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2008 Oklahoma Preview - Offense
Oklahoma OT Phil Loadholt
Oklahoma OT Phil Loadholt
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 9, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Oklahoma Sooner Offense

Oklahoma Sooners

Preview 200
8 - Offense


- 2008 CFN Oklahoma Preview | 2008 Oklahoma Offense
- 2008 Oklahoma Defense | 2008 Oklahoma Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Oklahoma Preview | 2006 CFN Oklahoma Preview

What you need to know:
Consistency will be the key, especially on the road, but all the parts are there. The offense has the talent to be unstoppable, but there are a few question marks. Starting with the positives, Sam Bradford should once again be among the nation's most effective and efficient quarterbacks and the line might be the best in America by a wide margin with all five starters returning, along with impressive depth. However, the top two returning running backs, DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown, are coming off knee injuries, and the receiving corps will be looking for immediate help with Malcolm Kelly moving on early to the NFL. Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson are great targets, but can they be more than just complementary receivers? Can the new superstar running back and receiver recruits shine right away? Again, though, with a line like OU has, everyone will get time to jell.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Sam Bradford
237-341, 3,121 yds, 36 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: DeMarco Murray
127 carries, 764 yds, 13 TD
Receiving: Juaquin Iglesias
68 catches, 907 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore QB Sam Bradford
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Quentin Chaney
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Trent Williams
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Phil Loadholt
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Loadholt, 2) OG George Robinson, 3) Bradford
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, quarterback, potential
Weakness of the offense:
Running back health, proven receiver depth

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter
:
The one major question mark in 2007 for OU was the quarterback situation. This was considered a good enough team to win the Big 12 title, and possibly the national championship, if Paul Thompson could be replaced and if the Sooners could just find someone steady to take over. All sophomore Sam Bradford did was lead the nation in passing efficiency while completing 70% of his throws for 3,121 yards and 36 touchdowns with eight interceptions, and while he wasn't really in the Heisman race, a case could be made that he was as much of an MVP as anyone in the country. The 6-4, 214-pounder showed maturity beyond his years and scary-good decision-making ability. While he's a good athlete, he's not a runner and he needs protection.

Playing behind one of the nation's best offensive lines, he had plenty of time to operate and picked everyone apart when he got a chance, but he struggled when he was pressured. As good as he was throwing five touchdown passes in the destruction of Miami and five in the blowout against Texas A&M, but he hasn't come through in the clutch. That's not to say he's not good in tight games, he was brilliant in the 28-21 win over Texas, but he struggled under the pressure in the loss to Colorado and wasn't a major factor, despite throwing for 242 yards, in the loss to West Virginia.


Projected Top Reserves: Senior Joey Halzle doesn't have a ton of talent compared to the other OU quarterbacks and he might not do any one thing all that well, but Oklahoma has won championships with passers like him. Experienced, coming from the JUCO ranks, athletic, and with enough all-around skill to do a little of everything well, he can step in and shine if needed, like he did in the Texas Tech game when he took over for an injured Sam Bradford and, after a slow start, finished by completing 21 of 42 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.

Sophomore Keith Nichol was a huge recruit two years ago and was almost ready to go to Michigan State to be the immediate starter, but changed his mind at the last possible moment and chose OU. At 6-2 and 204 pounds with tremendous speed, he's a great athlete with a cannon for an arm, throwing for 76 touchdowns in his school and running for 58 more. The coaching staff blew it by playing him in a few mop-up moments and blowing his redshirt season, and now, with Bradford firmly entrenched as the starter, he has decided to transfer to Michigan State.

OU landed a future star in Landry Jones, one of the nation's top ranked prep quarterbacks. The 6-4, 210-pounder from New Mexico is an accurate bomber with good running skills, but he doesn't figure to be within ten miles of the starting quarterback mix until 2011.
 
Watch Out For ... the ongoing battle for the No. 2 job. While the team can probably win right now with Halzle, Jones is the national title-caliber talent who could eventaully make the offense explode if something happened to Bradford. One thing about OU, everyone will get their shot to play.
Strength: Flat-out talent. Bradford, Halze, and even Jones have NFL potential. OU hasn't exactly been a factory for NFL quarterbacks (quick, name the last Sooner passer who has done anything in the big league ... and no, Troy Aikman doesn't count), this is the most talented stable of signal-callers Bob Stoops has ever had.
Weakness: Running. Bradford isn't a stick-in-the-mud and Halzle can move, but defensive coordinators aren't going to worry about the new Vince Young.
Outlook: On pure talent, Oklahoma has some of the best quarterbacks in the country with all three options, Bradford, Halzle and Jones able to start and shine. It helps to have a good line to play behind, a brilliant running game to count on, and an elite receiving corps to throw to, but Bradford isn't just a cog in the system; he's a big-time player who makes it all go. 
Rating: 10

Running Backs

Projected Starters
:
Is DeMarco Murray going to be healthy enough to continue to emerge as the star he was becoming before getting hurt? The now-sophomore made a scary-good debut with five touchdowns against North Texas and ran for 764 yards and 13 scores, caught 14 passes for 60 yards, and averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return with two scores. He ran for 94 yards against Texas Tech, and then he dislocated his kneecap on an onside kick late in the loss for Red Raiders and was done for the year and missed spring ball. A phenomenal athlete with 4.43 speed and a 41-inch vertical in a 6-0, 191-pound frame, he has all the skills to be a next-level back, but he hasn't been a workhorse. Even so, he's a proven prime-time player with 128 yards and a score against Texas.

When the Sooners used a fullback, it'll be junior Matt Clapp, a 6-2, 244-pound true fullback who redshirted last year and hasn't been able to do much so far due to injuries. He's a physical player who'll likely only be a blocker when he gets on the field.

Projected Top Reserves: The third man in the mix throughout last year, Chris Brown has been the ultimate fill-in taking the ball when needed rushing for 611 yards and nine touchdowns. The junior killed Missouri with five touchdowns in the two games and proved he could step in and produce as part of rotation, but he suffered a knee injury against West Virginia and is questionable to be back to form early on. In a perfect world, he continues to be a dependable No. 2 back who's automatic on third and short situations. While he isn't nearly as fast as Murray, he has speed and is a quick, darting back who keeps the chains moving.

Considering Murray and Brown are coming off big injuries, it might up to be sophomore Mossis Madu to become a major factor early on. Mostly a special teamer so far, he saw a little bit of work running for 232 yards and a 5.8 average highlighted by a 55-yard dash against North Texas. Like all OU backs, he's quick and can cut on a dime, and he's also a decent receiver who could find himself in a bit of a third down role if he becomes the No. 3 man in the running mix.

OU is never afraid to throw a young player to the wolves, and top-recruit Jermie Calhoun could see immediate action if the injured backs aren't ready right away. The 6-0, 210-pounder from Texas ran for 1,601 yards and 20 touchdowns as a high school senior and has the skills to be a dangerous option in the rotation, if nothing else, along with fellow true freshman Justin Johnson, 6-1, 210-pound speedster who provides a bit more power than Calhoun.

Backing up Clapp will be tight end Brody Eldridge in sort of an H-Back role. The 6-5, 258-pound junior has seven career catches for 55 yards, but his real worth is as a big-time blocker earning All-Big 12 honors for opening up holes for the ground game. He'll also be the team's backup tight end.

Watch Out For ... the freshmen. Murray and Brown are the team's established backs who the running game will revolve around, but they might not be quite the same coming off knee injuries. At the very least, they're question marks and the team has to prepare for them to not quite be the same, while hoping they're back to form. That means Calhoun and Johnson will get every shot at seeing time.
Strength: Interchangeability. Murray is the special back with the talent to be an All-America star, but it's not like others can't step in and produce. Thanks to a great O line and an efficient passing game, OU is always able to plug and chug backs. Remember, the team was actually more productive two years ago when Adrian Peterson was out.
Weakness: The coaching staff ... and it's been the weakness for the last few years. OU wears down its backs with Bob Stoops never afraid to give a runner the ball until he drops. The staff did a better job of rotating the runners last year, but Sooner backs always seem to get hurt. Peterson's collarbone injury two years ago was a fluke, but he got dinged up from time to time after his freshman year partly because the coaching staff steadfastly refused to come up with a rotation to decrease the workload. The law of averages means that backs who carry the ball a ton will eventually get a bad roll, and strange twist, or something that'll knock them out. Two years ago, Allen Patrick got 102 carries in three games and got hurt. Peterson got 168 carries in six games and got hurt. Murray was put on the onside kick coverage team against Texas Tech and was lost for the year. Brown suffered a knee injury against West Virginia. It's a bad pattern.
Outlook: The potential is there for the Sooners to have a devastating rotation of runners if Brown and Murray are back from their knee injuries, but this is OU; there are always more backs waiting in the wings. Madu and true freshmen Calhoun and Johnson can keep the offense moving, but it'll take Murray being healthy for the ground game to be special. The rating is assuming it'll take a bit for Murray and Brown to be back to form.
Rating: 8

Receivers

Projected Starters
:
Shhhhh. While Malcolm Kelly is considered by some to be the best wide receiver in the 2008 NFL Draft, he wasn't Oklahoma's best receiver last year. Senior Juaquin Iglesias followed up a solid sophomore season by leading the team with 68 catches for 907 yards and five touchdowns. With 4.4 speed he's always been known as a home-run threat, but last year he became consistent short, middle and long. While not the scorer Kelly was, that could quickly change now that he's the true No. 1 target, but that also means he has to deal with all the attention. Along with being the top receiver, he's also an elite kick returner averaging 28.5 yards per try.

In Kelly's place will likely be senior Quentin Chaney, an interesting blend of tight end size with deep speed. At 6-4 and 213 pounds, he's physical enough to outmuscle most defensive backs, and with sub-4.5 speed, he has the wheels to blow by them ... potentially. It hasn't come together for him yet with 15 career catches for 263 yards and four touchdowns, but he made a 45-yard scoring grab against West Virginia and averaged 23.1 yards per catch last season.

In three-wide sets, which OU usually runs, 5-11, 177-pound junior Manuel Johnson will once again get the call after finishing fourth on the team with 31 catches for 448 yards and four touchdowns. A speedster with experience, he's been a steady cog in the system and an occasional home run hitter, but he started to become more involved in the offense as last year went on with a two-game stretch of eight catches for 222 yards and four touchdowns against Baylor and Texas Tech.

OU always gets production out of its tight ends, and last year it found its breakout star in junior Jermaine Gresham, who led the team with 11 touchdown catches. At 6-5 and 263 pounds, he's a big target with the quickness to always find an opening. A matchup nightmare, he was third on the team with 37 catches for 518 yards and 11 touchdowns, but after making four scoring grabs against Texas A&M he managed just one touchdown catch in the final five games.

Projected Top Reserves: How quickly can sophomore Adron Tennell get back in the mix? Expected to grow into one of the new stars of the passing game after coming up with five catches for 114 yards and a touchdown, he suffered a knee injury against Texas Tech and will need a while before he's back in the rotation. A next-level speedster with 6-4, 184-pound size, he has all the tools to eventually be one of the team's main weapons.

Also coming off an injury is Brandon Caleb, a physical sophomore who got another year of eligibility after hurting his knee. On the plus side, the injury came early enough in the year to give him time to recover in time to be ready to roll this year where he should be one of the team's most athletic receivers. He was a three-time Virginia state championship long jumper and also won titles in the high hurdles.

5-11, 175-pound redshirt freshman Ryan Broyles isn't all that big, and he can be pushed around, but he has playmaker written all over him. One of the stars of spring ball, he showed that he's going to be a future home-run hitter before suffering a broken collarbone.

While OU already has decent receivers ready to roll, the real excitement comes from a whopper of a recruiting class with true freshmen Joshua Jarboe, Jameel Owens, and Dejuan Miller all expected to see time early on. Jarboe is a 6-3, 195-pounder who escaped Georgia's clutches and should be a No. 1 target sooner than later. Owens has an NFL look at 6-3 and 200 pounds and was considered by most services as the top high school prospect in Oklahoma after catching 167 career passes for 3,444 yards and 45 touchdowns. Miller could be the most interesting prospect of the group at 6-5 and 200 pounds with the moves of a tailback. He was also a star safety for Metuchen High in New Jersey and was the state 200-meter champion.
 
Watch Out For ... the freshmen. Jarboe,Owens, and Miller would be the instant starting trio for about 100 other schools, and they could be at OU, too. These three have the potential to make everyone forget about Malcolm Kelly's early departure to the big league.
Strength: Athleticism. Can the Sooners get a receiver who isn't 6-something tall and a former high school track champion? Everyone is big, everyone can run, and everyone has the potential to hit the home run.
Weakness: Proven production. Iglesias is a sure-thing, but there's no one to count on to take the heat off. That's not to say there isn't going to be a ton of instant help from the recruiting class or a jump in production from someone like Chaney, but there isn't a proven commodity.
Outlook: While the group looks the part, there are plenty of questions. Can Iglesias make the move from Robin to Batman and be the guy? Is there a No. 2 receiver ready to take over and shine, and is Johnson capable of making the jump? Are the star recruits going to be ready right away? This could be the Big 12's best receiving corps if everyone plays up to the immense expectations, but it could take a little while. That's not to say this group won't produce. Grisham should be one of the nation's best receiving tight ends, and the law of numbers says that at least one of the prospects will turn into something special from day one.
Rating: 7.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
:
The line was going to be good no matter what, and then it was assured of being special (again) with the decision of
the left side of the line to return for another year. 6-8, 352-pound Phil Loadholt would've been a top 50 draft pick, but he's back at left tackle where he was strong in his first season from the JUCO ranks, but he could be better. The team's best run blocker for stretches, he now has to show he can handle all the speed rushers. If he gets his long arms on a defender, it's over, and with a little more work and a little more consistency, he could be the first tackle taken next year as he invites comparisons to former Miami Hurricane and current Minnesota Viking Bryant McKinnie.

Also with a tough decision to make was senior Duke Robinson at left guard after an All-America season. A starter for the last two years, he's a huge blocker who has kept his weight in check after starting out his career at 360 pounds, and now at a strong 6-5 and 330 pounds he's been better on the move and just as effective against the run. After keeping his weight down over the last few years, he could be moved to tackle if needed even though he's going to soon be a millionaire on the inside.


Back at his spot in the middle is 6-2, 285-pound senior center Jon Cooper, all he has done is overcome a broken ankle in his freshman season to become the rock of the OU line with 29 straight starts with All-Big 12 honors last year. A strong quarterback for a veteran, talented line, he might not be the team's best all-around blocker, but he doesn't make mistakes and is the unquestioned leader. More than anything else, he's always there as the ironman of the line.

There will be a bit of a rotation again at right tackle with 6-6, 312-pound senior Branndon Braxton likely to get the nod after starting seven times last year. He was the main man as a sophomore before breaking his leg, but he came back with a good year showing off the same athleticism and strength he had before the injury. Even so, he'll have to battle to keep the job.

Also returning is senior Brandon Walker at right guard, who didn't get the accolades some of the other starters received, but was considered by the coaches to be the team's most consistent and best blocker throughout the year. At 6-3 and 306 pounds, the second team All-Big 12 selection came in from Coffeyville CC and showed off fantastic speed and toughness from day one. With all the top returning players, he'll once again fly under the radar, but the NFL scouts are certain to notice.

Projected Top Reserves: The right tackle job will be be open all season long with Branndon Braxton once again battling with Trent Williams, who started in six games and has been a fixture in the rotation since his true freshman season. At 6-5 and 321 pounds, he's a big body who can be a load for the running game, but he's not a top-shelf athlete, by OU linemen standards, even though he holds his own.

Backing up Robinson at left guardis 6-4, 293-pound junior Brian Simmons as he prepares to be one of the team's key linemen in 2009. One of the team's most versatile linemen with the athleticism to move out to tackle if absolutely needed, he got starts at left and right guard last year and was fantastic at times. The former defensive lineman never quite got into the swing of things two years ago after hurting himself in a weightlifting accident, but he proved last season that he could be a starter without a problem.

About to be a part of the fun on the talented line is sophomore Cory Brandon, a 6-7, 295-pound sophomore who'll be one of the team's best pass protectors ... next year. He would've stepped in and started at left tackle without a problem if Loadholt had left early for the NFL, but he'll have to be a strong backup for another season. It might not be a bad thing since he's still bulking up and getting stronger after coming to campus at around 270 pounds.
 
Watch Out For ... more battles for playing time than you might think. Considering all five starters return to one of the nation's best lines, you'd think everything would be set. That's not necessarily the way OU does things. Watch out for Simmons, Williams and Brandon to battle for more playing time.
Strength: You name it. There are five possible all-stars among the starting five and ready-made depth waiting in the wings. This group was so strong in pass protection that any time there was any pressure it was magnified disproportionally.
Weakness: Domination game-in-and-game out. For about ten games, this starting five, in whatever configuration it'll be, will destroy opposing defensive lines, but for those two games when there are problems, and you don't know when those games will come, like against Colorado last year, the machine breaks down. For all the returning talent, this line has to bring it every week.
Outlook: This might not just be the nation's best line; it might be the nation's best line by a wide margin. There are two sure-thing NFL starters in Loadholt and Robinson on the left side, a fringe NFL starter at right guard in Brandon Walker, and an all-star center in Jon Cooper to anchor everything. There's depth to burn, more help on the way from the recruiting class, and talent, talent, talent. Now the expectations will be through the roof for this group to be unbelievable every week, and the potential is to meet them.
Rating: 10