While much of the early media focus is on the Oklahoma Sooners' monster defensive line that returns impact players like Frank Alexander, Jeremy Beal, Adrian Taylor, Gerald McCoy and 2008 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Auston English as well as the inconsistency of the offensive line this spring that introduces four new starters including Brody Eldridge moving from tight end to center, I thought it was important to take note of the extraordinary set of backs the Sooners boast for the 2009 season.
We should begin with the most obvious impact back and returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. With over 7,800 passing yards and 86 touchdowns in two seasons, Sam Bradford is in postion to control every Oklahoma passing record as well as do something only Archie Griffin did 35 years ago, win two Heisman Trophy's. Bradford's talent and performance are well documented so we should move along to some of the backs who will help take some of the pressure off of the junior quarterback.
OU fans should not have to look much further than the running back position to understand the explosive weapons in place to protect their quarterback with the golden arm and baby face. Chris Brown returns for his senior season looking to somehow improve on a junior season that saw him rush for over 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns in a three running back rotation including returning players Demarco Murray and Mossis Madu. Demarco Murray's 1000 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns were sorely missed in last year's national championship game versus Florida but a healthy Murray gives the Sooners a weapon in the offensive backfield that has produced 29 touchdowns over the junior running back's first two seasons. Madu takes on a different kind of role this season by moving to the slot back (or slot receiver depending on your taste for semantics). It will be interesting to see how the former running back, who ran for over 100 yards and three touchdowns in the Big 12 Championship game against Missouri last season, impacts the Oklahoma passing game. The Sooners are comfortable moving Madu to the slot as a cause of redshirt freshman Jermie Calhoun moving to third string running back. Calhoun was the ranked by ESPN and Rivals.com as the number one high school player in the nation in 2007. This young man could start for most NCAA division one football programs and could see 50 to 150 carries this season. Also, we cannot forget All-Big 12 first team senior fullback Matt Clapp who not only blocks for his backs but is an impact player on special teams as well. This stable of offensive backs will likely take less pressure off of Sam Bradford than the amount pressure they will apply to opposing defenses.
What do the Sooners have beyond that potent offense and titanic defensive front? Well, there should be little worry at the linebacker position as Oklahoma returns starters Keenan Clayton, Ryan Reynolds, Travis Lewis and Austin Box. The Sooners were blindsided by knee injuries to linebackers Ryan Reynolds and Austin Box in 2008. Reynolds went down in the loss to Texas and Box had his season cut short by a cheap shot in the game in Stillwater. Both players, back healthy, look to sew up one of the better core linebacking crews in the nation.
I suppose the biggest concern for Oklahoma's defense is the secondary. The Sooners return starting cornerbacks Dominique Franks and Brandon Jackson, which combined to force ten turnovers in 2008, but safeties Sam Proctor and Quinton Carter must prove their value in the Oklahoma defensive secondary.
The Sooners are bringing back the backs for a shot at back to back national title game appearances. The season begins against BYU Saturday at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium and I will be lucky enough to see, in person, this talented Sooners team kick off the 2009 season with a win. Boomer Sooner!!!!