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OU football: Kennedy Brooks' return, Chris Murray's leadership — Sooners' options at running back, offensive line

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Kennedy Brooks

Then-redshirt sophomore running back Kennedy Brooks runs the ball during the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State, Nov. 30, 2020.

As Oklahoma proceeds with its first week of spring practice, running back, center and right tackle are among the biggest holes in its offense.

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson, center Creed Humphrey and right tackle Adrian Ealy were key pieces of OU’s 2020 Big 12 Championship team. Now OU is looking to replace them after they each declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Head coach Lincoln Riley, redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler, sophomore receiver Marvin Mims and redshirt senior H-back Jeremiah Hall spoke to reporters Wednesday with updates on the team’s progress three days into camp. Here’s a look at the Sooners’ offensive position battles:

Running back

In the backfield, Oklahoma’s tasked with allotting Stevenson’s 101 carries, which went for 665 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Redshirt junior Kennedy Brooks is back after opting out of the 2020 season and brings the most experience of anyone in the group.

A two-time 1,000 yard rusher, Brooks amassed 2,607 yards and 18 touchdowns on 274 carries from 2018-19. He’s also OU’s only running back who’s played in the College Football Playoff, competing in the 2018 Orange Bowl and the 2019 Peach Bowl.

“He’s a vet,” Rattler said. “He knows everything. … We’ve got a lot of guys at the position this year, but (Brooks) being the oldest of them all, he’s definitely leading the way.”

Junior Eric Gray, sophomore Seth McGowan and redshirt sophomore Marcus Major are the three running backs competing with Brooks for snaps. Gray announced his transfer to Oklahoma on Jan. 27 after running for 1,311 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons at Tennessee.

Major, from Millwood High School in Oklahoma City, carried for 215 yards and three scores in 2020 after sitting out his first season. Meanwhile, McGowan rushed for 370 yards and three touchdowns last season and caught for 201 yards and another score.

“From what I've seen from Seth, he's getting better, stronger and faster,” Rattler said. “Dude is throwing up crazy numbers in the weight room as usual, running fast times, running big plays, catching the ball. He's doing everything out of the backfield. Also, when we kick him out to empty formations and stuff like that he's just a tool you can use to exploit the defense in many ways. He's been a great weapon for us so far this spring.”

Center

On the offensive line, Oklahoma’s next center has big shoes to fill in Humphrey’s stead. The two-time Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year helped OU win the 2018 Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best offensive line and he didn’t allow a sack in 2020.

Senior Chris Murray appears the favorite for the job after transferring in from UCLA before the 2020 season. He played five games as a reserve right guard last year after gaining an eligibility waiver Oct. 9. Before that, he started 24 games at guard in two seasons with the Bruins.

“I do see Chris Murray's got some leadership qualities and he’s played some ball,” Riley said. “He was able to play a little bit for us last year, so I think he’s an interesting leader, certainly.”

OU also has redshirt senior walk-on Ian McIver, who backed up Humphrey in five games each of the last two seasons. Redshirt senior Robert Congel, who transferred from Arizona Jan. 23, has experience at both center and guard and redshirt freshman Nate Anderson is also getting his shot after sitting out last season.

Right tackle

Ealy started all of OU’s games from 2019-20 and was an All-Big 12 second team selection both years. In 2020 he allowed just three sacks on 421 pass plays, according to Pro Football Focus.

Junior Wanya Morris appears poised to make an impact after transferring from Tennessee, which he announced Jan. 18. The former five-star recruit played in nine of 10 games for the Volunteers last season, including seven starts.

Riley also mentioned sophomore Anton Harrison and redshirt freshmen Stacey Wilkins and Noah Nelson as tackles pushing for playing time. Harrison backed up redshirt senior Erik Swenson at left tackle in 2020, while Wilkins opted out of the season and Nelson sat out his first year in Norman.

“As far as offensive tackles … it’s still early enough, we’re working the majority of those guys at multiple positions, Wanya included,” Riley said. “So I mean I think we have a group of tackles that we’re excited about and we’ll continue to see how it evolves.”

Sports Editor

Mason Young is the OU Daily's sports editor and covers OU football. He was previously assistant sports editor and has covered women's gym, wrestling and former Sooners in the NFL. Email Mason at masyoung@ou.edu and follow him on Twitter @Mason_Young_0

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