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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Transfers mean it’s now Grinch’s defense

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The Sooners saw a run of defensive players leaving the program this week. It’s not a bad sign.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Oklahoma at UCLA Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Oklahoma Sooners underwent a bloodletting this week, as a slew of players announced their intentions to transfer out of the football program.

The departures ranged from graduate transfers such as Jordan Parker to players like linebacker Levi Draper who never cracked the rotation in their position groups. According to Bob Przybylo of SoonerScoop.com, the latest round brought the total number of defections since the start of last year to 20.

OU hasn’t seen this type of roster turnover in nearly a decade, and struggles on defense clearly had a big hand in it. Fifteen of the 20 departees came from the defensive side of the ball. Two more – Michael Thompson and Jaquayln Crawford – played on D at least part of the time they were in Norman.

That a changeover at defensive coordinator would lead to an exodus of holdovers from the previous regime shouldn’t come as a surprise. Alex Grinch essentially made due with what he inherited in his first season with the Sooners. He and the rest of the defensive assistants on the staff are now recruiting players whom they believe better fit what they’re trying to do.

Many in Sooner Nation may be rejoicing over the purge and the idea of head coach Lincoln Riley “trimming the fat” from OU’s roster. Popping bottles because players are leaving feels distasteful, especially in cases where nary a discouraging word has been uttered about conduct issues. That seems to apply to nearly every member of the latest outgoing group. Frankly, though, none of the departing players made a lasting mark on game days during the 2019 season and almost certainly wouldn’t have done so in 2020. By leaving now, they get an opportunity to start fresh somewhere else, while OU opens up spots for potential transfers and more recruits in the future.

That’s nice for the long run, but what about right now? Even though the departing players were likely passed on the depth chart by younger prospects, they still have value to the program in terms of depth and experience.

Look at the situation at inside linebacker, for example. With Kenneth Murray leaving early for the NFL, it probably means DaShaun White will move into his spot at MIKE, with Caleb Kelly taking over for White at WILL. That sounds like a solid first string, but it thins out quickly behind them.

Third-year sophomore Brian Asamoah has had an up-and-down go of it so far, and he will likely back up Kelly. Fifth-year senior Bryan Mead may know all the assignments, but the walk-on has yet to prove he possesses the physical ability to be effective at MIKE. That leaves three-star 2020 recruits Shane Whitter and Brynden Walker as the only scholarship linebackers for scout-team duty and playing in case of emergency.

Ultimately, those kinds of trade-offs are probably worth it for the overall health of the program. Those types of moves come when coaches are building for the long run. It’s up to Grinch to make sure they pay off, however. This is his roster now.