The big stories for Saturday’s scrimmage include the safety position and our first chance to see Jovantae Barnes.
New Oklahoma Sooners head coach Brent Venables hasn’t missed a chance to promote Saturday’s Red-White Game in the months since he took over the program. Aside from fans getting their first look at the 2022 team, turning the spring scrimmage into a marquee offseason event is a chance to move on from an unsatisfying 2021 season. Celebrating one of the most beloved Sooners of all time is on the agenda, too.
The action between the lines at this year’s Red-White Game almost feels secondary to the vibes around it. Normally, that would be the best way to experience what usually turn into dull affairs. The intrigue regarding how players will fit into OU’s new offensive and defensive schemes gives this year’s edition some extra flavor, though.
With that in mind, here are a handful of things to keep an eye on when the Sooners hit the field for their final scrimmage of the spring.
We know that the competition to win the starting job this season never happened – new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby essentially crowned Dillon Gabriel as QB1 the moment the Central Florida transfer committed to the Sooners. With Gabriel slated to play for both sides in Saturday’s action, we should get a better idea of what OU’s signal caller will look like this season. Early reviews from people in the know are solid.
Depth thins out quickly, which likely explains why Gabriel is pulling double duty. We may have a better sense on Saturday night if third-year sophomore Micah Bowens and/or freshman Nick Evers will give the Sooners an adequate backup.
Pay especially close attention to Lebby’s play-calling when run-first QB Bowens is at the controls.
How the safeties are deployed
You could interpret this multiple ways. First, how many nominal safeties play together at any one time? Second, how are they aligned? For instance, watch the assignments of the deep safeties.
And who is playing where? It sounds as though Billy Bowman and Key Lawrence may have the inside track on the free and strong safety spots. Does that match what we see on Saturday, or is Bowman playing more of a nickel spot? Speaking of which, North Carolina transfer Trey Morrison will have a chance to show if he can make an impact at nickel this season.
Finally, is there any chance OU will roll with hybrid linebackers at nickel? Keep an eye on Shane Whitter and Jaren Kanak in that regard.
Competition at cornerback
Let’s stick with the secondary theme. One player generating serious buzz during spring camp is Kani Walker, a redshirt freshman who transferred to OU from Louisville. He looks the part physically, but we can evaluate if he can actually play it. Meanwhile, if D.J. Graham happens to audition at any other positions on Saturday, it might give us an important clue about future personnel assignments.
Perusing the rosters of the two sides, it stands out that upperclassmen Eric Gray and Marcus Major are playing together at running back for the White team. That means heralded freshman Jovantae Barnes will be the main option for the Red squad. Unexpected, but appreciated.
Barnes has a shot to become a feature RB for the Sooners as soon as this season. We should have plenty of opportunities on Saturday to observe how far he has to go.
Are the interior defensive linemen causing trouble?
Nose tackle Perrion Winfrey and defensive tackle Isaiah Thomas made for a disruptive combo last season. Venables and defensive line coach Todd Bates have a tough time ahead replacing their presence in the middle of the line.
A strong outing from players like Tulane transfer Jeffrey Johnson, Jalen Redmond and Isaiah Coe would help quell some of the concerns about the departures. (Granted, that might raise new fears about the offensive line.)