Sooners seek new superstars after exodus to NFL

It’s time for Oklahoma to move on.

Enough of what might have been had quarterback Sam Bradford

stayed healthy. If Jermaine Gresham had been around to catch his

passes. If Trent Williams and Brody Eldridge hadn’t joined them on

a lengthy list of banged-up Sooners during a disappointing 8-5

season.

None of those players are coming back. They’ve all moved on to

the NFL, along with standout defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, leaving

a noticeable void at the team’s annual media day Friday. That means

many of the same players who struggled as fill-ins last season will

now be expected to excel as regulars in the starting lineup.

”Maybe we don’t have the Heisman Trophy guys coming back or

maybe the biggest names in the world, but I really believe there’s

the makings of a lot of special players on this team that could be

those guys,” coach Bob Stoops said.

Over his first 11 seasons in Norman, Stoops lost Heisman Trophy

winner Jason White and a slew of NFL talent. But he’s never had an

exodus quite like this one: Bradford, McCoy and Williams became the

first trio of players from the same school to be taken within the

first four picks of the NFL draft.

Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner and the overall top

pick by St. Louis, did miss almost all of last season with a

shoulder injury that required two surgical procedures and Gresham

missed the entire season before being the 21st pick in the draft.

McCoy was the only one there for the duration.

All the missing parts gave Stoops a head start in finding his

next wave of superstars, but the search still isn’t done.

”We’ve got to find the guys that are going to step up and be

one of those leaders. I feel like we’re going in the right

direction,” said Ryan Broyles, a second-team all-Big 12 pick at

receiver last season. ”We just have to have that strong core like

the core that we lost last year in Sam, G.K. (McCoy), Jermaine,

those guys like that, Trent Williams. We’ve just got to find those

guys that can take their mold, their position.”

Landry Jones said he didn’t settle into the starting

quarterback’s job until after Bradford was knocked out of the Texas

game and was officially done for the season. By then, the Sooners

already had three losses and were searching for answers at receiver

and along a battered and unproven offensive line.

The injuries continued to mount, and offensive coordinator Kevin

Wilson said his squad lost its identity as a bruising rushing team

that could also attack with play-action passes.

Wilson said he’s been asked what the Sooners are going to do

this year on offense that they couldn’t do last year. His response:

”Execute. It’d be nice if we could execute.”

”We could talk about all the talent that we lost,” Wilson

said. ”What we’re going to try to do is be a more disciplined team

that can rush it, have that balance we talked about because we can

rush it, be a team that takes care of the ball and be a team that

gets it in the end zone.”

Unlike a year ago, when most of the key players were back from a

team that played for the national title and set an NCAA

single-season scoring record, Stoops isn’t sure where to set his

expectations for this team.

The standard at Oklahoma is to compete for a Big 12

championship, after winning three of the last four trophies and six

overall. But Stoops isn’t ready to call this team a contender just

yet.

”It’s a little early for me to say that without, say, four

first-round draft picks coming back a year ago. It was easier to

say. And having just come off a national championship, it’s easy to

project that,” he said.

”Now, obviously, that’s not the case. We’ll see. It has a

chance to be a special group to compete for a Big 12 championship.

And we’ll see how things go and how we work, how we prepare for it.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. If we do it well, we’ll have a

chance to be a contender for it.”

NOTES: DT Adrian Taylor, who suffered a gruesome ankle fracture

in the Sun Bowl, participated in about 40 percent of Oklahoma’s

first practice and is hopeful he’ll be ready to go for the opener

Sept. 4 against Utah State. … Stoops says LB Ronnell Lewis,

nicknamed the ”Hammer” for his punishing hits, could also be used

as a defensive end. … Wilson says Gabe Ikard and Eric Mensik have

moved full-time to the offensive line but he hasn’t closed the door

on using them as tight ends.