A point of emphasis for the Oklahoma Sooners during the latest recruiting cycle has been strengthening the defensive front. OU boasts arguably the best offensive line in the country and has seen a steady growth in OL play for several years, but recently it’s been a bit of a different story on the other side of the ball. However, if the signing class of 2018 is any indicator, that’s all beginning to change.
Headlining the class of ‘18 along the defensive front is four-star defensive end Ronnie Perkins. According to 247Sports, Perkins is a top 100 player, regardless of position. The 6’3”, 255-pound St. Louis native displayed incredible versatility in high school, playing tight end at times. Something that the OU coaching staff loves about Perkins’ game is his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. In even fronts, expect Perkins to be used as a three-technique, although he is capable of also lining up at the five-tech spot.
On the other side of the defensive line, Mike Stoops recently spoke of four-star DE Ron Tatum, calling him a “prototypical, pro-style defensive end”. Coming in at 6’5” and 270 pounds, Tatum ferociously terrorizes quarterbacks and running backs with his size and quickness. With continued growth and coaching, expect the Putnam City standout to make a name for himself in the near future. The Sooner are fortunate to have Tatum, who was originally committed to Texas before flipping to the good guys shortly after Lincoln Riley took over in Norman.
Jalen Redmond, a future stud at the JACK position, is another four-star who signed with the Sooners yesterday. Redmond is listed at 6’4” and 233 pounds, yet he runs a freakish 4.57 40. What makes Redmond such an intriguing prospect is that he didn’t even play football until his junior year and had primarily focused on basketball up until that point. On film, Redmond’s natural athleticism jumps off the screen. In that respect, Jalen reminds me of a young Charles Tapper, the former Sooner DE who also started out on the hardcourt before hitting the gridiron.
The fourth 2018 defensive line signee is Jordan Kelley, a 6’4”, 290-pound Tulsa Union product. Kelley has the size and leverage to compete at the next level, and under the tutelage of defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill, Kelley could very well develop into an absolute beast in the trenches. What’s especially great for Kelley is that with all the depth inside, he likely won’t be asked to step in and produce right away. He can refine his skills at a steady pace, but if he comes in and surprises early on, that’s a win-win for everybody.
Now, the defensive front could be welcoming at least one more signee before it’s all said and done. One name that comes to mind is four-star DE/OLB hybrid Nik Bonitto, who has an impressive list of offers from elite programs. The Fort Lauderdale native plans to announce his decision at the Under Armour All-America game on January 4th, and it appears that OU fans will likely get some good news that day.
Oklahoma will also likely focus on one or two traditional defensive linemen in the near future. With Bobby Brown’s recent pledge to Alabama, look for OU to potentially make some offers to DL prospects between now and February.
So after veterans like D.J. Ward and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo wrap up their collegiate careers next month, Oklahoma will still be returning a ton of talent and experience along the defensive front heading into 2018. Guys like Amani Bledsoe, Dillon Faamatau, Neville Gallimore, Mark Jackson, Du’Vonta Lampkin, Kenneth Mann and Marquise Overton all have played extensively throughout the 2017 season. What’s even more exciting is that each of the aforementioned players will only be true or redshirt juniors next year (pending Bledsoe’s NCAA case). When also factoring in a guy such as pass-rush specialist Addison Gumbs, the quality of OU’s depth is going to be impressive for years to come.
Once the latest signees arrive and get acclimated, Oklahoma should have one of the deepest defensive fronts in the Big 12. The coaches have done a masterful job at honing in on an area that was once a weakness and turning it into a strength.
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