How Will OU Replace Four 1st Rounders?

Having four players drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, including three of the top four picks overall is quite a feat.  But replacing those four impact players and competing for another Big 12 Championship could be an even taller order for Bob Stoops and his staff.  College FootBlog takes a look at the players who will look to fill this huge void and then we will break down what to expect from the Sooners this fall.

Quarterback Landry Jones got valuable experience last season, due to Bradford's injured shoulder (google images)

Quarterback:  As unfortunate as Sam Bradford’s injured shoulder was last year, the silver lining has to be that freshman quarterback Landry Jones was able to get an entire year of experience, including the Red River Rivalry game against Texas, who had one of the best defenses in the country last season.  Jones looked great at times, but he looked really, really bad at times, too, and we’re not just referring to his dirty mustache.  Against Idaho State, Jones threw for six touchdowns, but that was somewhat offset when the Sooners traveled to Nebraska, where he had no TDs and five interceptions.

Most of Jones’ struggles last season seemed to happen on the road, and that could be attributed to the fact that he was a freshman thrown into the fire.  Reports out of Norman are that Jones had a very solid spring, capped off by a great showing in the Sooners’ spring game.  With the departure of Bradford, this is officially Landry Jones’ offense now.  Look for more consistency and solid numbers from him this fall.

Defensive Tackle:  Replacing a top-tier defensive tackle is extremely difficult.  Since redshirting his first year at OU, Gerald McCoy has been a fixture on the Sooners’ interior D-line, and he dominated last season, collecting fifteen tackles for loss, despite consistently facing double team blocks.  McCoy’s leadership will also be missed– he was the first OU sophomore ever to be elected team captain.

The DT with the most upside who will attempt to fill McCoy’s shoes is probably sophomore Jamarkus McFarland.  McFarland was one of the top players in the 2009 recruiting class and got some playing time as a true freshman last season.  At 6’3″ and 285 lbs, size will not be an issue, and even though his playing time was limited last season, the projected starter did get some experience and also learned a lot from McCoy, who was known for his leadership on the team.  Still, to expect the same results as McCoy would be unfair and unrealistic, at least this season.

Offensive Tackle:  Trent Williams was much more than an OT for the Sooners.  At different times, the talented offensive lineman played guard and even center for OU.  That versatility was a big reason for his #4 selection in the draft, and it was vital to the success of the Sooner offense.  It’s not often that an offensive lineman runs a 4.88 in the forty-yard dash, and replacing that kind of athleticism is not an easy task.  Williams was a solid pass blocker, but he excelled at run blocking.  Maintaining a solid running game will be critical if Oklahoma wants to be successful on offense.

Sophomore Donald Stephenson is the most likely candidate to replace Williams at LT.  After being academically ineligible last season, Stephenson is now in good standing and should have an impact this fall.  He is considered to be the most talented O-lineman returning, but his maturity and work ethic have come into question in his short time at OU.  If he can remain eligible and step it up a notch in the weight room, he could be a solid tackle, but he will not be able to replace the athleticism of Williams.  Expect a bit of a drop off at that position this season.

The Sooners were not able to replace Gresham's production last season (google images)

Tight End:  Even after missing the entire 2009 season due to an ACL tear, Jermaine Gresham was still the first TE taken in the NFL Draft.  His rare blend of size, speed and receiving ability makes him a relative “can’t miss” for the NFL.  As a junior in 2008, Gresham quickly became a favorite target for Sam Bradford, collecting 950 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.  The Sooners missed his presence last season, and no one seemed to create the vertical threat in the middle of the field that Gresham provided.

The top two candidates for the starting TE position this fall are Trent Ratteree, who was actually a walk-on and redshirt junior James Hanna.  Hanna backed up departed senior Brody Eldridge last season, so neither tight end has a wealth of experience, and neither provides the downfield threat that Gresham brought to the table.

What will the overall impact be for OU in 2010?  Fortunately for Sooner fans, Bob Stoops has consistently restocked his roster with solid recruiting classes, so the cupboard is not exactly bare.  However, replacing four players that go that high in the NFL Draft is not easy to do–just ask Pete Carroll, who lost four players on the first day of last year’s draft.  USC’s defense was still talented, but they were not the dominant group that the Trojans have consistently produced since Carroll arrived at Southern Cal.  Stoops will likely run into the same issues, but the impact should not be as great as what USC faced, mostly because OU had to play all of last season without two of their four 1st round selections.

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