Spring ball: what we learned

OU linebacker Corey Nelson

NORMAN, Okla. — The Sooners officially completed spring football last week, and now Sooners Illustrated breaks down the major things that can be picked out from it.

The Sooners officially completed spring football last week, and now Sooners Illustrated breaks down the major things that can be picked out from it.

1. Blake Bell have took the lead in the QB battle, but Kendal Thompson is not nearly as much of a dark horse as he was labeled to be—The talk coming out of last season and into the spring was how Bell was the likely favorite, with Trevor Knight second and Thompson somewhat of a distant third. But that was based solely on Bell's experience and Knight's positive showing as one of the scout team players of the year, coupled with Thompson's lack of exposure. The fact of the matter, though, is Thompson might have an awkward throwing motion, but he's perhaps OU's best at running the zone read and probably has the best escapability of any of the three. So, it's safe to say with that he's made it a bit of a two-way battle now with himself and Bell, Knight slightly behind both as opposed to the alternative.

2. Running back Roy Finch could have a bigger role in the 2013 offense—People have always wondered how a guy with so much elusiveness and big play potential out of the backfield has so little of an impact. Finch, who rushed for just 62 yards and found himself buried on the depth chart last season, prompted that question over and over. But he's appeared to make a giant step prior to his senior season. The 5-foot-7, 167-pound back impressed with 93 all-purpose yards, highlighted by a 49-yard touchdown reception from Bell. He finished with four catches for 73 yards, and eight rushes for 20 yards, leading to the coaches bragging about him afterwards. Increased production from Finch is certainly welcome for a backfield that already features Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, Trey Millard and other potent options.

3. The linebackers are growing confident under second-year coach Tim Kish and will be more involved—Tom Wort was frustrated with the involvement of OU's linebackers last season, and that might have led to his departure before playing his senior season. But by all accounts, a small group that returns has made tremendous strides and developed a comfort level that should make them a bigger force this fall. Corey Nelson has asserted a leadership role at the Will position, while Frank Shannon has stood in as the likely starting Mike backer, with Aaron Franklin and Eric Striker backing up the two, respectively. They're bonding and the coaches believe this corps could actually be a strength for the OU defense in 2013.

4. Special teams is a question mark—OU returns potent return men in Brennan Clay and Roy Finch in the kickoff game and Jalen Saunders in punting situations, but it also loses a key special teams contributor. Tress Way might have been underappreciated if the Red-White game is any indication. Granted it's his only performance in front of a live audience so far, but punter Jed Barnett struggled to a 36.4-yard average booting the ball on five attempts. He shanked one 13 yards to start off the day. So, that's a bit of a concern and must be fixed. Michael Hunnicutt comes back for kickoff and place kicking situations, so that's a plus.

5. Even with OU's two leading receivers from a year ago departing, the Sooners have big play candidates on the perimeter—Everyone knows about Saunders' capability after he scorched opponents for 829 yards and three touchdowns on 62 receptions. But losing Kenny Stills and Justin Brown has many wondering if the rest of the unit can pick up the slack. Simply put: they can. Jaz Reynolds returns to the field after a year suspension, and he had a trio of catches for 23 yards in the Spring Game. Durron Neal and Trey Metoyer each came up with a pair of flashy catches; Neal managed a touchdown and Metoyer led all pass catchers with 122 yards on the afternoon. Meanwhile, there's still Sterling Shepard and an evolving Derrick Woods to go along with Millard. OU has plenty of options for the quarterback of choice.

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