Going into spring football all eyes were on Oklahoma's defensive secondary. We knew the linebackers would be among the best in the conference, if not the country, and that there was plenty of potential along the defensive line. However, replacing three starters in the defensive secondary was a legitimate cause for concern. Not only did the spring reinforce our beliefs about the linebackers and defensive line but it also alleviated some of the concerns regarding the secondary.
"I believe we've got a chance to be really good. I think it could be one of our better ones." - Bob Stoops on the 2011 Oklahoma defense
Following the spring game on Saturday Brent Venables said that Jamarkus McFarland may have made the most improvement overall during the spring. That's a good thing considering the Sooners need strength in the middle to secure an area that was exploited more than once in 2010. Alongside him, Stacy McGee may have had the best spring among the defensive linemen. Currently McGee is listed as a starter at defensive tackle but there's more than a solid chance we'll see them side-by-side on the field this fall.
Ronnell Lewis didn't participate in the Red/White game but progressed nicely in his full-time role as a defensive end. Coaches worked with him on technique and knowledge of gap assignments both of which he seemed to get a firm grasp of. On the other side of the line from Lewis is Frank Alexander who is finally healthy and looking to remain so throughout his senior year.
Perhaps the greatest thing to develop among the linebackers this spring was the progression of Tom Wort and Corey Nelson. We knew Wort had the potential to be the next great middle linebacker at OU with the only thing holding him back being a firm grasp of defensive assignments. He seems to have that now. In the spring game he recorded 6 tackles and seemed to be in on just about every play. As far as Nelson is concerned, if the guy in front of him on the depth chart wasn't Travis Lewis then he would have been inserted as the stater after the spring he's had. What this has proven is that Oklahoma has great depth behind a great linebacker corps.
In the secondary the Sooners are replacing All-American Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson at the safety spots and Jamell Fleming at corner. Javon Harris seems to have locked down the free safety spot. He played there last season as a reserve and nothing developed this spring to jeopardize that. The strong safety spot is a bit of an experiment and it seems to be going better than expected. Aaron Colvin made some great plays at corner last season but in the transition to strong safety he's shown the potential to be a star. He led all players in tackles Saturday at the Red/White game and made an incredible interception.
There's a chance Fleming could be back on campus this fall but the Sooners are moving ahead as if he won't be. Gabe Lynn has stepped in at Flemings spot and is making a name for himself. He recorded one of only two team sacks on Saturday and nabbed an interception as well.
The defense isn't perfect but it does seem to be ahead of schedule. Both Venables and Stoops are more than pleased with what they got from their guys this spring. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect more improvement over the summer going into the fall which should cause an excitement to stir among the Sooner Nation. Its already started among the coaches.
"I'm really pleased. I can't say that enough. I feel fabulous." - Brent Venables on the 2011 Oklahoma defense