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.
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
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
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
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
- DE Calvin Thibodeaux, Sr. - 44 tackles, 10 sacks, 17
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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.
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
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
- 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
- SS Jason Carter, Sr. - 17 tackles, 1 interception, 1 broken up
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.
- 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
- 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.
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
- PK Garrett Hartley, Soph. - 14-22 FGs, 37-38 extra
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.