Oklahoma Preview 2006 - Defense
Oklahoma Sooners
Posted Jul 31, 2006

Oklahoma Sooners Preview 2006 ... Oklahoma Defense

What you need to know ... The defense should be among the best in America even though there aren't too many sure-fire, household name All-Americans. It begins on the end with the return of Larry Birdine and Josh Williams to join Calvin Thibodeaux and C.J. Ah You to improve upon the nation's fourth best sacking D. Rufus Alexander is an All-America-to-be at outside linebacker, and Zach Latimer in the middle isn't far behind. The secondary will be a lot better than it'll get credit for.  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Rufus Alexander, 102
Sacks: Calvin Thibodeaux, 10
Interceptions: D.J. Wolfe, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Rufus Alexander
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Demarrio Pleasant
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore S Nic Harris
Best pro prospect: Alexander
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Alexander, 2) DE Calvin Thibodeaux, 3) LB Zach Latimer
Strength of the defense: Defensive end, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
The lack of a huge tackle

Defensive Line
The line turned out to be a major plus last year, and will be even better despite the loss of Dusty Dvoracek. Injured ends Larry Birdine and Josh Williams are back and healthy, while there's good promise in the middle with rising stars Cory Bennett and DeMarcus Granger ready to emerge as top players. The tackles just have to hold up so the fabulous ends can do their thing. Calvin Thibodeaux, C.J. Ah You, Birdine and Williams form one of the nation's best foursomes.
The key to the unit: Hope for the young talent to come through at tackle and come up with a workable rotation to get all the great ends enough work to be successful.

Defensive Line Rating: 9.5

Projected Starters
- DE Calvin Thibodeaux, Sr. - 44 tackles, 10 sacks, 17 TFL
Thibodeaux stepped in and became a star last year becoming the team's best pass rusher and most disruptive force on the outside after missing most of 2004 with a knee injury. He might not be the fastest end around and he doesn't have special moves, but he finds a way to get the job done. 

- DT Carl Pendleton, Jr. - 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL
The 277-pound junior has plenty of starting experience with 19 over the last two seasons, but he hasn't made too many plays and has to be far more consistent. His role is to hold at the point of attack and allow the ends to make plays, and now he'll have to make more tackles and get into the backfield on a regular basis.

- DT Cory Bennett, Soph. - 16 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL
The new star of the line, Bennett has next level potential even though he's slightly undersized at 275 pounds. He's tremendously quick with the potential to grow into one of the Big 12's best interior pass rushers. Even at 275 pounds he could play end if needed.

- DE C.J. Ah You, Sr. - 45 tackles, 7 sacks, 12 TFL
Ah You became a godsend when injuries hit the ends last year becoming the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after coming over from the JUCO ranks. He got better and better as the season went on finishing up with a dominant performance in the Holiday Bowl. He's a big pass rusher with a good motor.

Top Backups
- DE Larry Birdine, Sr.
One of the team's best pass rushers in 2003 and 2004, Birdine tore a biceps muscle and missed all of last year. He flourished in the reserve role before and he might have to do it again with the emergence of C.J. Ah You last season. He's a little smaller than Ah You, but he's faster, stronger, and could end up starting at some point.
- DE Josh Williams, Jr. - 4 tackles, 1 sack
Williams made the move from reserve to starter, but his season ended before it could start getting knocked out in the opener against TCU with a torn ACL. He's back and healthy to be part of the rotation behind Calvin Thibodeaux.
- DT Steven Coleman, Jr. - 6 tackles, 2 TFL
A key reserve over the last two years with 23 games of experience, the 310-pound junior is the biggest tackle in the mix and will see plenty of reps until Carl Pendleton and Cory Bennett are ready to go.
- DT DeMarcus Granger, RFr.
Granger was last year's top recruit and needs to be a factor right off the bat after getting in better shape. He's a lean 294 pounds with as much talent as any of the Sooner tackles. He's expected to live up to the hype this year.

The corps has the potential to be among the best in the country if all the high school superstars come though. Rufus Alexander will be on the short list for most All-America teams on the weakside, while Zach Latimer is a rock-solid tackler in the middle. Demarrio Pleasant is way overdue to breakout, but he'll be pushed for time by last year's four-star recruiting trio of Curtis Lofton, Lamont Robinson and Ryan Reynolds .
The key to the unit: Get production to match the prep press clippings to go along with another fantastic season from Rufus Alexander and Zach Latimer.
Linebacker Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters
- Demarrio Pleasant, Jr. - 10 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
The superstar recruit of 2003 has yet to make much of an impact outside of a ten-tackle effort against UCLA. He has all the measurables at 235 pounds with great speed, and now he has to put it all together taking over for Clint Ingram on the strongside.

- Zach Latimer, Sr. - 84 tackles, 4 sacks, 6 TFL, 4 broken up passes
Latimer turned into a strong all-around defender in the middle once he got the full-time starting role. He's a steady tackler and is great at getting into the backfield. He earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after finishing second on the team in tackles, and now he should do even more in pass coverage and as a rock against the run.

- Rufus Alexander, Sr. - 102 tackles, 5 sacks, 17 TFL, 1 interception, 9 broken up passes
One of the nation's best linebackers, Alexander returns after making 176 tackles over the last two seasons and leading the Sooners last year. He's big on the weakside with fantastic speed and instincts able to get into the backfield. He got bigger over the last two years and became even better against the run.

Top Backups
- Curtis Lofton, Soph. - 3 tackles
Mostly a special teamer with a little bit of time spent in the middle, the 238-pound sophomore saw plenty of action this spring in the middle and will be groomed for the 2007 starting job once Zach Latimer is done.
- Ryan Reynolds, Soph. - 3 tackles
Reynolds spent his true freshman season on special teams, but he was one of the nation's top linebacker recruits last season and has more than enough talent to be a major factor on the weakside behind Rufus Alexander. He's 230 pounds with some of the best speed in the linebacking corps.
- Lamont Robinson, RFr.
Robinson will be like a 220-pound safety battling Demarrio Pleasant on the strongside. He's an active player with the speed to become a dangerous pass rusher.

Defensive Backs
The Sooners didn't really have to go through many lumps last year with so many young players seeing meaningful time, but the secondary wasn't as good as it's going to be this year now that Reggie Smith, Darien Williams and Nic Harris are mature sophomores. The corner situation is rock solid with Smith moving over from strong safety and D.J. Wolfe an all-star on the other side, so the focus will be at safety where the competition will be fierce for starting spots up until the opener.
The key to the unit: Figure out who the starting safeties should be an hope for Reggie Smith to shine at corner.
Secondary Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- CB Reggie Smith, Soph. - 47 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 broken up passes, 2 TFL
Smith is the team's most versatile defensive back able to shine at either safety or corner. He started ten games at strong safety last season finishing fifth on the team in tackles, and now he'll be asked to be the team's lockdown corner. While not a burner, he's fast enough to go along with good size. He still needs some work, but he was fantastic this spring and should quickly become a star.

- FS Darien Williams, Soph. - 43 tackles, 1 broken up pass, 1 TFL
Williams started four games last year at free safety and ended up being one of the team's top tacklers, but he's hardly a lock to hold down the starting job with Nic Harris pushing for a spot somewhere on the field. Williams is a good hitter with good enough range to do more against the pass.

- SS Jason Carter, Sr. - 17 tackles, 1 interception, 1 broken up pass
The team's main nickel back last year will get the first look at strong safety with some of the best speed in the secondary. While he has the experience to be a steady starter, he'll get pushed hard by Keenan Clayton for the job this fall.

- CB D.J. Wolfe, Jr. - 65 tackles, 2 interceptions, 10 broken up passes, 5 TFL
Wolfe has upped his game and appears ready to be an All-Big 12 star after earning honorable mention honors last year. He's a great tackler with good size and 4.4 speed looking like a natural at corner after starting his Sooner career as a running back.

Top Backups
- FS Nic Harris, Soph. - 16 tackles, 1 sack
Harris will start out as the team's main nickel back and will eventually start somewhere. He's 6-3, 218 pounds and fast enough to play anywhere. He'll push Darien Williams for the free safety job and should be a standout on special teams again.
- CB Marcus Walker, Jr. - 8 tackles
With 4.4 speed and a little bit of experience, the junior will be a key factor in the corner rotation once he returns from a dislocated shoulder.
- SS Keenan Clayton, RFr.
He's not the fastest OU defensive back, but he has good size and can pop. He showed this spring that he's good enough to be in the starting discussion and should become a top reserve.
- S Quinton Carter, Fr.
The true freshman got to OU early and showed off good skills and tremendous speed. He's a former quarterback with the athleticism to grow into a playmaking reserve.

Special Teams
The kicking game would've been fantastic if punter Cody Freeby didn't get kicked off the team. PK Garrett Hartley has the leg, but he has to be more consistent. There has to be more pop to the return game after averaging 7.4 yards per punt return and 18.2 yards on kickoff returns. Reggie Smith and Allen Patrick handling the kickoff returns and Smith handling the punt return chores. The coverage units were fantastic and should be again.
The key to the unit: Hope for Mike Knall to be close to the punter Cody Freeby was.
Special Teams Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- PK Garrett Hartley, Soph. - 14-22 FGs, 37-38 extra points
Hartley had an odd year showing off a huge leg hitting  52-yarder against Texas and nailing two of three shots from beyond 50 yards, but missed three makeable kicks inside 37 yards. He's now an experienced veteran who should be more consistent.

- P Mike Knall, Jr.
Cody Freeby was a big player with a huge leg with two 70+ yarders to his credit to go along with 16 kicks put inside the 20, but the left-footed junior was kicked off the team. For now, it's Mike Knall's job. the JUCO transfer hasn't been healthy enough to show off much so far and he doesn't have nearly the same leg as Freeby. 

Related Stories
Oklahoma Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 31, 2006
Oklahoma Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 31, 2006
Oklahoma 2006 Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 31, 2006

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