ARLINGTON, Texas — For Oklahoma, it’s simple to see at a position such as receiver, where freshmen Theo Wease, Trejan Bridges, Jadon Haselwood and Austin Stogner can contribute immediately this season.
But truth is, even with 16 offensive or defensive returning players who started at least five games a year ago, the Sooners will have new faces all over the field when practice begins Saturday at the rugby fields just west of Lloyd Noble Center.
Wease and Haselwood were the highest-ranked players in OU’s 2019 class. Bridges was a five-star prospect too, and Stogner was considered arguably the most sought after tight end in the 2019 class.
“They came in with a lot of confidence,” junior receiver CeeDee Lamb said. “Guys that don’t have confidence are already defeated, especially in college.”
There’s potential for other newcomers with that mindset to make an impact too — on the offensive line, at defensive end and safety.
And it’s a virtual guarantee that, within its program, OU will play a first-year quarterback, placekicker and punter.
OU coach Lincoln Riley seemed shocked that he didn’t field a single question about the Sooners’ kicking situation through nearly six hours of interviews at Big 12 media days last month. Special teams coach Jay Boulware is focused on Reeves Mundschau at punter and sorting through Gabe Brkic and Calum Sutherland for plackicking and kickoff duties.
“That’s one of the big ones there for our team this year,” Riley said. “We like the group. But we’ve had such a security blanket with Austin [Seibert] for the last several years.”
At quarterback, it’s assumed that Riley is grooming Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts as the starter, but a position battle will still take place. True freshman Spencer Rattler, a five-star prospect who could have been the frontrunner had Hurts not transferred, is in the thick of that competition.
Riley plans to give the Phoenix product a chance over the next month.
“You go recruit a guy [like Rattler] that you think has that much ability, you have to believe in them,” Riley said. “They believe in themselves and then it’s just a race to see how quickly you can get them good.”
The addition of Virginia graduate transfer R.J. Proctor, a 6-foot-4, 337-pounder with six starts at left under his belt last fall, plus junior college transfer Finley Felix will add another layer to the offensive line decision-making process.
“R.J. has handled it well,” Riley said. “He’s got Creed [Humphrey] and a couple of guys to kind of look on to, even some of the guys that have played as backups here but have been here with us for a few years and do understand the demands of that position. Honestly I think it’s part of why RJ wanted to come here. He was highly recruited. He wanted to be a part of an elite group and felt like he had that chance here.”
Most of the fresh opportunities are on defense. New coordinator Alex Grinch has been clear that freshman will have a chance to play early if they can prove themselves, partly out of necessity due to injury, but also due to subpar performances from current Sooners in the spring.
True freshman Jeremiah Criddell and Jamal Morris were both highly touted safeties. OU also signed three four-star defensive ends — Marcus Hicks, Marcus Stripling and Kori Roberson — to go with junior-college transfer LaRon Stokes.
“I would love to say that two years from now or three years from now … We’re going through a depth chart where early playing time isn’t available for [incoming recruits]. That’s not just where we find ourselves right now,” Grinch said. “Some of that is strictly numbers. Some of that will be tied into attrition. Some of that is, from a performance standpoint, guys have left the window open for guys to come in here and take their jobs. All of those things lend itself to guys coming in and having an opportunity to play very early.”