In taking a look at Oklahoma's receivers and tight ends in last week's "hurdles" post we pretty much summed up the biggest and only question mark along the offense. On the other side of the ball there are multiple question marks in just about every key position. In the pass happy Big XII you're defense has to be more than solid so that you can stonewall rushing attacks and defend yourself against the pass.
Defensive ends are key to doing both of those things as they seal off the edge against the rush and put pressure in the backfield against the pass. Its a crucial position and its one that will be a hurdle for Oklahoma to overcome in 2012.
Just how big of a hurdle it turns out to be for the Sooners depends largely on David King and RJ Washington. Both guys are career backups who will be thrusts into the starting lineup this fall and must produce at a high level. With 23 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2011, Washington had his best season of his season career. He came to Oklahoma, in 2008, as the #1 ranked defensive end in the nation (per Rivals) and now OU needs him to live up to that billing during his senior season. His two sacks against Iowa, in the Insight Bowl, showed his potential but its time for him to do that on a regular basis.
David King also had somewhat of a breakout year in 2011 with 31 total tackles and two sacks. He was the third defensive end in the rotation last season and enters 2012 as the most experienced DE on the squad. He wasn't as highly touted as Washington coming out of high school but as they both enter their senior, and final, campaigns his experience and leadership cannot be undervalued.
Behind Washington and King is where things begin to get dicey. Depth itself may not be an issue but experienced depth sure is. Geneo Grissom has played in a total of six games, Mitch Tate and Nathan Huges are redshirt freshmen and Chuka Ndulue has played in seven games. There's your hurdle!
The Sooners need a third, and possibly even a fourth, defensive end whom they can count on to provide valuable moments with little to no drop in the level of play. Basically their looking for a couple of players that can do what David King and RJ Washington did for them in `11.
To help address the issue, Oklahoma brought in JUCO defensive end Chaz Nelson to help shore up the lack of experience. Granted, he doesn't have experience at the Bowl Subdivision level but his 96 tackles and 10 sacks last season at Garden City Community College proved that he can play the position. Joining Nelson in the 2012 class are true freshmen Michael Onuoha and Charles Tapper.
If Washington and King are able to deliver a strong presence on the edge and disrupt the backfield then the Sooners will be in the business of developing backup talent for a rotation. If Washington and King struggle as starters then its safe to say that the defense as a whole will struggle. At that point the position becomes a hurdle that cannot be overcome.