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Oklahoma Sooners Football Recruiting - RJ’s Thoughts: Big-time defensive signees are for closers

Oklahoma’s defensive recruiting class proves OU’s staff can close strong.

West Virginia v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

In this, his first-ever opportunity to run his own recruiting campaign, Oklahoma Sooners coach Lincoln Riley displayed the signature savvy OU fans associate with his play-calling to put together a top-10 recruiting class. This in a year where the coaching staff needed to bust behind to score the kind of talent we’re accustomed to seeing on the roster at Oklahoma.

About 10 months ago, former quarterback commit Cameron Rising flipped his commitment Texas. Local DE Ron Tatum shocked fans by announcing for the Longhorns a few days later. Morale was low on the recruiting trail. Then Bob Stoops retired in June and tapped Riley. Among the many questions Riley would answer over the last eight months were: 1. Who would be the 2018 answer at quarterback? 2. Can he recruit as well as he has in the past with more responsibility than he’s ever had in his coaching career?

With the addition of quarterback Tanner Mordecai just prior to his hiring as HBC and then flipping Ron Tatum from Texas a few days after taking the reins, the Sooners continued to stack recruits and gain momentum throughout the summer and fall. While Oklahoma signed one 5-star recruit in offensive tackle Brey Walker and filled needs at defensive end in U.S. Army All-Americans Ronnie Perkins, Jalen Redmond and Tatum to add to a talented signing class, there were still two glaring needs on the defense heading into the winter.

This could’ve been where the Sooners’ recruiting class effectively ended. Could’ve been some really great players and a bit of late filler. But Riley and the staff were on their Blake, and they weren’t here to win the steak knives. Riley is here from downtown. He’s here for Mitch and Murray. He was not here to show the rest of the college football world mercy. He told everyone to put that coffee down because coffee is for closers only.

But then the first of a handful of blue chip recruits announced they were headed to Norman. Four-star linebacker Nik Bonitto - who was considered a Texas lean just hours before the early signing period began - used the Under Armour All-American game to commit to Oklahoma after secretly signing on Dec. 20. Then came Brendan (Bookie) Radley-Hiles—a five-star cornerback. Not only was Radley-Hiles one of the most highly-coveted defensive backs in the 2018 class, he’s perhaps the class’ second-best bump-and-run corner behind only Patrick Surtain Jr. Four-star linebacker DaShaun White - who had been committed to Texas A&M for months - committed the same day as Radley-Hiles.

That’s plenty to stand up and shout about. But it didn’t fill the hole at defensive tackle left by Du’Vonta Lampkin. With only Jordan Kelley—a 3-star recruit—on the commit/signee list, Oklahoma needed to score a defensive tackle. Heading into February, the Sooners were in a tight race for two: three-star, high-upside recruit Moro Ojomo and four-star, home-run recruit Michael Thompson Jr.

After Ojomo used his last official visit to spend a weekend in Austin not long before National Signing Day, it seemed the Sooners were a longshot to win his commitment. So when he announced Tuesday night on Twitter that he would become a Longhorn, that meant there was only one other player the Sooner fans could hope for. But then, at noon in St. Louis, Missouri, Thompson announced he’d spurned his home state school—Missouri—to become a Sooner. The addition of Thompson to the 2018 class solidified a defensive recruiting class that is the best OU has assembled in recent memory with speed and size at each position.

Riley and his staff are walking around with brass balls right now.

As an Oklahoma fan, this is particularly encouraging. In a new era of college football recruiting, when prep stars can sign in December, Riley and his staff proved they can use the two months left in the traditional signing period to focus on a small number of prospects and earn their commitments. And close them.

SIX TO THE COMBINE:

Oklahoma will send six players from the 2017 squad to the NFL Combine later this month, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, linebacker/defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, offensive tackle Orlando Brown, tight end Mark Andrews, fullback Dimitri Flowers and cornerback Jordan Thomas. The notable snub was safety Steven Parker.

However, while Mayfield and Brown are projected to go in the first round of the draft in April, Andrews wasn’t even listed in the NFL’s draft projections. Looking at his combine bio here, the first fact listed about the unanimous All-American and John Mackey Award winner is his type-1 diabetes. The NFL included Andrews’ unique frame allowing him to move like a wide receiver along with a note about quarterback Jay Cutler playing in the NFL with type-1 diabetes. But I wonder if Andrews’ diabetes spooked some teams? What I do know is he was the best receiver on a 2017 offense that set records while being Mayfield’s top pass-catcher.

HERE’S A VIDEO:

FINAL THOUGHT:

Point guard Trae Young is very good. The rest of the Oklahoma men’s basketball team is not.

We’ve seen it down the stretch in games the Sooners should’ve won—Bedlam in Stillwater, at Texas and at Lloyd Noble against West Virginia—when the Sooners can’t get stops, can’t finish layups and can’t convert second-chance baskets. But it’s also easy to forget most of the roster Young is playing with went 11-20 last season.

With Young averaging 29.9 points and 9.3 assists per game—leading the country in both statistics—it’s easy to forget the ridiculously great coaching job Lon Kruger and his staff have done this season. They’ve made a conscious effort to build this team around Young’s skillset, and, when it’s worked, it’s been marvelous.

But unless the Sooners figure out how to help the best player in the country win games, the they’re looking at an early out in the Big Dance next month.

You’ve got a month to fix this, fellas. Figure it out, and you could be playing in San Antonio at the end of March.