There were so many unknowns about the debut of college football’s early signing period last year.
Oklahoma is a little more comfortable entering Wednesday, OU coach Lincoln Riley said.
“We’re settled in our strategy going forward with the guys we are taking and how we are allocating numbers, how we are recruiting guys,” Riley said last week. “I think we’re more clear-headed and more zeroed in on how we want to do the entire process.”
Oklahoma has 19 verbal commitments (10 offense, nine defense) in its 2019 recruiting class including a Monday announcement from Rhamondre Stevenson, a running back from Cerritos (Calif.) Community College.
When Oklahoma made its mid-season switch at defensive coordinator, many wondered how the change would impact the recruiting class.
Even in the waning days to the early signing period, Riley said he’s answered questions from recruits about the future of the defense.
“We’re had some (questions). Our guys are educated,” Riley said. “Like I maintained, we always want to communicate with our guys. We’ve been open and upfront with them throughout this entire process. We’ve been honest.”
The current focus, Riley has told them, has been on the current College Football Playoff semifinal game against Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
“They understand that, and I think they have confidence that, once we get through the season that we’ll have a great defensive coordinator here and we’re going to make the very best decisions that we can,” Riley said.
Josh McCuistion, from SoonerScoop.com, has covered OU recruiting for nearly two decades.
He said it “stuns me” when asked about the faith that the recruits are placing in the unknown.
“I’ve talked to various people, whether it be high school coaches or other coaching staffs, and everyone is pretty much equal parts impressed and surprised that this has worked out so swimmingly for Oklahoma,” McCuistion said.
Players like defensive back Jamal Morris, a commit since last April, started drawing heavy interest from many elite programs following the change, but never wavered on his decision to Oklahoma.
“He took on kind of a role as one of the leaders of the class and he just kind of stuck with that. He’s been very active as a recruiter,” McCuistion said.
“When you look at not only the loss of Mike (Stoops) but just the never-ending storyline of Oklahoma’s defense … there’s no defense in the country aside from maybe Alabama’s that is more discussed right now than Oklahoma’s and it’s for all the wrong reasons. But it hasn’t wavered these kids at all.”
One defensive player to watch, McCuistion said, is Woodi Washington, a defensive back from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The 6-foot, 175-pounder is a four-star recruit who fits what OU is looking for in that he can play cornerback and is also big enough to play safety.
“When you look at what Oklahoma has done with their safeties the last two years where they’re putting guys who have a lot of coverage skills rather than just big, prototypical safety that you think of, Woodi is a guy that’s more physical and in line with being a safety but still has the background as a corner,” McCuistion said.
The recruiting expert thinks OU fit nearly all of its needs on defense but probably needs another linebacker and high-quality safety.
Oklahoma’s recruiting class has three five-star players on its offensive board – quarterback Spencer Rattler and wide receivers Trejan Bridges and Theo Wease.
Which player is the most important on McCuistion’s board?
“I think you have to start at quarterback, especially when you have one as talented as Spencer Rattler,” he said. “This is a guy that I think it going to kind of remind a lot of people of Baker Mayfield just with his ability to make plays when the play breaks down. It’s almost like he’s better when he’s in chaos than when things are calm.”
The wide receivers are expected to make an impact, and McCuistion rates Bridges high because of his versatility. While playing for Carrollton (Texas) Hebron, he made plays as a returner, as a running back, as a wildcat quarterback and a wide receiver.
“He really is a guy who can attack you in so many ways and with Lincoln Riley’s creativity, it’s kind of hard not to see him doing some things with Bridges that probably will look a lot like what you see with CeeDee Lamb,” he said.
McCuistion said that at most places, Wease and Bridges would be automatic starters, but at OU they will have to fight through good depth in front of them.
Wease, he said, has size (6-3, 205) similar to former OU star Malcolm Kelly and will provide the Sooners with a strong outside receiver.
The only need on offense is probably on the line, especially after the hit that OU takes after losing Ben Powers and Dru Samia to graduation and the possibility that tackles Bobby Evans and Cody Ford could declare for early entry into the NFL Draft.
OU has four offensive linemen currently in its 2019 signing class and “they probably need at least one more guard in this class and I think they want to sign another tackle,” McCuistion said.
“I think it’s going to be another class where you say it’s hard to find many flaws in what Oklahoma did offensively here but they’re not quite there yet,” he said.