New coordinator Alex Grinch is reorienting the Oklahoma Sooners’ defense with an aggressive, attacking scheme. That transition requires figuring out how existing personnel on the roster fit the new defense’s objectives.
Some holdovers have a natural fit in Grinch’s defense. In other spots, the coaching staff will need to figure out how to make do with a few jagged edges. Additionally, some players may end up looking for new homes – players such as DL Ron Tatum and edge K’Jakyre Daley have already entered the transfer portal since the beginning of the year.
The most significant changes are probably coming for the players in the front six. They are dealing with shifting into a one-gap scheme after years of playing two-gap under former coordinator Mike Stoops. Let’s take a quick look – in no particular order – at how some of the defensive linemen and linebackers who were in Norman this spring fit with what Grinch is trying to do.
Neville Gallimore, DL, R-Sr. (6-2, 330)
Gallimore should end up as one of the biggest beneficiaries from the new defensive scheme. For a player of his considerable size, Gallimore’s quickness off the snap will be a major boost in a one-gap scheme where he’s not trying to just absorb blocks from offensive linemen. Gallimore’s ability to move will also help when he’s asked to slant and stunt.
Gallimore’s NFL future may eventually hinge on his ability to play three-tech defensive tackle. Maybe he sees a few snaps there this fall, but he will spend more of his time lined up at nose tackle.
LaRon Stokes, DL, Jr. (6-4, 256)
Stokes is one of the more promising new arrivals in terms of immediate impact.
Stokes primarily played on the edge in junior college. Based on what we saw in the spring game, the coaches have pegged him as a weak side defensive tackle in Grinch’s system.
It sounds as though OU’s defensive coaches liked what they saw out of Stokes in the spring, which suggests he’s staying at DT. I don’t know if he has enough speed to line up as a five-tech.
Isaiah Thomas, DL, R-So. (6-5, 256)
Thomas seems to have potential as a 3-4 defensive end, so this doesn’t strike me as the right situation for him. Point blank: Thomas feels miscast in this defense. I just don’t think he’s fast enough.
Assuming he sticks around at OU, Thomas is likely staying at defensive end.
Ronnie Perkins, DL, So. (6-3, 253)
There are precious few givens with this defense right now, but Perkins has a lock on the strong side five-tech position. He fits the mold perfectly as an all-around defensive end who can get after the quarterback and hold up against downhill run blocking.
Perkins is the best player on the entire D as of now.
Kenneth Mann, DL, R-Sr. (6-3, 264)
If Perkins is going to hold down the strong side DE spot, why not give Mann a look at weak side DT? He already has a little bit of experience playing inside in OU’s third down packages in recent years.
Mann didn’t have a great 2018 campaign, but a one-gap scheme may suit him better.
Jalen Redmond, OLB, R-Fr. (6-3, 270)
Redmond has generated all kinds of buzz about his potential as a RUSH linebacker. We saw a dollop of it from the redshirt freshman in limited action at JACK LB last season, a similar role to Grinch’s RUSH position.
But while we’re on the subject of position changes, could Redmond play with a hand in the dirt? Depending on the coverage responsibilities of the RUSH, he may be of better use down on the line in a role that accentuates his strengths.
Either way, it would appear that Redmond’s health is progressing to the point that he can get in the mix in the fall. *Fingers crossed*
Marquise Overton, DL, R-Sr. (6-1, 303)
Honestly, after digesting a few more watches of the Red-White Game, Overton played better than I expected. He’s far from a speed demon, but he seemed to handle the slants and stunts at nose tackle well enough. I feel slightly better about OU’s depth up front as a result, even though barring an injury to Gallimore, I can’t see Overton getting more than a handful of plays per game.
Dillon Faamatau, DL, R-Sr. (6-3, 290)
Faamatau played some weak side DT in the scrimmage, but it didn’t look like a natural position for him. Nose tackle just fits his build better. Still, he could give DL coach Calvin Thibodeaux a utility player to fill in as needed.
Bryan Mead, ILB, R-Jr. (6-2, 230)
I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it wouldn’t shock me if Mead turns the MIKE LB position into a true competition come August. He clearly caught the eye of position coach Brian Odom in the spring.
Mead’s performance in the Red-White Game showed he possesses a strong grasp of the MIKE assignments – he reacts quickly to what he’s seeing in front of him. That’s a must for the inside LBs in Grinch’s scheme.
Kenneth Murray, ILB, Jr. (6-2, 238)
Part of the reason I feel like Mead has a shot at winning the MIKE job: Murray appears to be a step or so too slow when it comes to getting where he needs to be. That leaves him snagged on blockers more often than he should be.
Also, Murray’s physical attributes seem as though they would translate well to RUSH LB, a position of questionable depth at the moment.
DaShaun White, ILB, So. (6-0, 221)
I expect White to develop into OU’s strongest inside linebacker pretty quickly. If so, could he take on the responsibilities at MIKE? Size could be an issue there, but it may free up Murray to move around if the coaches are so inclined.
Ryan Jones, ILB, R-So. (6-2, 233)
From a physical standpoint, Jones has everything you would want in an ILB in this defense. Going on something like his fourth position in three years, however, no one should blame him if his head is swimming.
Jones moves well, but his performance in the Red-White Game showed he’s still developing his command of the WILL LB role. Getting him up to speed would inject some flexibility into the D.