Given that they were attempting to replace an all-timer last year, it was only natural for the Sooners to experience a decline in the play of their DTs during 2010. However now two years removed from the G.K. McCoy era, there will be no such excuse with regards to the DT play this coming season. And make no mistake, it is a position that contains some of the most young talent of any on the roster. Coach Jackie Shipp and the rest of the defensive coaches have clearly made a concerted effort in recruiting to try and find the next great OU DT, which is evidenced in the six prospects they will have brought in these last two years once the 2011 class arrives this summer.
However much like the DE position, it is a group with basically one experienced guy and a bunch of young, high upside kids. And the one experienced guy, unlike his comparison Frank Alexander, isn't even someone who has started on a consistent basis like Alexander has throughout his career. So while I mentioned yesterday that the defense will depend on the ends to get a good edge rush, I think most of you know a lot of that starts with the guys inside demanding double teams. This obviously allows the outside guys a one-on-one matchup and one you would expect they could exploit at the demise of our opponent's QB. So while they may be short on experience, they will not be short on talent and unlike last year, bodies. There should never be an instance where we have a guy in there who's gassed and not capable of something close to 100%. As we'll get into here in a minute, Coach Shipp will have no shortage of options assuming everyone stays healthy (firmly knocking on wood now).
Jamarkus McFarland - He of the "how dare you besmirch the almighty texass Longhorns" forever endeared himself to Sooner Nation, but at the same time given his stature coming in also increased expectations. To this point, I think it's fair to say he has yet to live up to them. McFarland has all the potential in the world to be a dominant presence inside and yet for most of his first two years we've only seen that ability in brief glimpses. The problem is he never (at least to this point) redshirted, so now he's already entering his junior year. So what I mean by that is there's not a ton of time left for him to start capitalizing on his unique skill set for a guy his size.
He's the ideal combination of size and speed for a DT, capable of holding his ground against the run while also being able to get up the field in pass rushing situations. Just needs to get more consistent in his technique and perhaps more importantly, his effort on every single play. The hope is that the light comes on in 2011 and he realizes just how great a player he could become, starts to terrorize opposing linemen, and starts to emerge as the next NFL ready OU DT.
Stacy McGee - This is a local kid who came in really undersized and has steadily worked his way into a very good player. Without question, towards the end of last year he was easily the Sooners most dominant DT if not the most dominant player on the entire defensive line. He's a former high school wrestler who has used some of those same attributes to help develop aspects of his game on the football field. When you focus on his play inside, you can really see just how well he uses his hands to get off opposing blockers which is a huge part of being successful as a DT.
The scary part, at least for our future opponents, is the kid is still growing into a DT. As I mentioned he came in as a true freshman at just 255 pounds, he checks in this spring at a svelte 284 pounds. So if he continues to add weight this summer and can get up to 290+, he could become an even bigger force inside with his extra body mass. Now I wouldn't really being doing my job if I failed to mention the legal trouble he got in earlier this year. The expectation is that he'll be suspended for the opener against Tulsa, but Stoops has made no mention of it and has routinely praised McGee during spring practices so I'm guessing there's a chance he doesn't have to sit that entire game. Only time will tell, but regardless OU fans should expect big things from McGee this year.
Daniel Noble - Noble was a guy who, heading into last year, most Sooner fans didn't know a whole lot about. Then he started to make a name for himself in spring ball and eventually worked his way onto field both do to his efforts in practice and injuries to the guys ahead of him. He would come on and play pretty well actually, then unfortunately suffer a fluke kind of concussion. At first it was believed to be somewhat minor, if you can call any head injury minor, but the after affects would persist and eventually cost him the season. In fact, they even continued to the point where his football career was thought to be potentially in jeopardy. Fortunately for the young man, the symptoms would subside and he has since been fully cleared to resume football activities. He's participated fully this spring and is looking to work the rust off from having missed the latter half of 2010.
Casey Walker - Walker is a kid who hasn't received a lot of playing time thus far in his career, but at this time last year started to emerge among the DTs. He played so well throughout the spring/summer, he earned a starting spot to open the season and through the first four games. Then he was one of several OU DTs to suffer an injury (knee) and was forced to miss the next six games. He would return late in the season, but was never really able to recapture his form from earlier that season. Now he enters 2011 healthy and with an eye on locking down a spot in Coach Shipp's primary three/four man rotation. He figures to have a pretty good shot at doing so when you consider of the current DTs on the roster, he is the only one over 300 pounds.
Damon Williams - So here come the youngsters, in no particular order mind you. Williams was a kid who came in at 300+ and is currently listed at 281, so it's clear Coach Shipp and Schmitty have put him through the paces. He's a big, strong kid who excelled in high school at eating up multiple blocks and demoralizing an opponent's inside running game. It will be interesting to see how, besides dropping the extra lbs, he used his redshirt year in 2010 to work on his game and if he's able to work his way onto the field this year. If I had to guess, I'd say barring injury he's not a name you'll hear called very often. That said, he's a kid with a good upside and it certainly wouldn't be the first, nor the last, time a DT takes a couple years to see the field at OU.
Eric Humphrey - Humphrey was a kid coming in that was considered to be somewhat of a 'tweener' being only in the 270 pound range. So when you look at the current roster and he's listed at 262 pounds, you have to wonder if the coaches aren't prepping him to become more of a DE in their 50-front defense. He would be big enough to defend the run, so he would just need to work on developing his rush techniques to compliment his game. Again like Williams I'd expect Humphrey, even though he redshirted last year, is given another year to refine his game.
Torrea Peterson - Much like fellow RS FR lineman Geneo Grissom, Peterson impressed coaches last summer and was primed to play in 2010 before an injury derailed his season and forced a redshirt. So one can only assume that if he was that close to playing as a true freshman, having the year to work extensively with the best DT coach in the game has only improved his all around game. He's a kid that's been talked about a lot by the coaches, so I'm sure I'm not the only Sooner fan who is anxious to finally see him in a game this year. Considering the way the coaches have talked about him, I have to expect he has a legit shot to earn a spot in the rotation and potentially make in impact in 2011.
Marquise Anderson - If you weren't already aware, Anderson was an early enrollee and as such he's been participating in all of the spring practices. He was one of three DTs in the 2011 class for OU and the only one to enroll early, so while it might not necessarily increase his chances for playing this year it will definitely give him a leg up on the next two guys in terms of his development. At just 270 pounds, he's very likely a guy who'll need his first year on campus to build strength, especially in his lower body. That said, coming in early always gives you a chance to impress the coaches before the rest of your classmates get on campus.
Jordan Wade - Wade is a monster of a young man, who if he comes to Norman in shape could legitimately see the field just because he's so big (already 300 pounds). Despite his massive size, like Anderson he could stand to improve on his lower body strength. Like a lot of young DTs, mainly used his size to overpower outmatched defenders while not really having to work on the finer points of his game. So Coach Shipp will probably have his work cut out for him when it comes to developing Wade into an all around DT.
Jordan Phillips - Phillips is an absolute freak of an athlete, 6'6" 290 pounds he can do a standing back flip! He also played TE in high school, so you know he can move around with impressive agility for a kid his size. There's even been talk that he could have the potential of an NFL caliber left tackle if he ever switched sides of the ball. So it will be interesting to see if Coach Shipp can hang on to him during his time in Norman as OU has been known to move guys around to try and find where they'd be the most successful. He has a great burst off the ball and could definitely be a kid who can cause havoc in the face of an opposing QB. Of the three incoming freshman, I believe him to be the most raw but also with the highest ceiling.