Preview 2008 - Defense
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2008 Oklahoma Depth
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2006 CFN Oklahoma
What you need to know:
Last year's defense had several
major concerns, but there wasn't much of a question that
everything was going to be fine. That's not the case this year.
This D has more than enough athletes and more than enough
five-star talents to replace the former stars with new ones, but
there are gaping holes to fill and some very, very big ifs. If
LB Ryan Reynolds can stay healthy and take over in the middle
for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Curtis Lofton, and if
corners Reggie Smith and Marcus Walker can be replaced, and if
ultra-talented DT DeMarcus Granger is back after getting nailed
on shoplifting charges, and if pass rushing demon Auston English
is back to normal after suffering a broken ankle, and if several
untested underclassmen and a few newcomers can play right away
up to Sooner standards, then this might be among the Big 12's
best defenses again.
Tackles: Lendy Holmes,
Auston English, 9.5
Interceptions: Lendy Holmes, 3
Star of the defense: Sophomore DT Gerald McCoy
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Sophomore CB Dominique Franks
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore DE Jeremy Beal
Best pro prospect: McCoy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McCoy, 2) DE Auston
English, 3) S Nic Harris
Strength of the defense: Defensive tackle, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker, proven depth anywhere
Projected Starters: Is junior DeMarcus Granger going to
be back in the defensive tackle mix? An All-Big 12 selection with NFL
talent, the 6-3, 300-pounder had a good regular season making 34
tackles, 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, and then he made the
mellonhead move of getting arrested for shoplifting a jacket just before
the Fiesta Bowl. He's still on the team, but he's certainly not a sure thing considering the
off-the-field issues. On the field, he has all the measureables, the
quickness and the strength to be the best OU defensive line prospect
since Tommie Harris.
Sophomore Gerald McCoy was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the
Year, and no matter what happens to Granger throughout the year, will be one of the team's
top linemen. A superstar recruit,
the 6-4, 289-pound 2006 USA Today National Defensive
Player of the Year made 19 tackles, two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss,
but his worth goes beyond stats. He has been tremendous in practices and
terrific at occupying blockers in games to let everyone around him work,
and now he should be the anchor of the front four.
All of a sudden, junior Auston English went from an
afterthought who was supposed to be part of the rotation, to one
of the nation's best pass rushers coming up with 9.5 sacks and 13
tackles for loss along with 38 tackles. More impressive is that he was
able to come up with those numbers even though he missed the final three
regular season games of the year after breaking his ankle against Texas
A&M. The former high school running back was consistent and explosive,
and he was able to come up big in the biggest games led by a huge
performance in the first win over Missouri. At 6-3 and 257 pounds, he's
big enough to handle himself against the run, but his real worth is as a
regular in the backfield.
Somewhere in the end rotation will be Alan Davis, a 6-2,
253-pound senior who came from out of nowhere to make 23 tackles and 1.5
sacks in a part-time starting role. Originally a reserve end, he was
moved to fullback as a sophomore before turning into a big help on the
defensive side. He's an active player, but he has to use his safety-like
speed to become a stronger pass rusher.
Projected Top Reserves: Is Jeremy Beal ready to be a full-time starter? The 6-4,
254-pound sophomore was a key reserve in the rotation over the first
half of the season, and then he blew up late starting the final two
games and making six tackles and a sack in the Big 12 Championship.
Finishing with 21 tackles and a sack, he's just scratching the surface
as a pass rusher and a disruptive force in the backfield.
The other starting
defensive end job opposite English will be open for a while, but the hope will be for
6-5, 249-pound senior John Williams to be back healthy after
getting knocked out for the year early on with a torn Achilles tendon.
While he has yet to do much, even after starting the first three games
of last year making seven tackles and a sack, he was growing into the
role. On the plus side, he got a sixth year of eligibility after
suffering a knee injury early in his career.
Part of the tackle rotation, while seeing a little time on the end, will
be 6-2, 278-pound senior Cory Bennett, who started 12 times in
2006 and appeared to be on the verge of doing big things, but his
playing time diminished as a junior starting twice and making 13
tackles. At his size he has the strength to play on the inside and
enough quickness to do more as an end, but he needs to be more
disruptive in the backfield.
Ready to take on a big role on the end is
redshirt freshman Frank Alexander, a 6-5, 235-pound blur with
freakish skills. Tremendously strong for his tall, lanky frame, he has
the potential to be an all-around force with a little bit of time.
Watch Out For ... tackle to be an issue. While
Granger will likely be a big part of the line, the legal issues
could weigh just heavily enough to be a distraction. If he's not able to
occupy one of the tackle spots, some serious depth will be needed next
Strength: End options. English is a
sure-thing at one spot, but there are at least three other players ready
to see steady, equal playing time. With redshirt freshmen like Alexander and Bumpus waiting to shine, there will be plenty of
combination's used to get to the passer.
Weakness: Pressure. With all the newcomers in the
linebacking corps and in the secondary, the line has to be special.
While there's experience and depth, this might not be the type of
be-all-end-all front four, in whatever combination the coaching staff
comes up with, to win games by itself.
Outlook: This should be a very good line, as
always, but can it be the scary-good group that owns opposing Big 12
offenses? It's possible if the tackle rotation gets set early and if
Granger's legal issues are settled. Gerald McCoy is an All-American in
waiting and end English will be a threat for double-digit sacks,
so if the rest of the spots can be filled in around them, this will be
yet another strong OU front wall.
Projected Starters: So how will OU replace Curtis Lofton in the
middle? Immensely talented and oft-injured Ryan Reynolds made 60
tackles, two sacks and eight tackles for loss, but he missed time with a
neck injury after missing all of 2006 with an injured knee. The 6-1 and
237-pound junior got the call on the weakside after being considered
early on for the spot in the middle, and now he'll likely take over in
an attempt to replace Lofton's 156 stops and all-around playmaking
ability. He has the speed and he has the toughness, but now he has to be
able to stay healthy and put it all together for a full season.
If Reynolds stays in the
middle, the time will be now for 6-3, 220-pound redshirt freshman
Austin Box to take over on the weakside. The former high school
quarterback has safety speed and loads of potential if he ends up in the
middle at some point, but he's still
going to be a work in progress after spending last year grooming for one
of the outside jobs.
The strongside job will be open until opening day with 6-1, 210-pound
junior Keenan Clayton likely getting the first look. A key
special teamer and part time safety, he'll be moved to linebacker out of
necessity after making 26 stops. He started twice as a freshman strong
safety but didn't do enough against the pass. Now he needs to use his
excellent speed to become a steady playmaker, but he has to prove he can
hold up against the run.
Projected Top Reserves: Looking to take over a starting spot from day one is J.R. Bryant,
a good JUCO transfer who brings much-needed size to the mix. At 6-3 and
230 pounds, and with good tackling ability, he's a natural for time on
Battling with Bryant for one of the jobs will be Mike
Balogun, a 6-2, 250-pound hitter who made 86 tackles for
Lackawanna CC in Kansas last season. While he's mostly a run defender,
he's expected to be a decent against the pass.
Watch Out For ... Bryant. This could be the least
talented linebacking corps Bob Stoops has ever had to work with, but
that doesn't necessarily count the newcomers. If Bryant is the
player he's expected to be from the JUCO ranks, and if Reynolds can
stay healthy, things should be fine.
Strength: Quickness. There are more than enough
speedy players to turn loose, and on athleticism alone this group will
produce some big plays. It might take a while, but the right combination
could become fantastic once it's found. It just might take a while.
Weakness: Talent. The linebacking corps loses 247
tackles with Curtis Lofton and Lewis Baker gone, and now the corps is
relying on Reynolds, who hasn't had any luck with injuries, to be a
star to revolve the corps around. This is easily the team's biggest
question mark going into the season.
Outlook: Last year's linebacking corps was long on
talent and short on proven production, and then it turned into one of
the team's major strengths. This year's situation is even more up in the
air. With so many key personnel losses and so many newcomers needing to
play big roles right away, this could be a problem. Reynolds has
the talent to be a 100-tackle player if he can stay healthy, and while
he'll find a spot somewhere in the lineup, the combination for the three
spots will continue throughout the season with several players getting
chances to grab a job.
Projected Starters: With several losses in the secondary, it's
time for sophomore Dominique Franks to become a star. He saw a
little bit of time as a reserve, and he got a start in the Fiesta Bowl
with Reggie Smith hurt, but he was mostly a special teamer as a redshirt
freshman finishing with five tackles. He has good size at 5-11 and 183
pounds, and he has the requisite speed and tremendous athleticism, but
the pressure is on to be the next great OU corner. He has the talent to
With Reggie Smith and Marcus Walker both gone,
Brian Jackson has a shot to step in an use his experience to be a
steadying force on the outside. At a safety-sized 6-0 and 197 pounds,
the junior, who was a key part of the rotation making 14 tackles and an
interception, has to be more than a special teamer.
While the corners will be a problem, the safeties should be fine with
Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes two of the team's better veteran
defenders. Harris was an All-Big 12 performer who made 74 tackles, 3.5
sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss, mostly at free safety, and now he'll
take over D.J. Wolfe's spot at strong safety where he'll use his 6-3,
226-pound size to do more against the run. With his size and ability to
play anywhere in the secondary, he has the potential to be the best OU
defensive back pro prospect since Roy Williams, but this needs to be a
standout senior year. It should be.
The 6-1, 196-pound Holmes has been a jack-of-all trades used as a
reserve corner and a nickelback. After making 42 tackles and breaking up
seven passes on the way to honorable mention All-Big 12 honors as a
sophomore, he made 73 stops and three interceptions doing a little bit
of everything. The former wide receiver has the speed to start at corner
if needed, but he'll most likely move to free safety to allow Harris to
make the move to strong safety.
Projected Top Reserves: 5-11, 176-pound sophomore
Jonathan Nelson will get every chance to start right away, or at
least be a big part of the rotation. He's a slight, thin player, but he
can jump out of the stadium and has the skills to be a pure lockdown
cover corner. He'll have to prove early on that he can make big plays
when the ball is in the air.
Providing instant safety depth will be David Sims, a JUCO
All-American who could be the team's fastest defensive back. A big
hitter for his 5-11, 198-pound size, he made 70 tackles for Butte
College in California and picked off six passes. A blur when he gets the
ball in his hands, he could take his sub-4.4 speed and use it at free
safety, corner or nickelback.
New to the mix will be Desmond Jackson, a speedy redshirt
freshman free safety who has the potential to grow into a big-play
defender. Very strong and very fast, the 5-11, 187-pounder will rotate
where needed and could become a vital player in nickel and dime
Watch Out For ... Sims. In a perfect world, Sims
becomes an instant starter who owns a spot somewhere, preferably corner,
even though he's a safety. OU has options to fill one corner spot with
several different options, and can do worse than starting Franks on one side, but the ideal situation would be to put Holmes
at safety, not corner, meaning a steady second option is needed.
Strength: Safety. Harris could be something
special, and at the very least will be in for All-Big 12 honors. If
Holmes is at free safety, the Sooners are set. If it's Sims or ackson, the secondary will still be fine.
Weakness: Corners. OU should eventually be good
and Franks is going to be good, but losing Walker and Smith hurts. The corner depth needs time.
Outlook: Last year's secondary was a bit of a
disappointment considering all the returning experience and talent. This
year's group won't have nearly the same expectations, but it could be
fine if the corner situation gets settled right away. Harris and Holmes are two good veterans to work around, and Franks
will hold down one outside job, so now it's up to several players to
fight it out for the other open corner spot. After allowing 228 yards
per game and finishing 43rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense,
there's still room for improvement.
Projected Starters: Good luck replacing Garrett Hartley, who was
only one of the nation's best placekickers for the last four years and
hit 13 of 15 shots last season. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Stevens
will get the first shot, and while he might not have the consistent
blast Hartley had, he has the potential after setting the national high
school record with 50 career field goals. Early on, he just has to prove
he can hit inside 40 on a regular basis.
Senior punter Mike Knall is coming off a very nice year averaging
43.7 yards per punt after taking over the duties on a full-time basis.
He has a very accurate leg putting nine of his 11 kicks inside the 20 as
a sophomore, and six of his 24 kicks deep last year with a mere two
Top receiver Juaquin Iglesias is an elite kickoff returner
averaging 28.5 yards per try, while RB DeMarco Murray averaged
29.3 yards per return with two touchdowns.
doesn't have to just replace Reggie Smith as the No. 1 corner, he also
has to be a top punt returner after averaging 10.3 yards on 12 tries.
Watch Out For ... Knall. He didn't receive much in
the way of Big 12 recognition, mostly because he split the duties with
Michael Cohen, but he could be a weapon who helps the defense out early
with his deep kicks.
Strength: Kickoff returns. OU led the nation in
kickoff returns averaging 28.27 yards per try. Even if Murray
isn't ready and if Iglesias spends all his time at receiver,
there are several good prospects waiting in the wings.
Weakness: Punt returns. This hasn't been a major
weak link, but it hasn't been anything special for the last few years.
Smith just wasn't a dynamic punt returner. Franks could
be an instant upgrade now that he has the full-time job.
Outlook: The punting will be great, the kickoff
return team is among the best in America, and the coverage units are
decent, but not as good as they probably should be. The key is the field
goal kicking with Stevens and/or Matthew Moreland and/or Tress Way
needing to replace all-timer Hartley, who hit 47 of 58 career