NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 1: Defensive back Tony Jefferson #1 and linebacker Travis Lewis #28 celebrate an interception in the second half against the Ball State Cardinals on October 1, 2011 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Ball State 62-6. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Fall camp starts on Thursday.
Fall camp starts on Thursday!!!!!!!!
Football is almost here, people! Sure, we don't get any access. And sure, the information that leaks out of practices is limited at best. But it's still football. And that's all that needs to be said.
In a bit of a twist from years past, this Sooners squad has probably as many question marks of any OU team maybe since Bob Stoops' first year in Norman. The beginning of any new season always provides a number of storylines, but that fact is only enhanced this season given where this team is heading into the start of practices this week.
We're going to take a look at some of the more prevalent storylines and as always we're looking for your feedback, so comment early and often because FOOTBALL IS ALMOST HERE!!!
The pass rush - Namely, where is it going to come from? Oklahoma's critics are quick to point out the two players expected to start, David King and R.J. Washington, have never been asked to do so and may not be up to the task. They would be right. Oklahoma's defenders would be quick to point out that King and Washington were playing behind two guys who are going to be playing on Sundays this season so their snaps were limited through no fault of their own. They would also be right.
At worst, King is reliable if not a spectacular talent and Oklahoma has made due with players like that (I'm thinking of guys like Jeremy Beal, Pryce Macon, C.J. Ah You just to name a few) in the past. Washington is actually on the opposite end of the spectrum in that he has elite level talent, but thus far it's only appeared in brief flashes. He came in as a very highly regarded recruit, but struggled with his positional discipline and doing what the coaches asked of him. The light appeared to come on for him last year and obviously the hope is that progression continues in 2012.
Behind King and Washington are two more fairly experienced players in sophomore Chuka Ndulue and JUCO transfer Chaz Nelson. The coaches are very high on Ndulue and Nelson was also spoken well of during the spring, but again neither have been asked to produce consistently at this level.
We fully expect whatever little information leaks out about the defensive ends to be positive, so unfortunately we will probably know very little until the UTEP game. What we know now is if the any combination of the guys above cannot consistently get pressure on the quarterback, it makes things more difficult for every part of the defense.
The men in the middle - The defensive tackle position has, quite frankly, been a disappointment ever since Gerald McCoy left for the NFL. The Sooners return three seniors at the position and are looking for all three to step up their game in their final seasons. Behind the said three seniors, Oklahoma has three very talented freshman who may not all be asked to contribute this season but will obviously need to use what time they do get to develop their game for next year when they will most definitely be needed. The most likely of those freshman to see the field this season is Jordan Phillips, someone who OU fans have very high expectations for both this season and going forward. Players his size (6'6" 320 lbs) and his athleticism simply do not come around often. He is the ability to be special and the only thing that will stop him from becoming that kind of player is whether or not he wants to put in the necessary work.
I don't have to tell you that the defensive tackles commanding double teams and/or getting a consistent push up the middle makes things easier for the defensive ends beside them, the linebackers behind them, and even the secondary as well. I also don't have to tell you this is something that has been missing from the Oklahoma defense for several years now.
I cannot stress enough how monumental stellar defensive tackle play would be for this defense.
The next Roy Williams? - Obviously, it's incredibly unfair to put that label on any OU player but under the guidance of Mike Stoops, Tony Jefferson just might live up to it. Williams was a transcendent player at the safety position and Jefferson is making the transition to what we're assuming will be a very similar role. Jefferson has that same kind of ability and under the guidance of the mad genius behind The Real Roy Williams, this year could be a serious coming out party for the talented junior. He's obviously transitioning to a new position and there could certainly be a learning curve, but there is every reason to believe he can adapt and do so quickly.
Mike Stoops was actually talking about how excited he was about Jefferson even before he had officially come back to the Oklahoma staff. In addition Expect him to move Jefferson around all over the field, he'll blitz from a bunch of different angles, and (hopefully) create all kinds of havoc for opposing offenses.
Now, just so we're clear. If he does not live up to the 'Roy Williams' billing I've just bestowed upon him, does that make his/this season a failure? Of course not. But that's how high his ceiling is in 2012 and that, my friends, is really saying something.
Who wins that nickel back spot - If there is one constant in a Stoops coached defense it is the hybrid linebacker slash safety position the aforementioned Roy Williams made famous. With Jefferson moving back to safety, it creates an opportunity for someone to step into a key role within this Oklahoma defense.
There are a number of candidates: Julian Wilson, Joseph Ibiloye, Gabe Lynn, Aaron Franklin all could potentially see time at this spot. Actually, according to a recent report from Jake Trotter of ESPN's Sooner Nation ($) the leading candidate appears to be Gabe Lynn. Oklahoma fans two most likely memories are probably (1) Lynn laying that poor unsuspecting Ball State guy or (2) getting repeatedly torched against Texas Tech. He struggled at corner and always seemed a more ideal fit at safety. So Mike Stoops appears to be giving him a shot at a position closer to the line of scrimmage where the best part of his game, his physicality, can be featured. I definitely think this is a position he can be successful at given the way I expect Stoops to use him.
That said, he will not be the only player to see time at this spot. Ibiloye, who has taken snaps here on multiple occasions, will also see the field as well.
The Javon Harris Effect - I'll say it, the guy got a bum rap last year. He wasn't nearly as bad as many OU fans have made him out to be and very few players have the stones that he displayed when he faced the media following one of his poorer games when many other players (some even on this roster last year) could have taken the easy way out. I'm guessing you've heard just as many people as I have say how a lot of last year's breakdown were scheme related and how complicated some of what Venables was asking the players to do could be. It lead to many instances where players were hesitating that split second to read and then react to what the offense was doing and as many people can tell you that split second can make all the difference.
I'm not saying that excuses away all of Harris' or this team's breakdowns last year, but it absolutely played a role. What we've heard ever since Mike Stoops arrived is that the plan was to simply things and do with this defense what he's had so much success with in the past. Which is recruit high level athletes, put them in the right position, and let them do what they do, i.e. make plays. Harris may benefit from that new strategy more than any other.