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Competition at RB picks up for Sooners in spring

By Murray Evans

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, April 16 2011 6:55 p.m. MDT

Travis Lewis (28) and Chuka Ndulue (98) drive Dominique Whaley (31) into the turf during the University of Oklahoma Sooner's (OU) NCAA college spring football game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April 16, 2011, in Norman, Okla.

The Oklahoman, Steve Sisney, Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. — One of Oklahoma's primary questions on offense entering the spring was who would emerge as the starting running back to replace All-Big 12 Conference runner DeMarco Murray.

That question remained unanswered after the Sooners' annual Red-White game on Saturday, but coach Bob Stoops said no fewer than five candidates — including a walk-on — could figure into the mix at the position next season.

All five backs saw significant action in the scrimmage that traditionally marks the end of the Sooners' spring practice. Sophomore Brennan Clay had 59 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries for the Red team, which won 20-14. Walk-on Dominique Whaley broke a 45-yard run for the White team and had 10 carries for 65 yards.

Incoming freshman Brandon Williams, who enrolled early at Oklahoma to participate in spring practice, had seven carries for 13 yards. Sophomore Roy Finch, who served as Murray's backup last season, had eight carries for 20 yards but fumbled once. Sophomore Jonathan Miller, coming off surgery to repair cartilage damage in his knee, had two carries for 16 yards.

"All these guys do a lot well — Dominique Whaley, along with the rest of them, you know. I don't really believe that any of them are guys that are 40-snap-a-game guys, so we'll see," Stoops said. "But we're pleased at how they are all playing.

"I believe it will be more by committee," he said. "I've said that all along. We don't need any one guy to have to do it. These guys all bring a different speed, a little change-up in how they run, those kinds of things. As long as they're taking care of the football, we'll use them all."

Stoops is used to having a deep stable of running backs, but Murray was a workhorse last season for the Sooners, rushing for 1,214 yards, catching 71 passes for 591 yards and scoring 20 touchdowns. Stoops admits having the versatile Murray around spoiled the Sooners.

The competition to replace Murray is a good thing, new co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. He and Stoops both said all five of the backs could see quality playing time next season, given the right circumstances.

"Those guys are pushing each other every single day," Heupel said. "None of them are where they need to be but it gives them a lot of motivation every day during the summer and through fall camp. They're all a little bit different. ... We're just trying to find a way to get all those guys involved and put them in the right situation. That's kind of what we'll need to do once we figure out who is going to play at the level we need them to."

Of the quintet, Whaley has the most unlikely story. Whaley started his college career at an NAIA university, Langston, before transferring to Oklahoma and walking on. He's sat out for two years, waiting for a chance that both Stoops and Heupel said could come. Stoops said Whaley "is definitely in the competition" for significant playing time.

"I feel like the position is wide open," Whaley said. "They're giving all of us plenty of opportunities and we're all doing our job and doing the right thing to get there, I guess. ... I do have that feeling (that) I do have a chance to go out there and compete and maybe win the job. The only thing you can do is do all your assignments, do the best you can. That's what I'm going to try to do."

The Sooners' returning starting quarterback, Landry Jones, said he's confident playing in the same backfield as any of the five backs.

"We kind of threw a lot of people in there all day long," said Jones, who played only in the first half and went 6 of 11 passing for 40 yards with one interception. "We'll be good at running back, and if it's by committee, it's by committee. ... All those guys are talented enough to play back there."

Most of the 25,598 fans in attendance Saturday also were curious to watch the Sooners' two backup quarterbacks, sophomore Drew Allen and redshirt freshman Blake Bell, compete for the No. 2 job. Allen, playing exclusively with the Red team, had the better statistical day, completing 16 of 29 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown — a 16-yard pass to Dejuan Miller — and one interception.

Bell played at times for both sides. He completed 11 of 24 passes for 67 yards and one touchdown with one interception for the White team and was 1 of 4 for 17 yards for the Red team.

"The young quarterbacks are getting better," Stoops said. "Drew, I thought, was impressive for sure in that first half and did a lot of really nice things, and Blake as well. A lot of good things, but he needs more time and he'll learn a lot from watching this scrimmage as well."

Stoops said he wasn't ready to declare who will be Jones' primary backup next season.

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