Oklahoma sophomore defensive ends Charles Tapper and Michael Onuoha may have taken very different paths to Norman, but the two currently find themselves in a very similar position. One of dependence and responsibility for a pass rush that was virtually nonexistent for most of last season.
The Sooners finished tied for 69th in the country last year with a paltry 24 total quarterback sacks. And it wasn't so much their inability to get pressure on the quarterback as it was their inability to make any kind of play behind the line of scrimmage.
With the loss of seniors R.J. Washington and David King as well as the conversion of Chuka Ndulue from defensive end to tackle, the Sooners are looking towards Tapper and Onuoha to play a significant role on this year's defense.
Tapper came to Oklahoma all the way from Baltimore, Maryland which is a part of the country the Sooners rarely pull recruits from. He was a player who for most of this life focused on basketball and only really played football for his final two years in high school. There was even talk when he initially arrived in Norman that he had never lifted a weight before, simply getting by on his physical gifts and athleticism.
He is that rare kind of athlete who has so much raw, natural talent he was able to excel at the high school level without truly learning how to harness all of his abilities. Cut to his first year in Norman and almost immediately he drew the attention of the Oklahoma coaches. The Sooners have not typically had that kind of athlete at the defensive end position and even in spite of his inexperience, both at his respective position and football in general, Tapper impressed enough to play some as a true freshman.
Onuoha took a much shorter route to becoming a Sooner coming from nearby Edmond, but he too arrived as a player who had just begun to scratch the surface of his talents. Like Tapper, Onuoha has a long, lean frame that strikes you as more of a basketball player's body than one of a D-I defensive end. Another guy with more of a basketball background, football coaches look for these kind of athletes to convert on the gridiron and take advantage of their ability to over-match an opponent.
He has long arms and with it a considerable reach, both of which should help him, with the proper technique, to keep defenders at bay.
With the addition of Jerry Montgomery, Oklahoma's new defensive line coach, Oklahoma is getting back to a much more aggressive style of play up front. Whereas last season the defensive linemen were asked to 'catch blocks', this spring they have been focusing more on what we've seen in the past, a scheme which asks them to attack and get up-field more.
It's a welcome change and should be a system that allows players like Tapper and Onuoha to capitalize on the athleticism and make plays off the edge.
While the two are certainly still learning the intricacies of playing defensive end, this coming season will force them to have to learn on the job as both will be counted on to help restore Oklahoma's ability to rush the passer. It's a lot of pressure to put on two players with as little experience as they each have, but both have prepared for what will be asked of them and are looking forward to the challenge.