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August 27, 2012

Five things to watch this week against UTEP

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DOMINIQUE WHALEY'S HEALTH

Bob Stoops has given his opinion of Dominique Whaley's progress every time he's talked to the media during fall camp.

Will the Sooners' best tailback a year ago be the same player he was before that terrible

"It's hard to say is he truly 100 percent?" said Stoops most recently. "He sure looks it. I don't know if he can tell you. He feels the same, he looks the same and I think he's pretty much there ready to go."

If there's anyone who wants Saturday to get here so everyone can make their own judgment on how far he's come, it's Whaley.

"They had to go find me," said Whaley, who was trying to hide out in the hopes of avoiding the media last Tuesday. "I have a lot of confidence in my ankle even if there are some things that inhibit or take away from what I can do. Who's really playing a full season 100 percent anyway? You know what I mean?

"I'm all go. I feel good, I'm running good, I've got all my speed back. Everything."

The staff has been careful with Whaley during the fall. They've had to hold him back from doing more than he's wanted to do.

The biggest thing for Whaley is that he's not Roy Finch. His game is more about being the Sooners' sledgehammer at running back. There isn't a lot of flare to Whaley's game. He's this team's wrecking ball.

He's ready to tear something or someone down Saturday in El Paso. Fans are just as ready to see him do it.

JUSTIN BROWN'S ABILITY

If there is anything that has made this offense better this fall, it's the arrival of Justin Brown. If Brown were a recruit, Landry Jones would give him five stars. His three years of major college experience has been a major boost for this team's receiving corps.

"He's played a lot of football, so he's used to running around and he's used to working off of coverage," said Landry Jones recently of Brown. "We've actually built a lot of rapport and been able to get on the same page most of every route."

Brown has gone through a whirlwind of emotions and logistics since arriving to Norman. He was still getting settled in his apartment halfway through fall camp and is just now getting settled in.

But his experience is something that can't be replaced heading into the 2012 season. How that translates into catches and big plays, we'll have to wait to find out. Brown will at least keep the Sooners from having to rely too heavily on another true freshman to go along with Trey Metoyer.

That could be huge for Jones in the end.

STUDYING THE TRENCHES

The most serious issues early in camp are still worth keeping an eye on at the start of the 2012 campaign. Ben Habern and Tyler Evans being out of action are still big factors for this team.

Even if Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin become stars this season, the Sooners still have a major problem with quality depth. Nila Kasitati will be counted on to be that extra player on the offensive line's interior.

All reports suggest Shead, Gabe Ikard and Irwin held up well and provided plenty of running lanes for OU backs this fall. But we've seen injuries and rebuilt lines go wrong for the Sooners. In 2005, the Sooners came out of the gates with Adrian Peterson and a loss to TCU on Owen Field.

In 2009, Brody Eldridge was forced to move inside on the offensive line as injuries crippled that line. Sam Bradford ended up knocked out of OU's first game against BYU and that year ended up being a disappointment. The Sooners couldn't run the ball behind that line and were forced into a five-wide pass happy offense.

Things shouldn't be that bad in 2012, but we've seen this happen enough to be concerned heading into the season. Injuries just can't happen.

The defensive tackle spot was already a question mark before Stacy McGee was declared indefinitely suspended by Bob Stoops last week. Will David King be the answer or do the Sooners have to have more production from freshmen Jordan Phillips?

There is little depth on the defensive line, especially on the interior.

THE RETURN OF MIKE STOOPS

It's hard to argue any coach has been welcomed back to Norman like Mike Stoops. He's the first of the original staff to come back to Norman after leaving for a head coaching job at Arizona.

Eight years later, Stoops is back to take over a secondary that was burned beyond recognition a year ago. Now he's tasked with reshaping the makeup, both physically and mentally, of a unit which must be better if the Sooners hope to compete for a championship.

"Ultimately it's about winning," said Stoops. "Statistics go out the window. We play twice as many plays as everyone else, too. The common sense is people are gonna have more yards or more plays. It comes down to making stops on third down and getting your butt off the field; that will stop it in a hurry."

Stoops plans to get more stops by putting more defensive backs on the field than this team has done in the past.

He's worked hard on developing a nickel back position that will play a bigger role on the defensive side of the ball. Gabe Lynn won that job coming out of camp, but Julian Wilson is nipping at his heels.

Tony Jefferson's move to free safety and Aaron Colvin's move to corner are the other big changes heading into this week's opener at UTEP.

If Stoops can't keep people from running behind his secondary, game one will be considered a major step forward.

NEW FACES

Trey Metoyer gets glossed over a bit, but he's the guy everyone will be most impressed by after Saturday's opener has concluded. Metoyer gives Landry Jones a big, physical presence he's never had since he's been the quarterback at Oklahoma.

I'm not sure Sam Bradford ever had a player like Metoyer outside of Jermaine Gresham at tight end.

Damien Williams at running back is likely to be the first new face Sooner fans will see at that position Saturday. While Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal could help reshape OU's special teams and receiving corps this weekend.

Don't forget Lacoltan Bester as a new face among the wide receivers as well.

Defensive end Charles Tapper is likely the first newcomer you'll see on the defensive side of the ball outside of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

Michael Onuoha won't be far behind Tapper as a young defensive end either.

Mike Stoops says he'd like to play Gary Simon Saturday at cornerback as well should the Sooners be fortunate enough to get a big lead.

Back on the offensive side of the ball, look out for tight end Geneo Grissom as well as Taylor McNamara.

It might be tough to see Alex Ross this weekend in El Paso. Cale Gundy has tabbed Brennan Clay, Dom Whaley and Damien Williams as his top three running backs coming out of camp. As of last week, he wasn't sure if he wanted to play freshmen Ross or David Smith.




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