It’s required a little bit of enticing, but Alex Grinch’s Oklahoma defenders are unabashedly doing what he asks of them.
Stripping can be uncomfortable, after all.
But when it comes to stripping footballs loose, OU’s defensive coordinator can’t afford to wait until the Sept. 1 season opener against Houston to know how the Sooners are grasping his aggressive defense, which hinges on turnovers.
“There’s a production sheet of what’s going on,” cornerback Parnell Motley said. “We [chart] strip attempts and he’ll let us know definitely if we don’t have enough.”
OU forced only 11 turnovers in 2018, ranking 113th nationally with five fumbles recovered, which is actually an impressive rate considering the Sooners forced just seven fumbles total.
The Sooners intercepted just six passes.
Grinch was brought in to fix that. But how he’ll emphasize takeaways in Norman has been a constant question since he arrived last offseason.
Miami has gained attention for its Turnover Chain in previous years, loaning a prop chain to players who intercept a pass or force a fumble.
At practice, Grinch and other coaches walk around, keep a strip count on paper and by the end of each workout they dub a Strip King — the player with the most strip attempts.
The King usually gets a chocolate bar for his effort. As of Monday, sophomore safety Delarrin Turner-Yell hadn’t gotten one. But he knows he needs to — soon.
While he remains the clear frontrunner to start at one of OU’s safety spots, Turner-Yell said having a quota to meet keeps everyone on their toes. It has led to numerous different Strip Kings. Only one player, in fact, has achieved it two practices in a row. That was redshirt sophomore linebacker Levi Draper.
“If you know your [defensive coordinator’s] taking notes on that, letting the whole defense know this guy has this amount of strip attempts, you’re gonna want to get recognized for that,” Turner-Yell said.
The Sooners were at 400 strip attempts this preseason camp before Monday’s practice, Grinch said. He wants that number to be around 1,000 by the time the season begins, and he isn’t counting just any fumble that hits the ground.
Strip attempts are specifically defined.
“A true strip attempt is a willingness to get the ball out,” Grinch said. “That's a learned skill. It's a learned trait. It's no different than a basketball player shooting 1,000 shots. That's one of the skills and traits on defense so we make it an emphasis. It's hard to get it out. That's why it has to be emphasized as much as it is. The guys have been embracing it up to this point.”
As for interceptions, Grinch said picking off passes is about managing risk and thinking like outfielders in baseball, who are taught to expect a line drive every pitch.
“We talk about eye control, making sure your eyes are where they belong. In a zone concept defense, my eye is on the quarterback and I have gotta make sure the flash of the opposing jersey doesn't dictate where I go and when I go there. A man concept, that quarterback doesn't mean anything to me. It's about being where that receiver goes,” Grinch said. “In any event, I think eye control is number one.
“I think number two is being a top-down mentality. If I'm in any type of trail position — you can say it a couple different ways — but it's a panic situation. Well, the last thing I'm worried about is that football. I'm worried about chasing after a guy. And so number one is eye control, and number two being top-down in everything that you do. You have a chance to then attack the football.
“I think the final phase of that, and we talk about it all the time, is expectation. You've gotta expect the ball is coming your way. Every play is your play to make. The minute that you don't think that is a missed opportunity. Everybody laughs when a defensive player drops the football, 'That's why he plays defense.' A lot of these guys were high school receivers, high school running backs and everything else. I don't know that they've got worse hands. The difference between us and the receivers is that the receiver expects the football and we don’t.”
That’s a long way of saying OU prioritizes turnovers now more than it did a year ago, which most already knew. But it’s becoming more clear how Grinch is doing it.