After serving a year-long suspension, sophomore defensive lineman Amani Bledsoe makes his return to the gridiron on Saturday after serving a suspension for a failed PED test. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Sooners have aspirations of making a return to the College Football Playoff. With a championship-caliber offense already in place, the addition of a talented pass rusher like Bledsoe could be the key to bolstering the Sooner defense.
At 6’4” and 279 pounds, the former four-star recruit out of Lawrence, Kan., has the size that would make an NFL scout drool. Beyond his stature, the Kansas native also brings versatility to the trenches. He can play inside or outside, and rushing the passer is what he does best.
During fall camp, senior Ogbonnia Okoronkwo lauded Bledsoe when speaking with Cody Stavenhagen of the Tulsa World, saying “he had the best camp out of all the freshmen last year.” Coming from a phenom like Okoronkwo, that’s a special kind of praise.
Keep in mind, it is likely that Bledsoe will not crack the starting lineup this season, barring an of injury or two. That said, at minimum his value is providing quality depth for the Oklahoma defense. Over the course of a season, it’s natural for guys to get banged up. A fresh, yet talented body like Bledsoe can make a sizable impact if he’s ready at the right time.
Defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill has also spoken highly of Bledsoe. Back in August, Coach McNeill said, “Amani has done a great job. He’s really a great technician and studious of the game. All of [the defensive linemen] write notes in our meetings and I see him taking notes on every little thing and he’s very coachable.”
Hearing this tells me Bledsoe is not just a physically gifted athlete. It also tells me that he puts in the work to enhance the mental aspect of his game. For these players, having either the physical attributes or the football I.Q. is nice, but the guys who have both prosper on the field.
Coach McNeill also spoke on Bledsoe’s coachability: “You ask him to fix one thing the night before in the meeting and the next day you’ll see it fixed.”
Sometimes it’s this part right here that separates the great players from the good ones. The willingness to take instruction and apply it as quickly as possible is invaluable in the minds of a coach. Whether or not Bledsoe is one of the great ones remains to be seen. What is clear is that Amani Bledsoe wants to leave no doubt about his commitment to this team and is now giving himself the best chance to succeed.
At Monday’s presser, Lincoln Riley said of Bledsoe, “He’s going to be in the rotation, no question about that. After that, it will be based on production.” I’m pretty pumped to see what the guy can do this Saturday, and hopefully we’ll be able to see a lot more of him in the weeks (and years) to come.
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