made significant strides during the lead-up to the Alamo Bowl as well. With Troy Everett lost for some time with a knee injury, Bates has a chance to make a significant impression. I'm not sure if Bates has a chance to ultimately be the starter this season, as the Sooners figure to make a run at adding to the offensive line during the portal window. But even if Everett returns or a portal addition takes the center spot this season, the spring game could be a major boost for Bates' career moving forward.

Sulley: I’m going to cheat a bit on this question. Outside of the spring portal visits scheduled to be in attendance, the biggest story Saturday will be how the offensive line looks. It’ll be hard to evaluate such a physical position in a spring game, but I think we’ll get a good sense of where the offensive position group is at and where they need to recruit more depth. If I had to pick an offensive player I’m excited to watch, it’s Jayden Gibson. He’s had an impressive spring and Arnold spoke highly of his improvement. A bonus one: An aspect I always enjoy about the spring game is getting a look at the backup quarterbacks and Michael Hawkins Jr. has looked like he could be a special player in practice.

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Which defensive player are you most looking forward to seeing?

Sulley: Probably Peyton Bowen. Coming off a strong freshman year where he played in all 13 games and totaled 36 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two punt blocks, I think he’s primed for an even better sophomore year. The Sooners’ secondary is loaded and Bowen is always fun to watch. He just makes plays. Also, I think it’d be cool to see him and his brother Eli play some snaps together in the same defensive backfield.

Aber: I've got to be the one to go with David Stone, with Jayden Jackson as a secondary answer. The Sooners' defensive line needed an overhaul this offseason and Stone and Jackson are the faces of it. The IMG products seem at least close to ready to contribute. The question is how big of a factor they'll play in 2024. OU needs to be a better job getting after quarterbacks, and getting a strong push from Stone and/or Jackson would go a long way toward making the Sooners' defensive front more impactful in 2024.

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Who will be the breakout star of the spring game, regardless of whether or not they'll contribute in 2024?

Sulley: I’m going to say J.J. Hester. Arnold mentioned him this week as a receiver who has stepped up in Jalil Farooq’s absence and we saw him bring in probably the most impressive catch of the spring during 1-on-1 drills. He seems to be finally healthy. If he can stay that way and get new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell’s offense down, he has a chance to break out in the spring game and contribute in 2024. Spring games are also kind to running backs and I’m excited to see how Littrell utilizes them.

Aber: I'm going to go with another wide receiver, Ivan Carreon. Carreon, a freshman, has the skillset to carve out a role for himself in 2024. His 6-foot-6 frame is intriguing, and he's looked the part in the periods of practice that have been open to the media this spring. Carreon, like Bates in my earlier answer, might not be at the point where he makes a significant impact this season, but a big game Saturday could show how big of a star he could be down the road for the Sooners.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU football 2024 spring game what to watch:Jackson Arnold, David Stone