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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Projecting the spring depth chart - Defense

Defenders will be auditioning at multiple positions for OU this spring.

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Spring football is in full swing for the Oklahoma Sooners, and earlier this week, we took a stab at projecting OU’s offensive depth chart. Now we’ll turn to the defense, where new head coach Brent Venables and his coaching staff may find more talent – and more questions – than on the other side of the ball.

OU also released a roster Tuesday, which may offer some clarity about positions on D. While Venables ostensibly operates out of a 4-3 base scheme, his fondness for hybrid players can lead to confusion when describing some positions. Notably, the SAM linebacker functions in many ways like a third safety or nickel, rather than a traditional LB. (In other words, there’s a lot of guessing below about who is playing where.)

Here’s our projection for where things stand on defense as of now.

2022 Oklahoma Sooners Depth Chart Projection - Defense (Spring)

Nose tackle

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Jeffrey Johnson, Sr.
Isaiah Coe, Sr.
Josh Ellison, Sr.
Jordan Kelley, R-Sr.

Johnson didn’t transfer from Tulane to OU to ride the bench, nor did Venables give him a scholarship for that purpose. He therefore moves to the top of the heap at nose tackle.

The best way to describe this position is “solid.” It feels as though defensive line coach can cycle through multiple players without see much of a drop off. Keep an eye on Ellison.

Defensive tackle

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Jalen Redmond, R-Jr.
Kori Roberson, R-Jr.
Kelvin Gilliam, R-Fr.

Redmond has a lock on the three-tech DT spot. The story here is Gilliam, who is weighing in at 285 pounds. Packing on that extra 30 lbs. means he will have the size to compete for a rotation spot.

Strong defensive end

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Reggie Grimes, Jr.
Ethan Downs, So.
Jonah Laulu, R-Sr.
Brynden Walker, Jr.
Noah Arinze, R-So.

The time for Grimes to make good on his potential has come. Downs, who enjoyed a solid freshman season, is nipping at his heels. After transferring in from Hawaii, Laulu should fortify the depth on the strong side and potentially force the holdovers in front of him to up their game.

Weak defensive end

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Marcus Stripling, Sr.
Clayton Smith, R-Fr.
Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, R-Fr.

This has the makings of a tight competition that lasts the entire offseason. Even though Stripling occupies the top line for now, the hope here is that Smith makes a leap after a freshman season in which the blue-chip recruit barely saw the field. The same goes for NRK.

SAM linebacker

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Shane Whitter, Jr.
Jaren Kanak, Fr.

Here’s where the guessing starts. Frankly, there aren’t many obvious candidates at this position currently on the roster.

Relative to the players who played SAM LB for Venables at Clemson, Kanak seems to fit the profile. Is he ready for that role as a true freshman? Whitter’s maturity may give him the edge, assuming he checks the boxes from a physical standpoint.

MIKE linebacker

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Danny Stutsman, So.
David Ugwoegbu, Sr.
Joseph Wete, R-Jr.
Kobie McKenzie, Fr.

The MIKE LB will see more action inside the run box than the SAM and WILL LBs, so the Sooners will need a more physical presence between the tackles. Time for Stutsman to take over after playing a reserve role in 2021. Expect the other two holdovers from last season to become the subjects of transfer speculation.

WILL linebacker

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DaShaun White, Sr.
T.D. Roof, R-Sr.
Kip Lewis, Fr.

White will be a captain this season. He could play MIKE, but putting him at WILL with Stutsman inside looks like the optimal combination.

Whitter could back up White if SAM doesn’t work for him. Likewise, Roof could slide over to SAM.

Cornerback

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Woodi Washington, R-Jr.
Joshua Eaton, Jr.
Kendall Dennis, So.

Keep in mind that Washington has played safety in a past life. He may seem like a sure thing at CB, but with the coaches adding a number of transfers, don’t dismiss a position switch out of hand. Either way, he’ll be on the field in the secondary come fall.

Cornerback

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D.J. Graham, Jr.
C.J. Coldon, Sr.
Jaden Davis, Sr.
Kani Walker, So.

The name to know here is Coldon, a Wyoming transfer who started 19 games for the Cowboys in the last two seasons. His addition may give OU some flexibility at CB if the coaches decide to experiment with Washington and Graham in other spots. (Say, nickel?) Coldon could slide in somewhere else in the secondary as well.

Unfortunately, Coldon won’t reach campus until after spring football is over.

Strong safety

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Key Lawrence, Jr.
Jordan Mukes, So.
Robert Spears-Jennings, Fr.

Lawrence played well last year at both corner and safety. OU could probably use his physicality more at safety, so it seems like a good bet at this point.

Mukes is a sleeper – he’s an outstanding athlete.

Free safety

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Billy Bowman, So.
Justin Broiles, R-Sr.
Bryson Washington, R-So.

Will Bowman even be playing on the defensive side of the ball this season? You could make a case that depth issues at wide receiver would warrant a switch to O for such an electric athlete. He’s listed as a defensive back at the moment, though, so let’s assume he’s staying put.

Broiles filled in admirably last year and has the makings of a solid utility player as a super senior.

Nickel

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Trey Morrison, Sr.
Jayden Rowe, Fr.

After competing against Morrison at North Carolina, Venables made a point of recruiting the former Tar Heel to Norman. You can bet he will have a role somewhere in the secondary. If Venables envisions the nickel to be more of a coverage player, it makes sense for Morrison. At 189 pounds, asking him to do much in run support seems like a mistake.