OU Training Camp Preview: Hoover's Three Things to Watch

A position battle on offense and one on defense are compelling, and another looming battle with COVID-19 could be catastrophic.
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Thursday is OU Media Day, which marks the beginning of fall camp for Oklahoma as they begin their quest for that elusive eighth national title in program history.

With training camp getting underway Friday, the SI Sooners staff offers up three things they'll be watching for over the next month before the season gets underway on Sept. 4.

Jadon Haselwood

Jadon Haselwood

Jadon Haselwood’s 5-star future

The bottom line in college football can be unkind: Can you contribute? Can you play? If not, we’ll find someone who can.

That’s been the story of Jadon Haselwood’s first two seasons in Norman.

Haselwood has all the talent in the world, but he hasn’t had a chance to show it yet. As a true freshman in 2019, Haselwood was a solid backup behind CeeDee Lamb who was trying to gain the trust of Jalen Hurts. The net result was 19 receptions for 272 yards and a touchdown — and a lot of “wait til next year” moments.

But “next year” never really happened either, as the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Ellenwood, GA, product suffered a knee injury while working out back home during the pandemic and missed all but three games last year.

A unanimous 5-star prospect and a U.S. Army All-American Bowl pick, Haselwood was the No. 1 receiver in the country and the No. 1 player in Georgia.

The way Lincoln Riley, Cale Gundy and Dennis Simmons have recruited wide receivers in the 2020, 2021 and 2022 classes — look no further than Marvin Mims, Mario Williams, Cody Jackson and Luther Burden — this is a hugely important year for Haselwood’s career at Oklahoma, and it begins on Friday.

Jeremiah Criddell

Jeremiah Criddell

Jeremiah Criddell’s Big Opportunity

Oklahoma’s nickel defensive back, for better or worse, has been locked down the last three seasons. Now, there’s an opening for Jeremiah Criddell.

Brendan Radley-Hiles had the job for most of that time before converted cornerback Tre Norwood returned from injury and took over midway through the 2021 season.

Now, with Radley-Hiles in Washington and Norwood in the NFL, the 5-11, 196-pound Criddell is first in line — but he’ll have to win the job this August.

Criddell, a third-year sophomore from Santa Ana, CA, played in 11 games last year, mostly as a backup. His one start came against Baylor in the season finale, and he acquitted himself well.

But despite a few departures, Alex Grinch’s defensive backfield has become even more crowded since then.

Sophomore Key Lawrence’s arrival from Tennessee has coaches and teammates eager to see what he can do in a full-time role. Junior college All-American Justin Harrington is finally healthy and could be a nickel, a safety or a corner. True freshman Billy Bowman is a unique, dynamic talent who started in the Red/White Game. Fifth-year senior Justin Broiles is coming off his best spring as a Sooner, Riley said. Redshirt freshman Kendall Dennis had a good spring game as well.

But Criddell — whose verbal commitment on National Signing Day in December 2018 induced a memorable Riley fist-pump moment that went viral — also had a big spring and gave the coaching staff reason to believe all that fist-pumping was worth it.

Calvin Thibodeaux

Calvin Thibodeaux

Bad news: The Delta Variant is here

We thought we were out of the woods. But the way things are going, this football season could be on the verge of crumbling to pieces just like last year’s did.

The COVID-19 Delta Variant is here.

How serious is it? Members of the press covering OU’s Media Day on Thursday are being required to wear a mask, and the players themselves will be available only via video conferencing. As of Thursday morning, only Riley and Grinch will be available in person. And as for the season, much of the media access will be video only — at least to start the season.

As COVID-19 numbers surge again — is this the worst time possible or what? — it’s painfully clear that many of the same precautions will be in place in 2021. The plan now is for full capacity in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, but that could be reduced or even eliminated at a moment’s notice.

While the scourge of contact tracing seems to be largely a thing of the past, regular testing — which will produce positive results and quarantines — could have a significant effect on the roster again this season. And this time, the Big 12 Conference has said it won’t make sweeping schedule accommodations for rosters hit with COVID, but will rather just cancel games.

For a program that has real national championship aspirations, that’s bad news.