Word out of Oklahoma is that after two uncharacteristically mediocre seasons, the Sooners' defense, led by a trio of veterans -- linebacker Rufus Alexander and defensive ends Calvin Thibodeaux and C.J. Ah You -- should return to dominance this fall. The bigger mystery is how OU's ultra-young offense will develop.
Sooners offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson knows he has at least one luxury at his disposal, a fully healthy Adrian Peterson, but beyond that there are a lot of unproven commodities. Sophomore quarterback Rhett Bomar is still a work in progress, and four of the five starting offensive linemen from the end of last season are gone, as are veteran receivers Travis Wilson and Jejaun Rankins. Injuries along the line have prevented Wilson from getting a full read on that unit, but he raved last week about sophomore receivers Malcolm Kelly, Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson, who join senior Paul Thompson, a converted quarterback.
"This group is as talented, if not more talented, than two years ago [when OU had Mark Clayton, Mark Bradley, Travis Wilson, Brandon Jones and Will Peoples], it's just the experience is lacking," said Wilson, who assumed the coordinator's role when Chuck Long became the head coach at San Diego State. "Malcolm Kelly could end up being one of the great receivers ever to play here."
Traditionally, under Bob Stoops, Oklahoma has excelled at reinventing itself offensively from one year to the next (think 2002-03, when the Sooners went from a powerful running season led by Quentin Griffin to a pass-happy season in which Jason White won the Heisman), but the team struggled mightily with the post-White transition last year. (Peterson's ankle injury certainly didn't help.) Not until the final six games, five of them Oklahoma victories -- including a 17-14 upset of 10-1 Oregon in the Holiday Bowl -- did it seem like everyone was finally on the same page.
For the second straight year, however, the O-line will be undergoing a major face-lift, with promising sophomores Branndon Braxton and Duke Robinson considered cornerstones of the future. Besides using Peterson as a pass-catcher more often, Wilson has offered little clue as to what direction the offense will take in 2006, mostly because he himself doesn't know.
"I don't want to give the ball to Number 28 all the time; I'm trying to be attack-oriented," said Wilson. "But everything will be determined by what the line can handle, and what [Bomar] can handle."