The OU defense returns most of their starters from 2010 and the defensive line is no exception. However, for the second year in a row they will be forced to replace their unquestioned leader and best player along the d-line. Last year they had to replace Gerald McCoy and this season they'll attempt to replace the production of the great Jeremy Beal. You could argue that replacing an end, even as good a player as Beal was for OU, is considerably easier than trying to replace a dominant DT like McCoy. Not to mention, OU is much better prepared to replace Beal with several talented DEs where as they struggled last year to duplicate what McCoy was able to bring to the defense.
It's an interesting combination of one really experienced guy, a guy who has played semi-regularly, a fan favorite with a ridiculously high ceiling, a former five star kid who has yet to live up to the hype, and a couple of very talented young freshmen. Potential is a word that has been and probably will be used frequently to describe the group of players. It will be key for them to step up for a potential national championship team that will need a consistent pass rush to help out a inexperienced secondary.
Frank Alexander - The grizzled veteran of the group, Alexander is easily the most experienced returning DE on the roster. Fairly or unfairly, he's a guy that is somewhat considered to have really never lived up to the potential he came in with. As a redshirt freshman, he dazzled fans and coaches with his athletic ability in the spring game several years ago. However, he has never turned into the dynamic pass rusher many had hoped he would become. He's been very good against the run, which is not something you always see in a college DE, but the Sooners will be counting on him to come up with more sacks in 2011.
David King - The fourth year junior is an interesting player because he's played both end and tackle during his career. He's very thick in the lower body, which is what allowed him to move inside and not just get tossed around. His versatility and ability to hold his ground and defend the run makes him an ideal fit for the 50-front defense OU played a lot towards the end of last year and expected to use extensively again in 2011. The only downside to King is he definitely would not be considered a great edge rusher.
Ronnell Lewis - Does the word enigma accurately describe this man-child? Not sure there is another guy on any team in the country with more potential that The Hammer and all of Sooner Nation is hoping this is the year he cashes in on it. He teased us all with that Sun Bowl performance a couple years ago, but whether it's been the coaches or Ronnell he's just struggled to find a true home on the field. They seem to have finally settled on him at DE and now that he can just focus on one position and what it requires, hopefully 2011 can be the year that Ronnell becomes the dominant player OU fans believe he should be.
Sorry, I just can't help myself. No disrespect to anyone else, but I just have to include some highlights of The Hammer. Good lord I love watching this kid play football!
R.J. Washington - The lottery ticket that has never paid off. Washington came in with as much hype as any OU recruit, outside of AD, in the Stoops tenure. He was expected to be an absolutely dominant speed edge rusher, but for whatever reason he has yet to really see any significant playing time in three years on campus. He's now a fourth year junior who is rapidly running out of time to capitalize on his one time five star status. Personally, I've never really understood why the coaches didn't just use him as a situational pass rusher. If nothing else, you just bring the kid in on obvious passing downs and let him pin his ears back rather than just wasting three years of his eligibility. Obviously the coaches don't agree with such an approach, but I stand by it as I think it would have been much better than letting this kid waste away on the bench.
Geneo Grissom - Most OU fans know the name because he's been one of the most talked about freshman who has yet to see the field for the Sooners. He was a shoe in to play last year before a foot injury forced him to have surgery and miss the season in redshirt. It was an old high school injury that recurred on him again last year and this spring he suffered another lower leg injury, spraining his ankle and missing most of the latter half of spring practice. My hope is this isn't a sign of an injury prone player and I'm optimistic that it is not. I feel pretty confident in saying the injury this spring and his time away from the field was pretty much just a pre-cautionary measure on the part of the coaches. According to the coaches, this kid has the potential to be the type of player everyone expected Washington to be.
Chuka Ndulue - A very interesting prospect from the stellar class of 2010, Ndulue was considered to be a very raw prospect coming out of high school with a good to possibly great upside. He is a very physical and strong player with a non-stop motor. I think he's a player that compares favorably to David King and could be a very good fit at DE in this 50-front defense OU is expected to use.
Nathan Hughes - This is added after the fact and a great disservice to a talented young man who I mistakenly forgot to include in my original piece. Hughes, at 6'6", is a much bigger DE than OU has typically recruited in the past and some would have you believe it's a sign the coaches plan to use the much talked about 50-front defense much more in the years to come. With a frame that large, he could add 10-15 pounds and not have it really affect his speed to rush the edge. One other thing I love about this kid is he grew up a texass fan and was never offered by the whorns. So he comes to OU with a HUGE chip on his shoulder and our Sooners have always done very, very well with kids like that in the past.