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Oklahoma Football – Spring Game Defensive Preview: A First Look at Alex Grinch’s Scheme

There are plenty of questions, but will we get any answers on Friday?

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We’ve already taken a look at the Red-White Game from the point of view of the Oklahoma Sooners’ offense, where the quarterback situation is the big story. However, the level of anticipation surrounding the debut of OU’s new-look defense is equally high.

First-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is promising the Sooners will play a more aggressive brand of ball aimed at producing more turnovers. If you’re getting your hopes up that we’ll see what that actually looks like, you should stop. Grinch will keep most of the playbook under his visor.

Still, the defense will provide a few clues in the scrimmage about what to expect in the fall.

What does the front look like?

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OU primarily played a two-gap scheme under Mike Stoops’ watch, which left defensive linemen spending snap after snap eating blocks. Now they will have more of an opportunity to get upfield and attack opposing backfields. That requires different physical traits and skills.

Some returnees will have new positions as a result. Others may find their roles minimized this year. We’ll get an idea of who falls into which category on Friday night when we see who lines up where.

Nickel

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The Sooners will roll with five defensive backs in their base D this season, eschewing the 3-4 personnel Stoops came to embrace. Of course, OU often played four linebackers in part because of poor development in the secondary. That puts Grinch in a bind when it comes to determining which DBs should be playing.

In particular, the Sooners have to identify the best candidates to fill the role of nickel. That requires an ability to provide run support and aerial cover.

Tre Norwood and Brendan Radley-Hiles probably have first dibs. Each will have a chance to make a statement in the spring game.

Playmakers in the secondary

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Speaking of DBs on the spot, OU had precious few last season who made more than a handful of impact plays. That’s all supposed to change in Grinch’s defense, but old habits die hard.

We’ll find out on Friday night if players such as cornerbacks Tre Brown and Parnell Motley remember how to let loose. Additionally, Miguel Edwards and other underclassmen have a shot to show what they can do.

It’s usually a bad sign when your offense is giving the ball away in a scrimmage. Having said that, if OU’s DBs are generating takeaways on Friday night, take it as a plus this time.

Who’s playing on the edge?

Ronnie Perkins ended last season playing JACK LB. It sounds as though he started the spring playing Grinch’s equivalent, RUSH LB, before moving back to a hand-in-the-dirt spot up front.

With Jalen Redmond out of action this spring, OU lacks obvious frontrunners at RUSH. At this point, it’s hard to figure who is truly in the mix or who can be considered a favorite. We should know more (that’s not saying much) after the spring game.

Depth at inside linebacker

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Senior Caleb Kelly’s transition inside was the story of the spring for the LB corps prior to sustaining a serious leg injury. If there was a competition taking place for the WILL spot vacated by Curtis Bolton, that ended it. DaShaun White has a spot sewn up. For now, White occupies the WILL while Kenneth Murray continues hold down his MIKE spot. A switch would seem to result in natural fits for both players, but we’ll see if that actually takes place at a later date.

Murray and White will get the starting nods, but how will the backup slots shake out? Third-year sophomore Levi Draper (MIKE) will have a chance to show if he can make a push for playing time this season. Similarly, redshirt freshman Brian Asamoah (WILL) will give an idea as to what he can contribute in the fall. Finally there’s Ryan Jones, who has moved inside to the WILL and will compete for a backup role.