- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
Charles Tapper was a pleasant surprise when he played his way out of a redshirt season during Oklahoma’s fall camp last August. The defensive end has a limited football background, yet his physical gifts were too much to ignore as the Sooners elected to play him in limited reps during his freshman season.
OU hopes getting Tapper’s feet wet in 2012 will pay off in 2013. And the early signs point to the true freshman making positive steps toward becoming a key member of OU’s defensive line as a sophomore.
Left tackle Lane Johnson, who battled Tapper during bowl practices in December, can tell the difference in the Baltimore native from August to December.
“During the first part of the season, nobody thought much of him,” Johnson said. “But now, he’s really come on. I’ve really been impressed, I was telling [defensive end] Coach [Bobby Jack] Wright, he’s going to be a good player here.”
Fellow defensive end R.J. Washington has seen the progress as well. There’s one trait of Tapper’s game he’s seen improve the most during Tapper’s first semester on campus.
“His motor is a lot better,” Washington said. “When you’re a freshman, you’re running like a chicken with its head cut off. It seems like he’s a little bit more fluid now.”
Knowing Tapper’s football background is limited, Washington made a point to try to mentor him this season.
“He’s not coming from a football-rich environment, he’s from Baltimore, it’s basketball [there],” Washington said. “I got with Tap a lot in two a days and the summer. He doesn’t do it perfect -- none of us do all the time -- but he’s slowing starting to stride that way and he understands it at least. He knows what he’s supposed to do.”
The overriding message about Tapper since he stepped on campus has been pretty clear; There aren’t many physical limitations, it’s about football I.Q. and technique for Tapper. When he acquires those traits, the sky is the limit.
“Tap is already strong, already has the weight, he’s fast,” Washington said. “Physically is not the problem, it’s getting him to play fast. And to play faster you have to know everything.”
2dBrandon Chatmon and Jake Trotter