2010 Oklahoma Preview - Defense
Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis
Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis
Posted May 11, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Oklahoma Sooner Defense

Oklahoma Sooners

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The defense flew under the radar last season with all the attention paid to the issues on offense. This will once again be a good enough defense to finish in the top ten nationally as long as the defensive interior is solid. There's star power to work around if DT Adrian Taylor's broken leg isn't a big deal and DE Jeremy Beal is the pass rushing terror he has been over the last two seasons. Replacements are needed at linebacker and corner, but the safeties, Quinton Carter and Sam Proctor, are solid, and Travis Lewis is an All-America caliber weakside playmaker who can clean up everything the other linebackers don't get to.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Travis Lewis, 109
Sacks: Jeremy Beal, 11
Interceptions: Quinton Carter, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB Travis Lewis
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior CB Jonathan Nelson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Ronnell Lewis
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Adrian Taylor
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lewis, 2) DE Jeremy Beal, 3) Taylor
Strength of the defense: Pass rush, safety
Weakness of the defense: Sure-thing corners, DT if Adrian Taylor is hurt

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: With Gerald McCoy bolting early for the NFL, the new star of the defensive interior will be Adrian Taylor, a 6-4, 291-pound senior who could've taken off for the big league, too. However, he suffered a broken leg in the Sun Bowl and will still need a while to recover, but when he's right he's a smart, tough run clogger who was fantastic in the 2009 BCS Championship loss to Florida and came up with 37 tackles, 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. He's big, he's quick, and he's a great interior pass ruser who'll serve as the anchor when healthy.

Trying to take over for McCoy at the other tackle spot will be sophomore Jamarkus McFarland , considered to be one of the nation's top overall recruits by some and on everyone's list of top three linemen. At 6-2 and 296 pounds he's built for the nose with NFL strength and excellent quickness, and he got in a little bit of work last year making eight tackles and 2.5 sacks in his true freshman season, and the sky's the limit on his talent.

Senior Jeremy Beal had a great 2008 making 61 tackles with 8.5 sacks after dominating in a breakout performance in the 2007 Big 12 Championship, and then he took his game to another lever last season with 70 tackles, 11 sacks, and 19 tackles for loss to earn all-star honors and a finalist spot for the Hendricks Award. At 6-3 and 261 pounds he has tremendous size for an end and the quickness to match, and now he has the potential to blow up as a national star and be in the hunt for all the big defensive lineman awards. Too quick for most tackles, he has a great burst around the end to go along with the size and toughness to hold up against the run.

Junior Frank Alexander hasn't been the most celebrated of OU linemen, getting overshadowed by players like McCoy and Beal, but he has been solid in the rotation. A backup for most of his career, he stepped in with Auston English got hurt and started the last four games of the year finishing with 23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and seven tackles for loss. The 6-4, 259-pounder has phenomenal speed and a great burst off the ball, and now with his experience to go along with his skills, there's no reason to not do even more as a pass rusher.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore David King isn't all that big at just 6-5 and 236 pounds, but he's a good athlete with great straight-line speed and a terrific motor. While not necessarily considered a pure pass rusher, he has the upside to grow into one. Now he needs more experience on the end after playing in just four games and making one tackle against Stanford in the Sun Bowl.

Getting a shot to work in a rotation with Alexander on the end will be redshirt freshman Justin Chaisson after taking last year off. The 6-4, 257-pounder was the big end recruit of last year after making 23 sacks and 103 tackles as a junior at Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas. He has linebacker speed and can fly off the edge, and now he'll get his chance.

Looking to be a part of the interior rotation, and getting plenty of chances with Alexander trying to get healthy, will be sophomores Casey Walker and Stacey McGee , two big, talented prospects who'll soon be the keys to the defense. The 6-0, 302-pound Walker saw a little work last season and made two tackles and recovered a fumble in three games, while the 6-4, 272-pound McGee made just one tackle in two games. McGee is the more athletic of the two, while Walker provides the beef on the nose.

Watch Out For … Beal to be this year's really big defensive lineman, like Brian Orakpo two years ago and Ndamukong Suh last season. That might be a wee bit of a reach, but he has the potential to go down as the most productive end in OU history and could be in the hunt for a 15-sack season.
Strength: Getting into the backfield. OU always finds ways to get to the quarterback and make plays behind the line, finishing sixth in the nation in sacks and ninth in tackles for loss last season. Expect more of the same this year with good production from all four spots.
Weakness: Sure-thing backups. Last year the line was full of depth and talent, and while there are some great prospects on the second team, there isn't the certainty there was last year about the rotation. That could be an issue if Alexander isn't healthy.
Outlook: As always, the OU line will be among the best in the Big 12 and among the most productive in the nation, but Alexander has to be healthy, Beal has to Beal, and the backups have to produce not that they get their chance. The talent is undeniable, but losing McCoy will hurt and there's a chance for a bit of an overall drop-off. Not a big one, but a drop-off nonetheless.
Unit Rating: 8


Projected Starters: Senior Travis Lewis has been a tackling machine and has emerged as the next great Oklahoma linebacker. He followed up a tremendous 144-tackle 2008 by leading the team with 109 stops, a sack, and 9.5 tackles for loss in his second straight All-Big 12 season. At 6-2 and 232 pounds he has good size and tremendous sideline to sideline range from his weakside spot, and while he could stand to do a bit more against the pass, he has few problems staying with receivers. 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.

Taking over for Keenan Clayton on the strongside will be sophomore Ronnell Lewis , a 6-2, 234-pound hitter who was arguably the nation's No. 1 linebacker prospect last year. He's a bit rangy and thin, but he hits like a ton of bricks with great range and a burst to the ball carrier. After spending last year as an understudy, finishing the year with 22 tackles and a sack, he should be a statistical star now that he gets a bigger role.

Trying to replace heart-and-soul defender Ryan Reynolds in the middle will be redshirt freshman Tom Wort , a 6-0, 220-pounder who was expected to be a part of the equation last year before suffering a torn ACL before the season began. He's a bit light, but he's expected to be strong in all areas and great against the pass. Playing big won't be a problem; he's a big hitter.

Projected Top Reserves: Working with Wort in the middle will be 6-2, 219-pound Daniel Franklin , who spent most of last year on special teams. He's not all that big but he's a good tackler and is a high-character guy who'll be like another coach on the field. He saw time in six games but didn't register a tackle.

It was a big deal when Jaydan Bird signed with OU instead of Kansas, and he came to school early last year to try to be part of the mix right away. While he saw time in 12 games, he only made two tackles in a limited role on the weakside. Now he'll work behind Lewis before taking over next year, at least that's the expectation, using his 4.5 speed to be a playmaker both in the backfield and against the pass.

Austin Box has been a nice reserve for the last few years and got six starts when and where needed. The 6-2, 220-pound junior isn't bad at getting into the backfield with 11 career tackles for loss and 70 tackles, and now he'll use his athleticism as a key backup at all three spots.

Watch Out For … Ronnell Lewis. Travis Lewis will be the star of the linebacking corps, but the other Lewis should end up earning accolades of his own. He's too fast, too talented, and too promising to not be a disruptive force who comes up with a huge season.
Strength: Tackling. This group won't miss many stops and everyone plays fast and physical. The defensive front will do its part to allow the linebackers room to make things happen, but this corps has no problems doing things on its own.
Weakness: Sure-thing stars besides Travis Lewis. Ryan Reynolds and Keeton Clayton were fantastic defenders who'll be missed, and while OU has recruited extremely well and has talent to burn, there are several players who have to prove they belong.
Outlook: This should be a fantastic group of linebackers with good quickness, big hitting ability, and lots of upside. Travis Lewis will be the All-American, Ronnell Lewis will be a great All-Big 12 running mate, and everyone else will fill in the gaps.
Unit Rating: 9


Projected Starters: The OU secondary should be set and should be solid if the corner situation is fine, and that means Jonathan Nelson , a 5-11, 172-pound senior, has to prove he can handle himself on the outside after spending most of his career at safety. He came up with a surprise season in 2009 making 42 tackles with three interceptions earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors, but he's now going to be a marked man. He's not all that big and he doesn't have a ton of experience, spending the first part of his career on special teams, but he's smart and he's tough.

On the other side with be high-rising talent Demontre Hurst, a 5-9, 165-pound sophomore who did a nice job in his true freshman season making 14 tackles and a sack serving both as a backup corner and a key special teamer. While he's not a blazer for his size, he has good enough speed to get by and he has the strength of a safety. He'll eventually be the team's No. 1 corner and will be left on an island, and he has to prove right away that he can handle the responsibility.

While the corners might be a concern, the safeties are set starting with senior Quinton Carter , a 6-1, 193-pound hitter who was second on the team with 88 tackles and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. He's very smart and very athletic at free safety with great range and hitting ability. The former high school quarterback became the playmaker the team needed on the way to second-team All-Big 12 honors.

Junior Sam Proctor grew into the starting strong safety job and was fine, but not special making 44 tackles with two broken up passes. At 6-0 and 206 pounds he has good size to go along with decent speed and good smarts. A former high school quarterback, he's a good athlete who should improve now that he knows what he's doing.

Projected Top Reserves Junior Jamell Fleming has the versatility to play just about anywhere in the secondary. He'll work mostly at corner but has safety strength in a 5-11, 178-pound frame, and he'll see time in nickel and dime packages. While he didn't make any big plays when the ball was in the air, he made 14 tackles.

Gabe Lynn was one of the team's top recruits last year and he'll soon be one of the keys to the secondary. At 6-0 and 186 pounds he has good size for a corner with good athleticism. Ranked as the No. 1 corner by Scout, he has all the talent to become special after a little bit of work, and he'll see time in nickel and dime packages to get on the field.

So far, Marcus Trice has been a backup and a special teamer making just three tackles in his true freshman season, but now he'll be a major player in the safety rotation working at both spots with more time spent at free safety. At 5-8 and 178 pounds he's not all that big, but he makes up for it with a great vertical and excellent speed. He's extremely strong for his size.

Junior Desmond Jackson spent his first two years as a special teamer making 13 stops, but now he'll work at strong safety. Smart and with phenomenal strength and good range for a defensive back prospect, he has the raw tools. The 5-11, 190-pound size doesn't hurt.

Watch Out For … the corners to be more than fine. The Sooners always seem to come up with the right fit at corner, and considering all of the defensive backs are generally the same size and can all move, there's never a shortage of options.
Strength: Safety. Proctor and Carter might not be special, but they're rock solid veterans who should do a good job of helping the new corners. They can both hit and they can both move, and while it would be nice to get a little more out of Proctor, this is one of the team's strengths.
Weakness: Proven playmaking corners. Of the four top corner prospects, Nelson has three interceptions and that's it. They'll be fine, but if there's one area that's a big of an X factor, this is it.
Outlook: As always, OU has speed and talent to burn in the secondary. While the Sooner DBs will get burned here and there by the big play, they can all move and they can all tackle. With good depth and great options at each spot, expect another year with one of the most productive pass defenses in America.
Unit Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: It'll be an ongoing battle to find a steady placekicker with junior Patrick O'Hara and sophomore Jimmy Stevens competing. O'Hara took over the job late last year and finished making 6-of-9 field goals. He's a walk-on who didn't play football until he joined the Sooners and got the gig after showing off his stuff on YouTube. Stevens doesn't have a huge leg, but he hit 11-of-13 kicks before getting replaced.

The punting game will be fantastic with the return of sophomore Tress Way, who averaged whopping 45.7 yards per kick with 17 put inside the 20 and with 22 kicks of over 50 yards. He came up with some huge, booming kicks on his way to a few All-America and All-Big 12 honors, but he had a few too many touchbacks (13) and could do a bit more on his placement. He was tried out on long field goal attempt but only connected on one 28-yarder and missed his other five chances.

Star WR Ryan Broyles is one of the nation's elite returners averaging 15.9 yards per punt return and 20.2 yards on his four kickoff returns. Demontre Hurst will chip in on punt returns while Mossis Madu will help out on kickoffs.

Watch Out For … the placekicking. It's not like Stevens was bad, but he didn't show enough range. While he set the national high school record with 50 career field goals and has connected on 19-of-25 attempts, he was 0-for-2 last year from beyond 39 yards. O'Hara is still a work in progress, but he hit a 47-yarder. It might end up being Stevens from short and O'Hara from long.
Strength: Punting. Way is an All-America candidate and the coverage team should be terrific after allowing 1.8 yards per try.
Weakness: Deep placekicking. O'Hara, Stevens, and Way combined to go 1-for8 from beyond 40 yards.
Outlook: Broyles and Way are among the best in the nation at what they do, and the punt return team should be terrific. The kickoff coverage could stand to be better and there could be more pop on kickoff returns, but overall the special teams are more than fine. They can be the best in America if the placekicking situation gets sorted out.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2010 Oklahoma Preview | 2010 Oklahoma Offense
- 2010 Oklahoma Defense | 2010 Oklahoma Depth Chart
- Oklahoma Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006