The Oklahoma Sooner football team has had an eventful first month of the offseason. Now, there is the usual discussion about way too early depth charts, players leaving early for the NFL, and coaching movements. But, this particular first month of the offseason has been particularly interesting. Now, we will look at five spring storylines for the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Jalen Hurts Factor
The quarterback position has taken some interesting turns since the College Football Playoffs. The Sooners were most certainly looking at a drop off at the position in 2019. Oklahoma was faced with the possibility of having some combination of Austin Kendall or Tanner Mordecai take the reigns in 2019.
Then, the transfer portal was firmly in the Sooners proverbial eyeballs. Kendall entered his name in the portal and eventually transferred to West Virginia. Now, Oklahoma was faced with only having one scholarship quarterback for the spring. However, the Sooners received tremendous news when Jalen Hurts elected to transfer to Oklahoma.
Hurts has had a storybook career at Alabama. His story has been well told, replaced in the National Championship game and the Tide won the title and a year later he replaced the same starter to win an SEC championship. Hurts brings the intangibles to the position that will be needed. His leadership, toughness, and class will be counted on early and often. And, he’s a pretty good football player as well. How will Lincoln Riley tailor the offense around Hurts skill set? Could Hurts drive the Sooners to a third consecutive playoff appearance and perhaps face his old team?
Alex Grinch and the new defensive coaches
Oklahoma has a new defensive coordinator for the 2019 season. The Sooners have introduced Alex Grinch to the role in replacing Mike Stoops who was fired mid-season. Grinch will bring a new attitude of toughness with an increased focus on speed and effort. Those facets led Grinch to force at least 24 turnovers in each of his seasons at Washington State.
The Sooners will have a combination of existing coaches and new blood on staff for this season. Grinch has made two hires for the defensive side of the ball. Brian Odom and Roy Manning have joined Grinch in Norman. Odom will coach the inside linebackers while Manning will coach the cornerbacks. Existing coaches Calvin Thibodeaux and Ruffin McNeil will be retained and be responsible for the defensive line and outside linebackers respectively. Grinch will coach the safeties along with his defensive coordinator duties.
In the first place, the effort and forcing turnovers have been a consistent issue for the Sooner defense over the past few seasons. In 2018, Oklahoma had statistically the worst defense in Norman in over 30 years as they ranked 114 out of 129 in total defense. The spring game should be an interesting indicator of how quickly Grinch and company have been able to change the culture.
Early enrollees on offense
Now, the recruiting trail has been very kind to Oklahoma. Currently, the Sooners rank fourth in Rivals and fifth in the 247 team recruiting rankings for 2019. And, much of that excitement has centered around the offensive side of the ball. Oklahoma has four five-star recruits headed to Norman. Of which, three of those are enrolled in the spring.
Theo Wease, Jadon Haselwood, and Trejan Bridges have already enrolled and are on campus. Meanwhile, Spencer Rattler, the other five-star recruit will be on campus in June. With Hurts in the mix along with the new trio of freshman on campus, the hype is big with the Sooner offense. In fact, CeeDee Lamb recently tweeted out this picture just to get the juices flowing.
— CeeDee Lamb (@_CeeDeeThree) January 24, 2019
Offensive Line Retool
Oklahoma is faced with a near completely new offensive line this year. The Sooners will break in four new offensive linemen in 2019. Creed Humphrey will be the only returning starter. It’s important to realize, this is a big reason that Lincoln Riley took in Hurts this season. He wanted an established leader to help through some of the growing pains.
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has done an outstanding job since coming to Oklahoma. However, the depth, recruiting, and player development will be tested this year. A few names to look for in the spring will be Marquis Hayes, Tyrese Robinson, Adrian Ealy, and Brey Walker. Walker looks to be in the mold of the next road grader at the left tackle position. Also, Hayes and Robinson looked excellent in mop-up duty this season.
How much of a spectacle will the spring game be?
The spring game has become more important over the years. Now, last season increased the stakes a little more. It was the first season that the NCAA allowed recruits to have an official visit for the day of a spring game. With that in mind, Oklahoma made the event a little more special for the fans. There was an official unveiling of a Bob Stoops statue as well as Trace Adkins performing live before the game.
Now, the concert was met with somewhat mixed reviews. However, the weather was a factor that might have turned some fans away. But, Oklahoma had an official attendance of 52,000 for the 2018 game. What more will Riley do in order to get the attendance up to the 80.000 that he wanted last season? Could there be a Baker Mayfield statue unveiling? Does Oklahoma step up the entertainment for the game? With the changes that have been mentioned on the field, rest assured the excitement will be there.