In light of how OU’s defense has performed in the last few years, every position constitutes a priority. You could shake this list up in just about any order and have a decent argument. Cornerback might even need more new blood, given OU’s struggles and how important that position has become in the Big 12.
Complicating matters is the fact we don’t know how new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch plans to assign players to positions in his scheme.
Now that we’ve caveated this sufficiently, here’s a ranking of positions of need for the Sooners on defense, i.e. all of them.
- Defensive tackle
To be fair, DT should probably be considered the default No. 1 area of need for 99 percent of teams in college football. True difference-makers at the position come along so rarely.
OU’s need on the interior stems as much from the absence of sure things on the roster as a lack of bodies. Even though three fifth-year seniors are departing at the end of the year, the Sooners will have three potential one-technique DTs who qualify as freshmen this year. Is anyone counting on Michael Thompson, Derek Green or Jordan Kelley as a long-term answer in the middle, though?
If Ronnie Perkins and/or Kenneth Mann move to three-technique DT, they will have a mess of question marks behind him/them. Seeing as none has made a case for playing time yet, count on some transfers coming from this group.
No matter how the personnel shakes out in Grinch’s scheme, defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux needs to get to work on the recruiting trail. He’ll probably roll up some serious frequent flier miles in the process: Exactly one of Rivals’ top 25 DTs in the 2020 class reside in OU’s traditional recruiting territory.
Forget numbers – safety deserves a spot near the top of this list for how poorly the position group has performed recently.
Although there are no senior safeties on the roster in 2019, OU will lose three players with starting experience after the 2020 season (if not before then): Robert Barnes, Jordan Parker and Chanse Sylvie. The recruits in this cycle will at least need to give the Sooners depth in 2021.
The equation could change slightly if talented 2019 freshman Woodi Washington converts from cornerback to safety, but not much.
3. RUSH linebacker
Grinch wants disruptors in this defense, and it’s unclear how many he has on the roster. Jalen Redmond has early NFL draft pick potential, but long-term health concerns raise questions about his availability going forward. Incoming freshman Joseph Wete needs time in the weight room before he can contribute. Third-year sophomore K’Jakyre Daley has barely seen the field so far. What we have seen from senior Mark Jackson hasn’t made a strong argument in his favor.
Even if JUCO transfer Laron Stokes ends up here, the Sooners still need a home run or two from the edge rushers in the 2020 class. One (fantastic) name to watch: Prince Dorbah, a weak side defensive end out of Dallas.
It’s no secret that OU often struggled to keep up its numbers at inside linebacker under former position coach Tim Kish, who seemed to rely too often on stopgap solutions.
Thinking ahead to 2021, presumed WILL LB Kenneth Murray will be gone. No one behind him is making much noise yet, so new linebackers coach Brian Odom needs to stock up now to ensure a healthy competition to fill that opening.
Things get a little murkier at the SAM position because Grinch’s plans for that position aren’t clear. Coverage skills might take on even greater importance, in which case Odom might need to beat the bushes for safety prospects who can bulk up and convert.
5. Defensive end
Another position with a whole lot to sort out from a personnel standpoint. (Ron Tatum’s decision to transfer might offer some hints here – his best position is likely 4i DE.)
For instance, is Mann (6-3, 254 pounds) considered a prototype five-tech DE in Grinch’s defense? If so, the Sooners don’t have many of those dudes on campus who have proven themselves.
Numbers-wise, Thibodeaux might just need to add one piece here – or three. Who knows?
Relatively speaking, OU is sitting pretty at corner. There’s only one senior on the roster, Parnell Motley. Juniors Tre Brown and Tre Norwood return, and, hopefully, sophomore Brendan Radley-Hiles is going to play CB from here on out. In other words, the Sooners don’t have an immediate need here.
Between true freshmen Woodi Washington and Jaden Davis and redshirts Starrland Baldwin and Miguel Edwards, numbers among the underclassmen are there. Not to mention, OU already has two commitments in the ‘20 class in Darion Green-Warren and Jalen Huff.
For this defense, that qualifies as a luxury.