Five Oklahoma storylines headed into spring football: Sooners searching for new defensive line leader – Dallas Morning News

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Football nears in Norman, Okla., with spring practice starting Saturday, March 5.

The Sooners returns a majority of their 2015 group, and this spring will serve as a stepping stone for a team looking to return to the College Football Playoff.

With the off-season continuing to roll, here are five storylines heading in to spring ball:

No. 1: OU’s defensive line needs new leader.

An obvious narrative to begin with this spring is what will OU do to replace defensive line coach Diron Reynolds. He was only at OU for a season, but he formed a strong bond with his position group much like his predecessor Jerry Montgomery. Replacing Reynolds will be difficult from a chemistry standpoint and poses some challenges with recruiting. Oklahoma is expected to make a decision as soon as possible, but it’ll be interesting to see how the young group will respond to a new coach and if his replacement can land new talent for an important 2017 signing class.

No. 2: Austin Kendall’s development.

Oklahoma’s starting quarterback spot isn’t up for grabs like 2015. Baker Mayfield is OU’s guy. But Oklahoma is in a bit of awkward position with Trevor Knight trading in his Sooner crimson for Aggie maroon and Cody Thomas re-joining the baseball team full-time. Incoming freshman Austin Kendall is already on campus, and the true freshman will be OU’s best and basically only bet behind Mayfield. His development will be key to follow, as well as Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray. Murray won’t be available for 2016 due to transfer rules, but his presence will make OU’s 2016 spring game and 2017 quarterback derby all the more interesting.

No. 3: The impact of transfers.

Speaking of Murray, Oklahoma has a few new transfers. Murray won’t be eligible until 2017, but Penn State receiver Geno Lewis will be available week one as a graduate transfer. Lewis looks to become another wideout in a long line of successful transfer receivers at Oklahoma. His arrival comes conveniently at a time when OU is short on experience at receiver with the departure of seniors Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s system is said to be easy to grasp, but Lewis will still have to go out and execute to help replenish OU’s lost depth at the position.

No. 4: Samaje Perine leaves door open for others.

Samaje Perine underwent ankle surgery shortly after OU’s season-ending loss to Clemson. His absence provides a huge opportunity for others to take advantage of with Perine’s carries up for grabs. Rodney Anderson figures to be back in time for spring ball, Daniel Brooks was used sparingly in 2015 and still trying to find a place in the offense and Alex Ross will try to re-establish himself on the depth chart. Joe Mixon is ahead of the pack and will got a lot of first team looks. So this spring will provide a few guys more opportunities than maybe they expected with Perine recovering from surgery.

No. 5: Linebacker depth depleted.

Oklahoma will look very different at linebacker during its spring game on April 9. No Eric Striker, Devante Bond, Dominique Alexander or Frank Shannon will leave the cupboard dry until OU’s incoming class arrives in the summer. Jordan Evans is a proven commodity, but the depleted position group will give Tay Evans and Curtis Bolton a chance to gain an edge in spring. Five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly might be able to step in to a major role following the summer and fall camp. But OU will look to find out whether Evans or Bolton can mature more and become valuable assets to Tim Kish’s group.