With only one returning starter coming back in 2015, Oklahoma's defensive line has the opportunity to push the reset button and start over. If the Sooners stick with a 3-4 alignment then they have a gigantic hole to fill at the nose tackle position where Jordan Phillips used to line up. A advantage of that scheme though is that they'll be able to take advantage of having four linebackers with starting experience, and the linebackers will be the strength of the defense anyway. The other advantage is that it won't require as many bodies on a line that is vastly depleted of returning experience.
Projected Defensive Line Depth Chart
There's no getting around the fact that the defensive line has to improve as does the entire defensive unit. The secondary took a ton of criticism in 2014, and rightfully so, but the inability to get pressure in the backfield from the line contributed to the secondary woes as well. Improving the line play may be a bit of a tall order with all the raw talent the Sooners have competing for starting positions, but this is Oklahoma and taking time off to reload has never been an option.
The lone building block is Charles Tapper who is returning for his senior year. He saw his production drop a bit in 2104 from his sophomore season when he was a First Team All-Conference player. Tapper has 88 career tackles at OU and 8.5 sacks, of which only three came last season.
The most likely candidate to line up opposite of Tapper, at the other defensive end position, is junior Matt Dimon who saw action in eight games last season. He began the 2014 season injured but was able to make some noise later in the season and even saw action in the bowl game against Clemson. Dimon only has 18 career tackles during his first two seasons at OU. The wild card here is D.J. Ward who very well could end up earning the starting job but will undoubtedly be in the rotation regardless. He saw action early in the season last year but faded once Dimon became healthy again. Both Dimon and Ward will have to come up with some big minutes for the Sooners in 2015.
To plug the big hole in the middle you need a big body and Oklahoma has two of them. Neither have the size that Jordan Phillips did but neither is going to be confused for just an average lineman either. Jordan Wade has 18 game appearances and eight starts to his name as a Sooner and saw extensive time in 2013 after Phillips was lost for the season. Wade was a starter for Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. He'll be pushed by up and comer Charles Walker who registered five tackles against Clemson in last season's Russell Athletic Bowl. Just a couple of weeks ago Bob Stoops described Walker as being as athletic as anyone they've ever coached at Oklahoma.
We find the defensive line in a similar position as their offensive counterparts in as much as they must replace departed talent but they also have guys with game experience available. This group may not be deep on starting experience but that could end up being a good thing if it feeds a hunger for them to prove they can be difference makers, and that's absolutely what this group needs.