I'm sure we all know how good Ryan Reynolds can be when he's healthy. The problem for Reynolds has been staying healthy while at OU. In 2005, Reynolds played almost exclusively on special teams as a freshman. In 2006, he missed the season after suffering an offseason knee injury, and he received a medical redshirt. He was a little dinged up in 2007 with a neck injury, and last year he tore his ACL against Texas.
How good is Reynolds when healthy? Here's an excerpt from my spring football preview:
Reynolds has been injured often in his career, and was knocked out for the season in the Red River Rivalry last year. Despite only playing in six games he was an honorable mention All Big 12 by the AP. When he's healthy he's a great player. He had 10 tackles against TCU and 14 tackles against Baylor. In fact, against Baylor he received Brent Venables' first ever perfect linebacking grade.
Many people thought that Reynolds' injury was a turning point in the Red River Rivalry, and that his absence might have sent the Sooner defense into disarray. Texas fans obviously poo poo this suggestion, while Sooner fans think it made a big difference.
So how big of an impact does Reynolds have on the defense? Find out after the jump!
It turns out that Reynolds has a pretty big impact on the defense. You can take the subjective approach and listen to his teammates:
"He's still the same Ryan," weakside linebacker Travis Lewis said. "He's making the checks. He's in the right place. He's covering up for my mistakes... Like yesterday (at the scrimmage), I was supposed to be inside and I was outside, and he just covered up for me. He's the Ryan of old."
Or his coach:
"He's doing well, real well," OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "He hasn't had any limitations. Finds the ball every snap, is always in great position. He had 25-plus plays (in OU's recent scrimmage) and had seven or eight tackles. That's about par for the course for him."
Or you can take a more objective approach. I decided to take a look at the numbers from last season, as that was really when the Sooners defense started to rely on Reynolds as a major contributer, and really when Reynolds began to come into his own.
Reynolds only played in 6 games, and one was cut short by the torn ACL. Over the first five games, he averaged 8.2 tackles per game. This means that Reynolds accounted for 13.1% of the OU tackles over that timeframe. That's pretty impressive when you consider that he only accounts for 9.1% of the starting defense (1 out of 11 players) and the proportion dwindles when you consider defensive line rotations and substitutions, especially in the early blowout games. Basically, Reynolds was statistically one of the most active tacklers on the team. Similarly, over the first five games, he accounted for 11.6% of the defense's tackles for a loss (5 of 43).
The impact of Reynolds becomes more apparent when you remove him from the equation:
In First 5 Games Excluding FCS Chattanooga (Reynolds Played): The defense allowed 311.3 yards per game and 4.35 yards per play. Without counting penalties, the defense allowed 16.3 first downs per game.
In Final 9 Games (Reynolds Injured): The defense allowed 429.7 yards per game and 5.93 yards per play. Without counting penalties, the defense allowed 20.3 first downs per game.
Essentially this means that without Ryan Reynolds on the field, the defense gve up about 4 more first downs per game, and about a yard and a half more per play.
However, this year Reynolds is back and healthy, and according to all reports he is looking great in practice. He's a smart player and a good athlete and he should help solidify the defense. Additionally, he'll have the help of the 4th leading tackler nationally, Travis Lewis, and returning starter Keenan Clayton. This all bodes well for a strong linebacking corps. Regardless of what happens with Mike Balogun, there are still quality players for depth.
If Reynolds can stay healthy, look for a defense with a little more teeth this year. Opponents last year scored about two more touchdowns with Reynolds out of the games (13.6 ppg more). The scoring defense averaged in at 16.8 ppg with Reynolds on the field. With more depth, experience, and talent this year on the defensive side of the ball, if the Sooners can avoid injuries, they may only give up a couple of touchdowns per game.
And I'm sure that would be a welcome change in Norman.