By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Oklahoma’s defensive line made a 180-degree turn last season. The expectation bar was so low when the season began it was hard to trip over it. By December, it was playing as well as any position group.
Heading into the 2014 season, it appears to be the deepest and most talented. Defensive ends Charles Tappers, who was an all-Big 12 player last season, and Geneo Grissom, who was the Sugar Bowl’s defensive MVP, are both going through spring drills. Jordan Phillips was well on his way to an All-Big 12 season until a back injury cut his season short after four games. He’s being held out.
His absence has created an opportunity for redshirt freshman Charles Walker.
“Charles is 300 pounds now and runs great and is really picking things up,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “It’s too early to say he’s ready to go. But physically in everything he’s done, he’s awfully close. It’s just now getting the technique right and consistent on every snap. Physically, he’s got a chance to be really good.”
The Sooners were light on defensive tackles last season. Jordan Wade, Torrea Peterson and Chuka Ndule were the only tackles OU used at the spots in the second half of the season. Ndule, at 280 pounds, is still light for the position.
If Walker continues to progress, OU could have five true 300 pounders to rotate on the defensive interior with Phillips, Wade, Peterson, Walker and Quincy Russell.
Experience seems to be the only area Walker is lacking.
“Anyone that big and strong and fast, I think he’ll become a dynamic player,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. Again, you’re talking about a guy that’s not even been here a year. You’re asking a lot.”
Safety shortage: Nickelback Julian Wilson is sitting out spring practice due to offseason shoulder surgery. He’ll be back in August, but that leaves to Quentin Hayes as the lone returning starting safety during the spring.
Sophomore Hatari Byrd is poised to take over the safety spot Gabe Lynn vacated after last season. Ahmad Thomas is also working at two of the safety spots.
Mike Stoops admits the numbers are low. OU signed safeties Steven Parker (Jenks) and Vontre McQuinnie (DeSote, Texas) in February. Looks like they’ll have ample opportunities for playing time.
“We’re playing a walk-on as our backup No. 2 safety so there’s going to be opportunities,” Mike Stoops said. “Hopefully, those guys will come in and produce for us. They’re going to have to.”
Faster at linebacker: The benefit of middle linebacker Frank Shannon and weakside linebacker Dominique Franks playing virtually every down last season has been displayed in the spring.
“The experience is so valuable. As good as those guys are, just playing a whole year in this system, I think they understand it much better,” Mike Stoops said. “We’ve seen a lot of different schemes and hopefully we can react to plays better. I thought in games we were a little slow in adjusting and reacting to things just because we hadn’t experienced that before.”
All eyes and ears on Knight: Quarterback Trevor Knight has the starting quarterback job. He’s also adjusting to the added weight his actions and words now carry on the field and in the locker room.
“It kind of puts you in position. It forces you to step up and be that leader,” he said. “I feel like guys are looking at me to be that guy and I felt like I’ve done a good job of being that and they’re following pretty good.”
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