Ndulue working to make a bigger impact

Junior defender Chuka Ndulue is transitioning from defensive end to defensive tackle for the Sooners. Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

NORMAN, Okla. -- It’s rare that Oklahoma returns its leading sack artist from the previous season with such little fanfare.

Yet Chuka Ndulue has seemed almost like an afterthought when the subject of the Sooners’ defensive line came up this summer. The junior had five sacks as a defensive end in 2012 but is transitioning to defensive tackle this season, making his potential impact relatively unknown as he gets comfortable with a new position.

The position change has required Ndulue to pack on the pounds this offseason, going from a listed weight of 256 pounds to 274 pounds. The added weight is already paying dividends during preseason camp.

“He’s put on weight, you can feel it,” said guard Bronson Irwin, who consistently battles Ndulue in practice. “When he hits you with that bull rush, he’s not 260 anymore, you can definitely feel it.”

Ndulue used a protein-heavy diet which required eating six times a day to help put on the extra pounds. Multiple trips to Chipotle became a daily routine as the Texas native focused on bulking up.

“Oh man, I feel fat,” Ndulue said. “But it feels kind of good, though, because I get to eat a lot and build it up. My mom hasn’t seen me in about four months, so she’s kind of going to be shocked. The last time she saw me, I was 256 [pounds] so it’s going to be funny.”

His weight gain is not a laughing matter to Sooners fans. The defensive tackle spot is the weakest position on the team and Ndulue’s weight gain could help the junior become an impact player in the middle and lessen OU’s concerns about the position.

“Chuka is really doing a good job in there,” coach Bob Stoops said of Ndulue’s move to defensive tackle. “He’s gained some good strength and size and is doing a good job. I think he’s strong and he’s playing explosively so I think he’s in a good position."

Even though he led the Sooners with five sacks last season, Ndulue was never the relentless terror on the perimeter that incited nightmares for opposing quarterbacks and offensive tackles. But his quickness and speed, which was considered average on the outside, becomes better than average at defensive tackle and a clear asset for Ndulue.

“Inside, I feel quick,” he said. "The O-linemen, especially the new guys, are like 'You’re too quick to be down here.' I like that.”

That doesn’t mean Ndulue is destined to be a terror and all-conference performer in the middle. He still has to understand the position and the technique required to have success with 300-pound behemoths trying to push him around in the trenches. But he’s making progress.

“Technique-wise he’s playing better and sounder,” Stoops said. “I think he’s becoming more of a leader on the field in that group. He’s playing well. He’s having some success and finding more consistency in what we’re asking him to do.”