Only 20 percent of Oklahoma’s rushing yardage total from 2016 returns in 2017, but the Sooners are counting on a group of five to help recoup some of what was lost.
The Sooners have to replace one of the most dynamic running back duos in program history with the departure of all-time leading rusher Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, OU’s single-season leader in all-purpose yards, to the NFL. Perine (1,060 and 12) and Mixon (1,274 and 10) combined for 2,334 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns last year, while adding 644 yards and six more TDs through the air.
“They’re working hard; each and every day we have guys getting better,” running backs coach Jay Boulware said of the 2017 running back unit. “They’re making plays out at practice, which is what I want to see, as well as (displaying) an overall understanding of what we’re doing, not just offensively in terms of schematics, but situational. We try to teach them situational football and grow them up pretty fast.”
A pair of sophomores will lead the charge to fill those shoes in 2017. Aside from Mixon, Perine and quarterback Baker Mayfield, then-freshman Abdul Adams saw the most carries in 2016. The 5-11, 205-pound back from Landover, Md., toted the ball 53 times a year ago, rushing for 283 yards (5.3 per carry) while also catching three passes for 25 yards. The majority of that production came in two games with the Sooners leading comfortably. He rushed 18 times for 91 yards against ULM, and he put up the same rushing total on 13 carries against Kansas.
Adams came to OU rated as a four-star prospect by Scout and Rivals, with the latter listing him as the No. 10 running back in his class. As a senior in high school, he ran for 2,036 yards and 21 scores on just 180 carries (11.3 per rush).
Redshirt sophomore Rodney Anderson is back after missing all of 2016 with a neck injury and most of 2015 with a leg injury sustained in the Sooners’ early season double-overtime win at Tennessee. Anderson, who has one career carry for five yards, was highly touted out of high school. He was listed as a consensus four-star recruit from Katy, Texas, and, at 6-2 and 218 pounds, boasts a prototypical frame to carry the load. He rushed for 5,493 yards on 603 carries (9.1 per rush) for Katy High School, including an impressive 2,485 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior. If Anderson can return to form after his unfortunate string of setbacks, he could be a playmaker for the Sooners.
In addition to returners Adams and Anderson, Oklahoma welcomes a trio of promising backs as part of “SoonerSquad17,” OU’s heralded recruiting class.
Imposing 6-0, 222-pound freshman Trey Sermon arrived in Norman in January as one of the Sooners’ 11 early enrollees and participated in spring practices. A consensus four-star recruit from Marietta, Ga., Sermon will be one of the most physically impressive backs in the stable. Tabbed as the nation’s No. 9 high school running back by ESPN last year, Sermon had offers from such programs as Alabama, Michigan and Ohio State. His physicality will be evident to Sooner fans, but what makes Sermon a potential star is his explosion and ability to finish runs when he makes it to the open field.
Another early enrollee, Marcelias Sutton, will be a dynamic change of pace for OU. The Lackawanna College transfer was an honorable mention junior college All-American in 2016 as a sophomore and was listed as the No. 19 juco player in the nation by Rivals. He rushed for 907 yards on 135 carries a year ago, while also recording 10 receptions and nine kickoff returns. Particularly effective in the open field, Sutton’s brand of quickness and shake will be a weapon on third downs and in the passing game, and he could even see time as a returner on special teams.
Kennedy Brooks hit Norman this summer after an incredibly productive high school career. Rated a four-star prospect, the 5-10, 206-pounder from Mansfield, Texas, rushed for 3,500 yards and an eye-opening 43 touchdowns as a junior. He followed that with a 2,800-yard, 40-touchdown season as a senior. Brooks is renowned for his vision and patience, and boasts the burst and quickness to set up his blocks and then take advantage of them.
Also in the backfield, and one of the Sooners’ most valuable weapons, is senior H-back Dimitri Flowers. An effective blocker at the point of attack, Flowers was an integral part of the OU run game that led the Big 12 in yards per carry in 2016. In addition to his blocking acumen, Flowers is a capable receiver who often breaks free in opposing secondaries. He caught 11 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns a year ago and has eight receiving touchdowns for his career. He showcased abilities last season when the Sooners were shorthanded at running back at Iowa State, carrying the load as OU’s feature back. He racked up 115 yards on the only 22 carries of his career en route to a 34-24 win.
Backing up Flowers are redshirt junior Carson Meier (6-5, 250) and freshman Jeremiah Hall (6-1, 240).