DALLAS - OCTOBER 02: Jeremy Beal #44 and Jamarkus McFarland #97 of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrate a quarterback sack against the Texas Longhorns in the first quarter at the Cotton Bowl on October 2 2010 in Dallas Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
From the time the Sooners walked off the field following the Insight Bowl to end the 2011 season, the defensive line was a major question mark going into 2012. Filling in for the suspended Ronnell Lewis, junior defensive end R.J. Washington played possibly the best game of his Oklahoma career. It was a show of promise and potential for the once highly touted recruit out of Ft. Worth Texas but the lingering question remained, can he do that for an entire season.
Even with suspensions, graduations and players leaving early to enter the NFL draft there's no short of bodies to play along the defensive line. Oklahoma will travel up to fourteen able bodied athletes to El Paso this weekend who are capable of playing along the defensive line. While that may answer a question about depth, the other things that we do and don't know about the OU defensive line will make most Sooner fans both excited and a bit edgy.
What We Do Know
The suspension of Stacy McGee hurts. Not only does Oklahoma lose the experience and leadership of having a senior tackle in the trenches it also puts pressure on other positions. David King moves from defensive end to the inside of the line and suddenly R.J. Washington has a sophomore with only seven games of experience lining up opposite of him on the other end. The McGee suspension brings about consequences on two different positions.
Youngsters have been impressive. Three freshmen and two sophomores appear on the two deep. That's both good and bad. Good in the stance that Oklahoma has young talent that is game ready early in their careers but bad in that the Sooners may have to rely on a group of inexperienced players to win the battle up front. Freshmen Charles Tapper and Mike Onuoha, along with sophomore Rashod Favors, have been called out for having excellent summer camps and big things are expected from redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips on the inside.
David King is the key. At 6-5/286 he is the perfect size for a defensive end. However, he's lining up at the tackle position after the suspension of McGee. No one can question his "team player mentality" and you have to hope that his speed and explosiveness off the ball are the advantage that coaches see in moving him to the inside. My opinion is that he would have all-conference potential as a defensive end.
What We Don't Know
If this is the year that players live up to their recruiting hype? We've already mentioned R.J. Washington but Jamarkus McFarland is another guy who Sooner fans have been anxiously awaiting to blossom. At times he's shown potential but now, in his final year of eligibility, we're ready for him to peak.
How much will be expected from the kids? With all due respect, I don't see a Tommie Harris on the roster. That's not a slide to guys like Tapper, Onuoha and Phillips because they've proven that they are ready to play on the college level. What we don't know is exactly how much they will be counted upon. If its a lot then experience becomes a major factor/concern.
What happens to David King when McGee returns? Again, he's a natural fit at defensive end but has the speed to be a major headache in the middle of the line. Does a reinstated McGee mean moving King back to the end or does he stay in the middle or both?
How It All Comes Together
The defensive line has not option. They have to win the battle of the trenches or the Sooners won't be bringing home any conference titles this year. With Oklahoma's opening opponents being UTEP and Florida A&M we honestly won't know what OU has up front until Kansas State comes to Norman for the third game of the season. If they aren't completely solid upfront by then we'll know it...and so will the rest of America.