2009 Oklahoma Preview - Defense
Oklahoma CB Dominique Franks
Oklahoma CB Dominique Franks
Posted Jul 7, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Oklahoma Sooner Defense

Oklahoma Sooners

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Oklahoma Preview | 2009 Oklahoma Offense
- 2009 Oklahoma Defense | 2009 Oklahoma Depth Chart
- 2008 OU Preview | 2007 OU Preview | 2006 OU Preview

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Travis Lewis, 144
Sacks: 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 Sam Proctor

Unsung star on the rise: Junior FS Quinton Carter
Best pro prospect: McCoy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) 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 Defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
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.

6-4, 291-pound 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 all-star honors.

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 year.

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 the rotation.

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.

Jamarkus McFarland 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 side.
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.
Rating: 10


Projected Starters
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.

Travis Lewis 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.

Senior 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 the weakside.

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 Clayton.

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.

If Ronnell 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 unlimited range.

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 ball-carrier.
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. 
Rating: 8.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
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.

Sophomore 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 right away.
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.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters
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 boot.

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% healthy.
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.
Rating: 6.5