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2011 Oklahoma Preview – Defense
Oklahoma CB Demontre Hurst
Oklahoma CB Demontre Hurst
Posted May 27, 2011 2011 Preview - Oklahoma Sooner Defense

Oklahoma Sooners

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense had a nice season, but not a stellar one. The pass rush was among the best in the nation, the secondary was effective, and there were enough big plays with 36 takeaways to get by. Now the run defense has to be stronger after allowing 149 yards per game and having issues with mobile quarterbacks like Baylor’s Robert Griffin and Air Force’s Tim Jefferson. The tragic death of Austin Box will be on the minds of everyone throughout the year, and on the field the hope will be for Tom Wort to handle the workload again in the middle. Travis Lewis is a star outside linebacker, but he's out for the first two months of the season hurt and the defense lacks sure-thing superstars who’ll get the NFL drooling. Even so, enough starters return, and there’s enough talent and athleticism across the board, to expect more overall production.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Travis Lewis, 109
Sacks: Frank Alexander, 7
Interceptions: Jamell Fleming, 5

Star of the defense: Senior LB Travis Lewis (Injured)
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore LB Tom Wort
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Corey Nelson
Best pro prospect: Lewis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lewis, 2) CN Demontre Hurst, 3) S Jamell Fleming
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Sure-Thing Safety, Consistent Run Defense

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive line did its job at getting to the quarterback on a regular basis, and while the run defense wasn’t always a rock, it wasn’t awful. Two starters are back and there’s experience and talent across the board to come up with yet another strong year. After leading the Big 12 in tackles for loss and finishing 16th in the nation in sacks, helped by the linebackers, too, the line should be in for another terrific year.

The key to the pass rush should be senior Frank Alexander after making 39 tackles with seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss as an eight-game starter. At 6-3 and 259 pounds he has decent size, and now he’s starting to come into his own after being overshadowed early in his career by bigger stars. Very fast and with great closing ability, he gets to the quarterback in a hurry.

Working on the other side will be junior Ronnell Lewis after stepping up into a starting role over the back half of the year. At 6-2 and 237 pounds he’s not all that big, and is more of a hybrid type after being used as a linebacker for a time, but he showed what he could do when turned loose making 37 tackles with 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. The nation’s No. 1 outside linebacker prospect two years ago, he should be a dangerous replacement for Jeremy Beal, who ripped off 72 tackles and 8.5 sacks from the end.

6-4, 284-pound junior Stacy McGee started ten times on the inside working both tackle spots. Very quick and very athletic, he made 3.5 tackles for loss and 26 tackles, but now he needs to be more of a pass rusher. He’s not going to be a block of granite against the power running teams, but that’s not his game.

Junior Jamarkus McFarland was one of the nation’s top overall recruits a few years ago and is just now starting to live up to the hype. He started three games on the inside, including the first two of the year, and now he needs to be an anchor with 6-1, 294-pound size and NFL strength. He made 23 tackles, and showed off the quickness to make 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss, but with his tools and the leverage he gets with his size, he should be more dominant.

The Sooners have two good-looking ends ready to work in the rotation with 6-3, 249-pound redshirt freshman Gino Grissom and 6-4, 258-pound junior David King about to play bigger roles. Grissom was a big recruit last year coming out of Kansas with excellent speed to get into the backfield, and he should work as a pass rushing specialist. King has good size and the experience of three starts making 11 tackles and a sack on the year. While he’s not built for the job, he can even work as a defensive tackle if needed.

Two redshirt freshmen, 6-2, 276-pound Danny Noble and 6-2, 262-pound Eric Humphrey will see time as the key backups on the inside. Noble got time as a true freshman playing in the first five games making six tackles before getting knocked out for the year hurt. He’s not all that big, but he’s active. Humphrey was a four-star recruit who got away from Texas and should be an interior pass rusher working behind McGee.

Watch Out For … Lewis. It’s asking a lot for him to be another Beal right away, but he was such a big-time talent coming out of high school, even for OU, that there’s no excuse for him to not be ultra-disruptive.
Strength: Pass rush. The Sooners will bring the heat into the backfield from all four spots with good speedsters on the outside and smallish, quick tackles in the interior. The opposing quarterbacks will be under pressure all season long.
Weakness: A big run stuffer. The 294-pound McFarland qualifies as the big bulk for the interior, and while the Sooners have recruited to a type, it would be nice if there was a 300-pound monster to work everything around.
Outlook: OU always has among the best lines in the Big 12, and while this one doesn’t necessarily have the star power of past front fours, that could change if Lewis quickly grows into the job and if McFarland starts to consistently play like a star. This will be a very, very good line that’ll get the job done, but it’s not likely to be elite by Sooner standards.
Unit Rating: 8


State of the Unit: The OU team suffered a devastating loss with the tragic death of Austin Box, who was projected to be a starter this year after taking over the job in the middle late last year. Football-wise, the linebacking corps has enough talent to make up for the loss, but the team and the defense can’t make up for the loss of a teammate and friend.

The star of the defense is one of the nation’s best all-around linebackers, senior Travis Lewis. The 6-2, 223-pound guided missile is still the leader and the star of the defense even though he suffered a broken foot that’ll keep him out of the first two months of the season. He led the team with 109 tackles with 1.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and three picks earning Second Team All-Big 12 honors, and after making 360 career stops with 47.5 tackles for loss and eight picks, he’s the leader everything works around. The former high school running back has 4.34 speed, Combine strength in the weight room, and big-time hitting ability, but now he has to come back healthy.

With the loss of Box, there will be a bit of a scramble to find the right fit for the starting job in the middle. 6-0, 227-pound sophomore Tom Wort struggled at times through the first nine games on the inside before giving way to Box, and now he’ll likely get the first look at the job after making 66 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. The CFN Freshman All-American has 4.45 speed as a dangerous pass rusher, even after suffering a torn ACL, and gets all over the field in a hurry, but he’s not all that huge and he’s not exactly built for the job. 6-2, 245-pound junior Jayden Bird is a bigger option in the middle and should be ready to do more after making 11 tackles as a reserve. Known mostly for switching his signature from Kansas to OU at the last second, he has 4.5 speed and can be used as a pass rusher and sideline-to-sideline playmaker.

Sophomore Tony Jefferson is a defensive back-sized 5-10, 199-pound lightning bolt earning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors being used in a variety of ways. Really, he’s an extra safety in five DB sets, but he can be used a bit like an outside linebacker making 65 tackles with two sacks and seven tackles for loss with two interceptions and seven broken up passes. He’s a do-it-all playmaker, while 6-2, 222-pound junior Joseph Ibiloye got four starts on the strongside as a linebacker to Jefferson’s defensive back abilities finishing with 15 tackles and a broken up pass. He has safety speed and big-time hitting ability.

The coaching staff has gone out of its way to say that sophomore Corey Nelson will start somewhere. A key special teamer and backup, he came up with a blocked punt against Texas A&M and finished with 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. He was dominant throughout spring ball on the outside, and while he won’t push Lewis for time, and he’s too small for the middle at just 6-0 and 208 pounds, he’ll be a top playmaker whenever he’s on the field.

Watch Out For … Nelson. The rave reviews are in from the offseason, and while he might start out the season as a key backup, he’ll see starting time. He’s too fast and too active to keep on the bench.
Strength: Speed. Depending on the alignment and the combination, it’ll be tough to find a faster trio of linebackers in college football. All the starters, no matter what the configuration, will likely be able to tear off a 4.5 or better. This group will fly to the ball and into the backfield.
Weakness: Size. Bird is the one big thumper in the bunch and is built for the middle, but this group is built around speed rather than strength and bulk. For the most part, this is a beefed up group of defensive backs, for good and bad.
Outlook: The season will be all about the memory of Box. It’s crass to suggest that the linebacking corps will suddenly start to play better because of the death of a teammate, but his memory will certainly be on the minds of the returning players. Even without Box, the OU linebacking corps should be terrific with Lewis a special playmaker, Nelson a rising star, and Wort a good athlete for the middle.
Unit Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The Sooners gave up 213 yards per game through the air, but that wasn’t a big deal considering so many teams had to bomb away to try to keep up the pace with the high-octane OU passing attack, but the secondary finished eighth in the nation in pass efficiency defense. There will be some shuffling and there will be some moves around the secondary to find the right parts to fit, but this should be a really, really strong group as the season goes on.

Senior Jamell Fleming is an excellent playmaker who started 13 games at corner finishing fifth on the team with 71 tackles, a sack, 8.5 tackles for loss, while he led the way with five picks and 14 tackles for loss. The 5-11, 191-pound veteran has the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary, but he’s a star at corner who’ll earn All-Big 12 honors if he’s back on the team. He’s not enrolled in school, and the team is pushing on like he’s not returning, but there’s plenty of optimism that everything is going to work out by the time the season starts. Even if he does come back, 6-0, 188-pound sophomore Gabe Lynn will be a key corner after stepping in and making a fumble recovery and breaking up a pass in his limited time. Scout’s No. 1 ranked corner last year, he has size, speed, and playmaking skills. He’ll be more than fine if he’s the main man at one corner.

Starting again on the other side will be junior Demontre Hurst, who stepped up and grew into the role starting all 14 games and making 50 tackles with a pick, 11 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and four tackles for loss. He’s not all that big at 5-9 and 172 pounds, but he has the strength of a safety and good enough speed to get by. Smart as well as tough, he’ll be a lock-down defender for the next two years and will end up being an all-star. If Lynn isn’t a starter, he’ll be the key backup behind Hurst.

Taking over for Quinton Carter at free safety, who made 96 tackles and four picks, will be 5-11, 203-pound junior Javon Harris, who became a key backup as the season went on making 28 tackles with a broken up pass. He didn’t do enough when the ball was in the air, but he’s a lineman-strong tackler who can be a rock against the run. With Kevin Brent transferring, 5-11, 226-pound senior Sam Proctor will see time at free safety but could also work as a strong safety. With great size and good experience, starting ten times in 2009 making 44 tackles, he was a backup last year making 17 tackles. The former high school quarterback is a good athlete who knows what he’s doing.

Proctor could play either safety spot, and he could take over the starting strong safety job if sophomore Aaron Colvin doesn’t shine after moving over from corner. The 5-11, 175-pounder spent most of last year as a special teamer and key backup making 34 tackles with three broken up passes and three tackles for loss. He’s not really built to be a strong safety, but he’s fast for the position and will have no problems getting around the ball. 6-0, 189-pound redshirt freshman James Haynes was a good recruit last year, and now he’s being converted from an offensive playmaker into a defensive back. He’s a little bigger than Colvin and has tremendous range.

Watch Out For … Lynn. One of the stars of the 2010 recruiting class, he has the raw skills to become a key star in the secondary. He might be thrown out at one corner and told to lock things down, or he could be a terror of a nickel and dime defender.
Strength: Corner. Lynn will be fine. Hurst deserves to be in the mix for all-star honors, and if Fleming is back, the Sooners have talent on the outside to hang with any Big 12 receiving corps.
Weakness: Sure-thing safeties. Carter was a tone-setter at one safety and Jonathan Nelson finished second on the team with 102 stops. Proctor knows what he’s doing and Colvin and Harris have talent, but it might be a little while before they’re rocks.
Outlook: As long as the pass rush is as strong as it was last year, and it probably will be, the secondary will turn out to be more than fine. There’s talent and speed across the board and there’s enough athleticism to expect a slew of big plays.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Senior PK Jimmy Stevens went from being a key backup to a stellar starter nailing 19-of-23 kicks. Ten of his makes were from inside the 30, and he doesn’t have a huge leg or great range, topping out at inside 40 yards, but he’s reliable. Junior Patrick O’Hara will get his chances from longer range with a bigger leg than Stevens. He hit 4-of-6 field goals including a 45-yarder against Texas A&M.

Junior Tress Way had a terrific season averaging 44 yards per kick pitting 18 inside the 20 and forcing 14 fair catches as OU finished fifth in the nation in net punting. He has a huge leg and is able to blast away with big, booming kicks to get the team out of jams. An all-star, he’s good enough to be in the hunt for the Ray Guy.

The return game was fine and should be stellar at times with WR Ryan Broyles returning as the main punt returner after averaging 7.9 yards per try, while RB Roy Finch and RB Brennan Clay combining on kickoff returns in place of Mossis Madu and DeMarco Murray.

Watch Out For … Finch and Clay as kickoff returners. Madu averaged 28.1 yards per try and Murray ripped off 24.9 yards per attempt. Finch and Clay have the speed and flash to do just as well.
Strength: The kicking game. The combination of Stevens and O’Hara should be terrific again from anywhere inside the 50, and Way is one of the nation’s best punters. The Sooners won’t lose the kicking game.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The Sooners were terrific for the most part on kickoffs, but giving up four for scores hurt. The Missouri game, for example, took on the wrong tone early on after giving up a home run.
Outlook: With great coverage teams, outside of the four kickoff returns for scores, and with a terrific kicking game and dangerous returners, the Sooner special teams will be among the best in the nation. It would be nice if there was more range on kickoffs, and more pop on punt returns would be a plus, but this is a plus.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2011 Oklahoma Preview | 2011 Oklahoma Offense
- 2011 Oklahoma Defense | 2011 Oklahoma Depth Chart
- Oklahoma Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006