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2009 Oklahoma Preview - Defense
Oklahoma CB Dominique Franks
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Oklahoma Sooner Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The defense will
never get the spotlight like the high-octane offense, but there
are areas that are just as strong as anything on the other side
of the ball. The defensive line might be the strength of the
team with too many great pass rushers to get on the field at the
same time, and they're all going to work around tackle Gerald
McCoy, who could start in the NFL right now. With the return of
Ryan Reynolds in the middle, the linebacking corps is loaded
helped by Travis Lewis, who made 144 tackles, and Keenan Clayton
on the outside. The secondary isn't going to be a rock, but
it'll get a ton of help from one of the nation's best pass
rushes and has great potential with corners Dominique Franks and
Brian Jackson good ones to rely on. The depth is lacking in the
back seven, but there are great athletes across the board. On
the flip side, the line is loaded with a second team good enough
to start almost anywhere else.
Tackles: Travis Lewis,
Jeremy Beal, 8.5
Interceptions: Dominique Franks, Travis Lewis, 4
Star of the defense: Junior DT Gerald McCoy
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore SS
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior FS Quinton Carter
Best pro prospect: McCoy
Top three all-star
McCoy, 2) LB Ryan Reynolds, 3) LB Travis Lewis
Strength of the defense: Defensive Front
Seven, Pass Rush
Weakness of the defense: Defensive Back Depth, Pass
Junior Gerald McCoy
was the 2006 USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year coming out
of high school and was one of the program's top recruits in a class of
superstar prospects. He has lived up to the hype and then some following
up Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year campaign by making 30 tackles,
with 6.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and an interception on the way to
an All-America season. The 6-4, 297-pounder is exceptionally quick off
the ball and is a proven anchor against the run. A sure-thing first
round draft pick if he chooses to leave early, he could end up being a
top ten selection if he has another big year. He's on the short list of
Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
While McCoy is the
star of the line, senior Auston English will get his
share of attention. The 6-3, 251-pounder went from an afterthought in
the rotation to one of the nation's best pass rushers two years ago. He
struggled through a slight knee injury midway through last year, but he
still finished with 32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and nine tackles for loss.
The former high school running back is explosive off the ball and
handles himself well against the run, but he has to be 100% again. When
he's right, he's unstoppable.
Back on the other side is
Jeremy Beal, a 6-3, 261-pound junior who stepped up and started
every game last season making 61 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 15.5 tackles
for loss in a first-team All-Big 12 season. The star of the 2007 Big 12
Championship, he kept the production rolling throughout last year as the
team's most active all-around lineman with the ability to come up with
tackles in bunches, like he did against Cincinnati with ten stops, and
is way too quick for most tackles. With the expected return to form of
English, Beal should flourish even more.
Adrian Taylor didn't get a whole bunch of press, but he was a
key part of the tackle rotation and started every game on the nose. He's
a smart, tough defender who made 26 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 6.5
tackles for loss, and he came up with a while of a game in the loss to
Florida. He's helped playing next to McCoy, but it works both ways. With
great athleticism along with his run-stuffing ability, he should earn
Projected Top Reserves:
Senior DeMarcus Granger has the
tools and the talent to be a top NFL prospect, but he's still fighting
to get back his reputation after being suspended from the 2008 Fiesta
Bowl for stealing a jacket. Last year he was never right, suffering a
foot injury early on and having problems with his back late. Even so, he
made 20 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss as a strong part of the
rotation, and now he'll work with Taylor on the nose bringing his 6-2,
327-pound size and ridiculous strength. If he can put it all together
and come up with a big season, he could be a first day selection next
Sophomore Frank Alexander was a backup
who took over the starting job midway through last year when English got
hurt, but he still earned All-Big 12 recognition after making 26 tackles
with 3,5 sacks and five tackles for loss. The 6-4, 259-pounder is a blur
off the ball with the tackle strength to be good against the run. With
safety speed and all his other tools, he should be a devastating part of
6-5, 236-pound redshirt freshman David King
was ranked the 11th best defensive end prospect last year by
Scout, and now he'll look to show off why playing behind Beal. While
he's not a pure pass rusher, he has the athleticism to grow into one
with great straight-line speed and a good motor to keep working to make
things happen against the run.
was a top overall national recruit and one of the top five
defensive line prospects on everyone's board. The 6-5, 285-pounder is a
sure-thing with NFL strength as a true freshman and phenomenal
quickness. It was a battle to get him from Texas, and now he should be
an immediate part of the interior mix.
McFarland was the big
pickup for the inside, while Justin Chaission was the
big get for the outside. The 6-5, 265-pound true freshman is a natural
pass rusher who made 23 sacks and 103 tackles as a junior at Bishop
Gorman in Las Vegas. While he might not be needed right away, he's still
likely to see instant action.
Watch Out For ... English and Alexander to battle for
playing time. The Sooners have the nice problem of having too many
fantastic pass rushers, and while Beal will be a sure-thing on one side,
there will be a steady rotation of English and Alexander on the other
Strength: Veterans. Not only is the starting
foursome back, but there's an extra starter in Alexander who's good
enough to step in and shine. That's not even counting Granger, who's
like another starter. There's more talent on the way with McFarland and
Chaission looking ready right away.
Weakness: Backup tackle. This is really,
really stretching, but Granger has to be healthy, Cordera
Moore doesn't have a ton of experience, and McFarland, as good
as he is, is just a freshman.
Outlook: As good as the OU offensive line was last
year, that's how good the OU defensive line is this season. There are
all-star prospects across the board with McCoy a superstar to take all
the pressure off the rest of the veterans. This group will be camped out
in opposing backfields and will be a brick wall against the run.
It's not a stretch to say that the
difference between a national title and finishing second was the loss of
Ryan Reynolds. The 6-2, 225-pound man in the middle
made 44 tackles and five tackles for loss in just over five games, but
he suffered a torn ACL against Texas and everything changed. Once he got
knocked out, Colt McCoy picked apart the OU defense across the middle.
While Mike Balogun wasn't awful in the title game against Florida, he
wasn't what Reynolds would've been. Immensely talented but often
injured, he missed all of 2006 with a torn ACL, missed time with a neck
injury, and is coming back from last year's malady. However, he's
expected to be close to 100% and he should be a do-it-all, superstar
playmaker when he's on the field.
came up with a huge first season with a team-leading 144 tackles with
3.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and four interceptions on the weakside.
Now the 6-2, 232-pound sophomore is expected to do even more after
earning first-team All-Big 12 honors with the experience to go along
with his tremendous quickness and smarts. A tremendous high school
running back, he has been timed at 4.34 in the 40 and has phenomenal
weight room strength. Able to play any position in the linebacking
corps, he'll produce no matter where he lines up.
Keenan Clayton won the starting job early last fall and turned
in a big year finishing third on the team with 82 tackles with 4.5
sacks, ten tackles for loss and nine broken up passes. A key special
teamer before last year, the 6-1, 221-pounder turned in a second-team
All-Big 12 campaign doing a little of everything on the strongside with
excellent speed to go along with his experience. Better in space than he
is against the more physical blockers, he'd likely be better suited for
Projected Top Reserves: Part linebacker and part
defensive end, senior J.R. Bryant was a good JUCO
transfer who spent most of his time on special teams. He finished with
16 tackles as one of the team's top playmakers in kick coverage, and now
he'll use his 6-2, 225-pound size and 4.5 speed on the strongside behind
Senior Mike Balogun was thrown in the
starting role in the BCS Championship game after injuries hit the
middle. The 6-0, 247-pound former JUCO transfer was fine, finishing the
year with 13 tackles, but he's limited compared to some of the other
options. While he's strong against the run and is a big hitter, he's not
the all-around playmaker that Reynolds is.
Lewis isn't the nation's No. 1 linebacker prospect, he's No. 2.
The 6-3, 220-pounder was a star running back, gaining 2,219 yards and 33
touchdowns as a senior, after running for 40 scores as a junior, but
he's a big hitter who should eventually be a star on defense. He's not
for the middle; he's an outside prospect who can run all day with
Freshman Jaydan Bird got away
from Kansas and came to Oklahoma early on to be a part of the backup
rotation right away. A star prospect for the middle, he'll start out the
year working on the weakside behind Lewis where his 6-1, 227-pound size
and 4.5 speed should be on display. He needs a year, but he'll
eventually be a good one.
Watch Out For ... Reynolds' knee. When he's playing,
he's an All-America caliber difference maker who doesn't miss plays and
is as tough as they come. Balogun is a decent second option, but there's
a big drop-off between the one and the two.
Strength: Tackling. Reynolds is a great hitter
while Lewis proved last year that he's among the Big 12's best open
field tacklers. Clayton can do it all with tremendous pass rushing
ability and tone-setting popping ability when he gets a bead on a
Weakness: The backups. OU always gets production
out of everyone who gets plugged into the system, but this is a dominant
corps if it's Reynolds, Clayton, and Lewis starting. It's above-average
if it's Bryant, Balogun, and Bird.
Outlook: The linebackers did what they needed to
do to get by once Reynolds went down, but now that he's back the corps
should be special. Lewis is a tremendous talent who should be one of the
Big 12's leading tacklers again, while Clayton will earn all-star
honors. The starting threesome should combine for well over 300 tackles.
Junior Dominique Franks
had a good season earning first-team All-Big 12 honors after
making 43 tackles with four interceptions and ten broken up passes. The
team's top shut-down corner, he appears ready to take his game to a
whole other level after a tremendous offseason where he became more of a
leader and even more of a playmaker. He as good size at 6-0 and 192
pounds and has the speed and quickness expected out of the OU's best
pass defender. He was supposed to be the next great Sooner corner when
he arrived, and he's about to become it.
6-1, 200-pound senior
Brian Jackson had a nice season on the other side of
Franks starting every game and earning honorable mention All-Big 12
honors. He was fourth on the team with 72 tackles to go along with two
picks and ten broken up passes. Speedy for his size, he has 4.5 wheels
and his like a safety. While he might be a better fit as a free safety,
he does just fine as a No. 2 corner who gets thrown at by teams trying
to stay away from Franks.
Junior Quinton Carter
is a very smart, very promising free safety who's coming off a nice
offseason where he has stepped up into a leadership role in place of
Lendy Holmes. The 6-1, 193-pounder started two games last year in nickel
packages and finished up with 37 tackles and two broken up passes. A
phenomenal athlete, he has unlimited range and should be one of the
team's top tacklers with his physical play.
Taking over at
strong safety in place of Nic Harris is Sam Proctor, a
6-0, 208-pound sophomore who made 14 tackles as a reserve. Smart, he's a
Academic All-Big 12 performer, he knows what he's doing in the defensive
backfield and was solid as a special teamer. A high school quarterback,
he's a nice athlete with good enough speed to get by, but he'll take a
few lumps in pass coverage before he gets a hang of the full-time job.
Projected Top Reserves: 5-11, 172-pound junior
Jonathan Nelson was supposed to be a big part of the rotation,
but he only saw a little time on special teams. He's a slight, thin player, but he
can jump out of the stadium and has the skills to potentially be a pure
lockdown cover corner. However, he hasn't done it yet.
Jamell Fleming isn't all that fast, but he's
linebacker-strong and has the athleticism to grow into a nickel and dime
back role while playing behind Brian Jackson at the boundary corner
spot. He made 23 tackles in a reserve role, but he didn't do much with
the ball in the air. He'll grow into even more into a key backup.
Kevin Brent was the team's top defensive back
recruit with 4.4 seed and 5-11, 196-pound size. Projected to play
safety, he was ranked as one of the best prospects in the nation by all
the regular outlets and is expected to see time right away when he hits
campus. While he's not a sure-thing superstar, he has all the tools to
potentially be special.
Sooner than later, freshman Javon
Harris will be a part of the safety rotation. He's not all that
big at 5-11 and 196 pounds, but he has tremendous range and hits like a
much bigger player. While he can play either safety spot, he'll be a
strong safety to start out.
Watch Out For ... Carter. He hasn't done too much yet
to stand out, but he's looking like a key playmaker who should be one of
the team's leading tacklers at free safety. He'll be challenged for the
job throughout the year, but he'll be on the field.
Strength: Corners. A concern last year, now it
should be a strength with Franks emerging as a star and Jackson coming
off a big year. The backups are stronger here than they are at safety,
at least early on.
Weakness: Proven backups. The team needs more of a
rotation and needs more production against the more efficient passing
teams. It won't be a good thing if a few true freshmen are counted on
Outlook: The stats have to be taken with a grain
of salt. OU was 99th in the nation in pass defense, allowing 251.5 yards
per game, but everyone had to bomb away to try to keep up with the
Sooner offense. This might be the team's weakest link, comparatively
speaking, but Franks, Carter, and Jackson are good, solid starters
who'll hold their own. The proven depth is lacking and could be an issue
if injuries strike.
There was a big concern about sophomore
Jimmy Stevens replacing Garrett Hartley, but he came up
with a nice year hitting 8-of-12 kicks. He set the national high school
record with 50 career field goals and was good last year from close, but
he didn't show much range with a 42-yarder against Texas A&M his longest
It's not like the OU punter gets a lot of work, but
redshirt freshman Tress Way is a good one to get
excited about. He'll replace Mike Knall, who averaged just 36.5 yards
per kick but put 17 inside the 20. Way is a placekicker by trade and
will push for the starting kicker job, but he'll need to be consistent
as a punter first.
Dominique Franks will be the team's main return man
early on as both a punt and kick returner, while Ryan Broyles
will get a look again after averaging a decent 9.9 yards per
punt return. DeMarco Murray averaged 27.6 yards per
kickoff return, but he's not likely to get many chances until he's 100%
Watch Out For ... a battle for the kicking job.
Stevens is fine, but he wasn't anything special. If Way can show any
sort of range, or if walk-on Bryce Easley can show off
a big leg, this could be a spot worth watching for a team that doesn't
necessarily need a top-shelf placekicker.
Strength: Kickoff returns. OU led the nation in
kickoff returns two years averaging 28.27 yards per try and was fifth in
the nation, and first in the Big 12, last year averaging 25.2 yards per
try. There are several great options to see time and get their chances.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The Sooners not only
allowed 23.8 yards per return, but they also gave up four touchdowns.
There will be lots of chances to improve after making 103 kickoffs last
year. By comparison, OU only got to return 52 kicks.
Outlook: The special teams are fine and will get
good production out of the kickoff return game and out of Way, but the
placekicking needs to be stronger and there could stand to be more from
the coverage teams.