Originally Published: Aug 14, 2009 10:18 PM CDT
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer
The last time the Oklahoma Sooners took the field for a meaningful game, they left with their fifth BCS bowl loss in six years.
This year, with Heisman winner Sam Bradford leading a revamped offense, the Sooners are looking to prove they are still among the most elite teams in the nation.
“When you lose a game like we did in the national championship, it gives you a lot of motivation in the offseason and you try to get better,” said junior defensive end Jeremy Beal. “There’s a lot of talent on this team, and hopefully we can get back there again.”
Beal will be one of the leaders of a defense that returns nine of its 11 starters, including the entire front seven. Last year, question marks surrounded linebackers Travis Lewis – who started as a redshirt freshman – and Keenan Clayton – who switched positions from safety last offseason.
Lewis went on to be named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, while Clayton broke an OU record with six forced fumbles in one season. Both will be expected to make major strides this year after a full season of starting experience under their belt.
“It feels good not to be with the spotlight right on us,” Clayton said. “I feel like I’m more understanding of the concepts of the game and understand what’s coming and when it’s coming and why it’s coming.”
With the defense solidified, the offensive line is now OU’s biggest concern. The Sooners boasted possibly the best offensive line in the nation last season, which helped the offense score a record 712 points. This year, the line has undergone an overhaul with the departures of Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson, Jon Cooper and Brandon Walker.
Senior Trent Williams, the only returning starter, will now be the leader of the line. Williams is moving from right to left tackle to protect Bradford’s blind side, and said this is not the first time during his stay at OU that he has been forced to prove himself.
“It’s a little awkward, but I’m not new to it because in ’06, my first year, we were a big question mark because we were young up front,” Williams said. “We just have to come out and prove everybody wrong and work together as a team.”
Bradford also will be without three of his top four wide receivers from last season after Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Quentin Chaney all graduated.
Sophomore Ryan Broyles is the only wide receiver on this year’s roster to catch more than 10 passes last season. Tight end Jermaine Gresham was one of Bradford’s favorite targets last year, and finished with 950 yards and 14 touchdowns.
OU and rival Texas both will begin the season ranked in the nation’s top three, and attention has already turned to the teams’ annual matchup on Oct. 17.
Junior running back Mossis Madu, who will also see significant time at receiver this season, was quick to point out OU cannot afford to look past their first game against BYU.
“You’ve got to have a sense of urgency,” Madu said. “You can’t sleep on BYU, or else we’re going to get beat. We already have a sense of urgency, we know who we’ve got coming in the first game of the year.”
The Sooners’ season-opener against BYU will be played in Arlington, Texas, at the newly-opened Cowboys’ Stadium, and will be the first regular-season football game played at the complex.
“It’s a little different,” said senior defensive end Auston English. “You’re used to coming in and playing your first game at home. Especially my last year, it’s tough to lose a home game. At the same time, it’s a memory we’ll have and cherish forever.”
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