Hopes and concerns for Sooners defense

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
10:00
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NORMAN, Okla. -- It was like a tidal wave.

As the 2012 season came to a close, the Oklahoma defense was battered and bruised by offenses from West Virginia then Oklahoma State then Texas A&M. Yet as the 2013 season approaches, there are reasons to hope for success from the Sooners’ defense, but that hope doesn’t come without concerns. Here’s a look at three reasons for hope and three reasons for concern for the Sooners’ defense this fall.

Hope

More versatile: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has repeatedly said his goal is to make the Sooners defense more versatile in 2013. Expect more three-man fronts, more athleticism on the field and more creative use of the Sooners’ personnel in 2013. The key for OU as it transforms into a more versatile defense will be to make sure the defense transforms into a tougher and more aggressive defense as well.

[+] EnlargeAaron Colvin
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCornerback Aaron Colvin is a proven player who gives the Sooners defense a lot of reason for hope.
Aaron Colvin: The senior cornerback returned to the Sooners after an All-Big 12 season in 2012. If he hadn’t returned, things would look really bleak in OU’s secondary. Now, the Sooners have a proven anchor to lean on during rough times, and Colvin has made a point to increase his leadership as a senior as well with several talented true freshman in the Sooners' defensive backfield.

The defense wasn’t near as bad in 2012 as it may seem: Even in the Sooners’ three losses, the defense shouldn't shoulder all of the blame. Turnovers doomed OU against Kansas State, a lackluster running game hurt them against Notre Dame, and an inability to capitalize in the red zone helped Texas A&M embarrass OU in the Cotton Bowl.

In 2012, opponents averaged 30.4 yards per drive, second in the Big 12 behind TCU, and opposing quarterbacks had a Big 12-worst 108.4 passer efficiency rating, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Sooners defense had its moments but struggled to stop the run in the final few games, making things look worse than they actually were and catapulting its run defense atop its priority list in 2013. Things could have been a lot worse.

Concern

Lack of experience: Just four starters return to a defense that disappointed last season. The Sooners will, undoubtedly, use multiple true freshman on defense this season with safeties Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas already looking ready to make an impact and other February signees like defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and linebacker Dominique Alexander putting themselves in position to push for playing time. And junior college defensive tackle Quincy Russell needs to live up to the hype. There will be a learning curve for the newcomers, so the Sooners just have to hope the good outweighs the bad.

Lack of playmakers along the defensive line: Stoops has preached the need for playmakers up front since the spring. OU badly needs someone to emerge along the defensive line. The Sooners’ pass rush was subpar in 2012, and their general lack of aggressiveness led to a Big 12-worst 53 tackles for loss. Russell's arrival brings some hope, and Jordan Phillips is very talented but must not be content to simply be on the field. He needs to strive to dominate. The Sooners have some talented youngsters but no proven game-changers.

Depth and the ability to adapt on the fly: OU will need to create some type of depth to give Stoops options as he tries to stop Big 12 defenses. The Sooners generally rotate their defensive front but could also rotate their linebackers and defensive backs to give those guys opportunities to impress in games, give the starters rest and create a competitive atmosphere each week. Then, as those backups emerge and push for bigger roles, Stoops can come up with various packages to matchup better with Big 12 offenses on a weekly basis or even during games.

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