Oklahoma football definitely will have a new look in the backfield this season, and that has a few folks concerned that the run-game production may not be enough to sufficiently support the Sooners’ main offensive weaponry: the forward pass.
The concern is a legitimate one, considering Oklahoma must replace 75 percent of its rushing yardage from a year ago because of the departure of both Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who produced 2,334 of the team’s 3,078 total rushing yards last season.
Sophomore Abdul Adams was the only other OU running back to get more than a few carries through the course of last season, and those were extremely limited because of the luxury afforded the Sooners in having two of the best running backs in the country on their roster and without question the best one-two combination at the position anywhere in college football.
Adams had 53 carries a year ago for 283 yards, most of that coming in two games. More importantly, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
The sophomore running back won’t have to settle for leftovers in the 2017 season. The highly recruited running back out of Landover, Maryland, is going to get the opportunity to live up those expectations, and the Sooner coaches believe it could be his time.
“He’s look great,” running backs coach Jay Boulware said to Brooke Pryor of the Oklahoma City Oklahoman regarding the running-back competition at training camp and specifically Adams’ development. “He’s probably our most improved back from his first year to this year right now.
“He’s getting work in after practice,” Boulware said. “He’s been doing that for over a year now, and it shows on the field in all areas.”
Adams was impressive in OU’s first scrimmage of preseason training camp, breaking off a 50-yard run at one point. He recorded a touchdown run in the team’s second scrimmage.
Adams is probably penciled in right now as the lead back on the depth chart heading into the season opener next weekend against the University of Texas-El Paso, but he is just one of several the Sooners will run in at the running back position as the Sooners go with more of a running back-by-committee approach, going with fresh legs and utilizing the talent on hand.
Sooner fans have been waiting a couple of years to see what Rodney Anderson can do. Anderson was a member of OU’s 2015 recruiting class but has missed all but a few plays of the past two seasons because of injuries. The speedy running back out of the Houston, Texas, area is back and healthy again and has looked very good in training camp. If he can stay healthy for most if not all of the coming season, Anderson has the tools to be a playmaker and make a big difference in the Oklahoma offense.
Oklahoma also has junior-college transfer Marcelias Sutton and promising freshman Trey Sermon as newcomers on the Sooner roster. Rivals rated Sutton as the No. 19 overall JUCO prospect in the country and rated Sermon as the No. 9 running back in the national 2017 class.
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Sermon packs 220 pounds into a 6-foot frame, and is difficult to catch and bring down when he gets into the open field. He has been enrolled and on campus since last January and went through spring practice drills with the team. His stellar high school performance stats and skills were enough to attract scholarship offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan and others in addition to Oklahoma. That gives you a good idea of why the prospects are high for the highly touted freshman running back.
Sutton also is very quick on his feet, and had shown the ability to make catches out of the backfield, which is an important element in the Air Raid offense.
The Sooners also had a fifth back in the mix in freshman Kennedy Brooks, who has shown good promise. Unfortunately that promise will have to wait for another year or so. Brooks injured his shoulder last week in training camp and has been ruled out for the season.
The Oklahoma run game may not be as prolific in 2017 as it has been the past couple of years with Perine and Mixon wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. But make no mistake: the current stable of Sooner running backs is very talented and as good as any. They are more than capable of getting the job done.
They may lack game experience at this level to establish a substantive track record, but they are not lacking in talent nor in the work they are putting in on the practice field.
All four Sooner running backs are talented in their own right, but what is going to make them even better in the upcoming season is running behind a massive offensive line that returns all five starters from last season and is arguably the best in the country.
This offensive line is good enough to open up holes that most any running back should be able blow through. The fact that there is nothing average about the Oklahoma running back quartet for 2017 just adds icing to the cake.
“It’s a tight race,” said new head coach Lincoln Riley about the running back competition in training camp. “They are all playing well — I’d imagine that we’d use all of them.”