Preview 2007 - Defense
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2006 CFN Oklahoma
What you need to know:
It'll be an interesting defense that
has the potential to be a killer, but has some major concerns.
The secondary should be among the best in America with enough
size, speed, and talent to keep the NFL scouts buzzing. DeMarcus
Granger is a rising superstar tackle who should combine with
Gerald McCoy, Cory Bennett and Steven Coleman to stuff up
everything on the inside. If the unknown ends come though with a
halfway decent season, and the untested linebacking corps is
nearly as good as last year's, look out.
Steven Coleman, 3
Interceptions: Nic Harris, 4
Star of the defense: Junior CB Reggie Smith
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT DeMarcus Granger
Best pro prospect: Granger
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) FS Nic
Harris, 3) Granger
Strength of the defense: Defensive tackle, secondary
Weakness of the defense:
Ends, linebacker experience
Projected Starters: The line has the potential to be great, but
it needs the tackles to live up to their press clippings. 6-3, 300-pound
sophomore DeMarcus Granger was the team's top recruit two years
ago, and got a little bit of time in the rotation last year making 20
tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. He's 6-3, 300 pounds, and has the
measurables, quickness and strength to make NFL scouts drool. While
he'll be a part of a rotation, his emergence as a bona fide star is
needed to make a promising line exceptional.
Likely to be first in the rotation at the other spot will be 6-2,
278-pound junior Cory Bennett, a 12-game starter who used his
tremendous speed and quickness to make 29 tackles, but didn't do enough
to get into the backfield with only 2.5 tackles for loss. With the
athleticism of an end, he needs to be even more active.
Starting at one end will be 6-4, 262-pound senior Alonzo Dotson
after coming on over the second half of the year with nine tackles and
two sacks. While he's not anywhere near the same caliber of pass rusher
as last year's starters, he has the potential to be a sleeper star if he
can stay healthy.
On the other side returns 6-5, 259-pound senior John Williams
after spending the last year and a half trying to get over a knee
injury, along with other medical problems. While he only came up with
eight tackles and a sack, he hasn't been able to fully show what he can
do when healthy.
Projected Top Reserves: While Granger and Bennett
are the likely starters on the inside, 6-4, 299-pound senior Steven
Coleman and 6-4, 289-pound redshirt freshman Gerald McCoy
will log just as much time. Coleman started every game but the opener,
but he only made 14 tackles with three sacks and seven tackles for loss.
A superstar recruit who hasn't lived up to his potential,
he'll be a strong interior pass rusher.
McCoy was named the 2006 USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year
with phenomenal quickness and potential. He'll rotate in with Granger
and could end up forming a million-dollar tandem when they play next to
each other. Will he live up to the hype? If this spring was any
Former high school running back Auston English hasn't done
anything yet, but at 6-3 and 257 pounds with tackle-strength, he'll
quickly become a factor at both end spots.
Watch Out For ... Granger. While he's not Tommie
Harris, he has everything you'd want in a tackle and should get on the
radar with plenty of all-star honors. The stats won't be there because
of the rotation, but he'll be terrific.
Strength: Tackles. There's jaw-dropping, NFL
caliber talent at both spots. Granger and McCoy are special, while
Bennett and Coleman would form a killer starting duo for about 75 other
teams. The interior is so good that it could lose a good, big body like
Carl Pendleton (who left the team to attend graduate school) and
actually become better.
Weakness: Ends. They're not as good as many will
probably make them out to be. Last year's group of ends were a
mega-disappointment when it came to generating consistent pressure and
sacks, but there will still be a drop-off from C.J. Ah You, Calvin
Thibodeaux and Larry Birdine to Dotson and Williams, who are still
Outlook: Dotson should be strong at one end, OU
always finds productive reserves, and the tackles will be among the best
in the country. It would be nice if there was a better rotation on the
outside, but the stats will come. If a star pass rusher doesn't quickly
emerge, the defensive will have to manufacture pressure from other
Projected Starters: Coming off a 37-tackle, 4.5 tackle for loss
season, all 6-0, 235-pound junior Curtis Lofton has to do is
replace the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Rufus Alexander, and
his 115 tackles. Lofton hits like a ton of bricks and should come up
with plenty of big plays no matter where he ends up. Physical enough to
play in the middle or the strongside, he'll likely take over on the
Starting in the middle for Zach Latimer, who finished second on the team
with 84 stops with three interceptions and two sacks, will be 6-1,
250-pound JUCO transfer Mike Reed. Considered one of the nation's
top recruits this year, he's a pure middle linebacker who made 90 stops
for Yuba CC before coming to OU. While he won't be the all-around
defender Latimer was, he'll be a major presence on the inside.
Starting on the strongside, at least to start out, will be 6-2,
210-pound senior Lewis Baker. While he has the size to play on
the weakside, he's a physical tackler who came up with 34 tackles after
seeing time in the secondary. A good veteran, he might not be a star,
but he won't be a weakness by any stretch.
Projected Top Reserves: An option in the middle,
along with Reed, will be 6-1, 237-pound sophomore Ryan Reynolds,
a promising talent who hasn't had much in the way of good luck. One of
the nation's top linebacker recruits in 2005, he spent his true freshman
year on special teams before missing all of last year with a torn ACL.
He suffered another knee injury this year, but he's expected to be ready
to fly some time early this fall.
6-2, 231-pound senior Demarrio Pleasant
yet another one-time superstar OU linebacker recruit. He hasn't lived up
to his billing or his talent level with just 24 career stops and two
tackles for loss. He has all the measurables you could ask for in a
prototype linebacker. Now he has to prevent his career from becoming a
bust with a big senior season, adding more size than Baker on the
Watch Out For ... Reed. Reynolds will make a push for
the starting job, but it's Reed who has the size and strength in the
middle to be a difference maker. He's the type of linebacker everyone
else will work around.
Strength: Talent. The Sooners have a who's who of
superstar recruits who don't have much of a national name. They can all
run, they're all strong, and they're all promising.
Weakness: Proven results. Losing Alexander and
Latimer takes away 199 tackles and 22 tackles for loss. OU doesn't have
two in their category quite yet.
Outlook: This could be among the nation's most
talented linebacking corps if everyone plays up to their potential.
Lofton and Baker will be good ones on the outside, while the combination
of Reed and Reynolds can only be brought down by injuries. The corps
looks the part, and now they'll need to prove they can play when the
lights go on.
Projected Starters: Considering the OU secondary is among the
best in the nation with several all-star candidates and NFL prospects,
the coaching staff did a lot of shuffling this spring. The biggest move
was taking 6-1, 197-pound junior Reggie Smith, a first-team
All-Big 12 safety who made 41 tackles, three interceptions and broke up
eight passes, and moving him to corner. Originally a corner, starting
the first three games there in 2006 before moving to strong safety,
Smith should be fine, but not as good. He's not a blazer, but he can get
to the ball in a hurry with good functional speed. As big a year as he
had last season, he didn't do enough against the run.
The other move was to take 6-0, 196-pound D.J. Wolfe, a part-time
starting corner, and give him Smith's spot at strong safety. It's a
curious move considering Wolfe is faster than Smith, with 4.4 wheels,
but the former running back has all the makings of a star with great
tackling ability to go along with his athleticism. He only made 18 stops
with one interception in a reserve role after coming up with 65 tackles
The one player all but assured of a spot is junior Nic Harris at
free safety. At 6-3 and 226 pounds, he's a big defender who only started
in three games, seeing most of his time as a nickel back, but finished
third on the team with 63 tackles with four interceptions and eight
broken up passes. Fast enough to play anywhere in the secondary, he
could grow into the best pro prospect of the bunch.
5-11, 192-pound senior Marcus Walker was the main man at corner
after getting his starting job back after serving as a reserve after
dislocating his shoulder. He made 32 tackles with nine broken up passes
and three interceptions, including a key pick for a touchdown in the
loss to Boise State. One of the defense's fastest players, he's growing
into an All-Big 12 caliber defender.
Projected Top Reserves: Harris might be a superior
prospect at free safety, but that doesn't mean there won't be a spot for
6-0, 197-pound Darien Williams, who started the first 11 games of
the year finishing fourth on the team with 67 tackles along with two
interceptions. Not nearly as big as Harris, he's faster, stronger, and
provides a decent punch.
With 42 tackles, an interception, seven broken up passes and an
impressive seven tackles for loss, 6-1, 196-pound junior Lendy Holmes
started most of last season on the
other side of Walker. Now he'll battle with Smith for a job, and could
get the nod again things change back to the way they were last year. The
former receiver runs a 4.4 40 and will see time somewhere, likely as a
Watch Out For ... Harris to be special with even more
of a role. With the moves made throughout the secondary, he should grow
into an even bigger presence in all areas.
Strength: Coverage skills. The secondary is loaded
with big, experienced defenders who can all fly. Throwing on this crew
will be a nightmare.
Weakness: Beating up receivers. The stats might be
there, but this isn't nearly as physical a group as it should be
considering the overall size. That's why the move of Harris to a bigger
role, Smith to corner, and Wolfe to safety.
Outlook: Loaded, loaded, loaded. There are ten
players with appreciable experience and at least four all-star
candidates, probably six. With all the movement, the hope will be for an
even better year against the run and when plays are there to be made in
the open field. After allowing 11 touchdown passes before the Fiesta
Bowl, this group will make amends.
Projected Starters: There isn't a more accurate kicker than
senior Garrett Hartley, who nailed 19 of 20 field goals with the
one miss a block on a 44-yard attempt against Oregon. With a huge leg
with range at just over 50 yards, it should all come together with an
All-America season and a shot at the Lou Groza Award. Senior Michael
Cohen had a nice year averaging 41 yards per kick, putting eight
inside the 20, but junior Mike Knall will compete for the job
after averaging 33.5 yards in a limited role.
Watch Out For ... Hartley to be a difference maker in
at least two games. The difference between winning another Big 12 title
and competing for the national title, and being out of the BCS hunt,
could rely on Hartley's leg. That's a good thing.
Strength: Big legs. Hartley can hit from just
about anywhere inside the stadium, while Cohen can crank out a few
blasts here and there, highlighted by a 75 yarder last year.
Weakness: Punt returns. And it's not much of a
major problem. Reggie Smith averaged a pedestrian 7.8 yards per return,
even with a 62-yard touchdown. This is the only area of the special
teams that wasn't amazing.
Outlook: This is a spectacular group with a return
game that can score any time Smith or Juaquin Iglesias gets their hands
on the ball. Hartley and Cohen are potential all-stars.