OU football key position battles to watch entering preseason camp

The Oklahoman
NORMAN — Coming off a disappointing 6-7 season, it’s no surprise that there will be plenty of changes for OU football this season.
The Sooners begin preseason camp Thursday, with just less than a month to go before their Sept. 2 opener against Arkansas State on Owen Field.
Here’s a look at four position battles to watch during OU’s preseason camp:
Left guard
OU offensive lineman Savion Byrd played in 10 games last season for the Sooners but did start in the Cheez-It Bowl.
There are plenty of other potential position battles — most notably across the defensive line but also at wide receiver and elsewhere along the offensive line — but the left guard spot will be a big one to watch over the next few weeks.
Savion Byrd enters his third season and still has plenty of potential, but has yet to show much of it.
He did perform well in his first career start, in the Cheez-It Bowl loss to Florida State.
It appears his top competition for the spot will be Appalachian State transfer Troy Everett.
Everett was a second-team Freshman All-American by The Athletic last season, playing both center and guard.
OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said Everett’s performance against Texas A&M — a game Appalachian State won — convinced him that Everett could play at the level he demands.
Cornerback
Woodi Washington goes through drills as the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) college football team holds spring practice outside of Gaylord Family/Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on March 21, 2023 in Norman, Okla. [Steve Sisney/For The Oklahoman]
Woodi Washington is almost certain to start at one of the cornerback spots after starting 23 games over the past three seasons, including all 13 last season.
Who will play next to Washington, though, is a major question mark.
Last season, D.J. Graham, Jaden Davis and C.J. Coldon all made starts at the corner spot as well but Graham is on offense now, Davis transferred to Miami and Coldon has moved on to the NFL.
Gentry Williams figures to be first in line to slide into the role, but he’ll have plenty of competition there.
Redshirt sophomore Kani Walker and juco transfer Kendel Dolby have some collegiate experience. Redshirt freshman Jayden Rowe drew rave reviews from cornerback coach Jay Valai at Tuesday’s media day, as did freshmen Makari Vickers, Jasaiah Wagoner and Jacobe Johnson.
Johnson seems least likely to earn the role, due to his not arriving until the summer, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see any of the others grab the spot.
Safety
A similar situation here with Billy Bowman figuring to be a near lock to start in one of the spots but the other open.
When Bowman went down with an injury last year, the OU secondary took a significant step back.
Key Lawrence returns, but has yet to show the consistency the Sooners would like there.
It seems almost a lock that five-star freshman Peyton Bowen will have a significant role in the secondary, but what exactly will that be?
Texas Tech transfer Reggie Pearson has shown plenty of physicality, making him a strong candidate at safety as well.
Robert Spears-Jenings played in each of the last nine games of his freshman season and will get a strong look as well.
Middle linebacker
OU's Billy Bowman (5) celebrates an interception with Danny Stutsman (28) and Jeffery Johnson (77) in the first half against OSU last season in Norman.
Danny Stutsman figures to be back at the weakside linebacker spot, while Dasan McCullough and Justin Harrington are most likely to play the “cheetah” spot in Brent Venables’ defense.
But with David Ugwoegbu having transferred to Houston, there’s a hole at middle linebacker.
Ferris State transfer Konnor Near, who helped his team win a pair of Division II national titles before transferring late in the offseason, is the hot new name there and has raised eyebrows with his performance since his arrival.
A couple of linebackers from OU’s 2022 class will also get a shot — Jaren Kanak and Kobie McKinzie.
Kanak has all of the tools to play there and be a force, but he’s still relatively new to the linebacker spot. He’s made strides since the end of last season but will that be enough to earn him the starting role?
McKinzie didn’t play until the end of last season and figures to be the less likely of the three to earn the starting spot.

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