NORMAN — What does Oklahoma’s defensive line expect to reveal in Saturday’s spring game?
“Knock ‘em back football,” defensive end Charles Tapper said, “we need to play on the other side of the ball and go make plays.”
It is the major alteration new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery has been trying to make since spring practice began. The Sooner defense must force more negative plays — sacks and tackles for losses — in order to improve from last season.
The inability to make those plays were a defining characteristic of the Sooners’ defense in 2012. The unit averaged 4.23 tackles for loss a game. It defended an average of 69.6 plays a game. One out of 16 plays going for a loss doesn’t come close to cutting it in an explosive offensive league like the Big 12. Defenses must be able force third-and-longs to have any chance of forcing punts.
It starts with the play of the defensive line.
OU’s group was missing a lot more than a slogan last season. One change has gone beyond cosmetic. They’ve switched from a two-gap defense to a one-gap. For defensive linemen, it means more freedom to attack. Instead of catching blocks and trying to hold a position, they’re allowed to get up field and try to force negative plays.
“Now we’re attack, attack, attack,” said Chuka Ndulue, who is making the move from defensive end to tackle this spring. “A lot of my teammates in the D-line will benefit from that a lot. We can control the gap.”
However, Montgomery insists this change isn’t simply a matter of turning the defensive line loose to do whatever they feel like doing. Defenses are every bit as complicated as offenses are — perhaps more. For everything to work, 11 players have to perform 11 separate jobs. When the parts are cohesive, it works. Everything falls apart when one part doesn’t work.