Several players will decide the success of the Oklahoma Sooners this fall.
Some Sooners will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the 2014 squad. Last week we counted down the most important players on offense with quarterback Trevor Knight atop the list.
This week, we’ll count down the five most important players on defense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production. On Wednesday, we continue the countdown with No. 3.
No. 3: DT Jordan Phillips, junior
2013 role: Phillips began the season as a mainstay in the middle of OU’s defense, starting the first four games before a back injury forced him to miss the remainder of the season. In his four starts, Phillips had seven tackles including two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Expected 2014 role: If he returns to full health, he could be the centerpiece of OU’s defense. Before his injury he was emerging as a potential All-Big 12 first-teamer. He couples terrific size (6-foot-6, 338 pounds) with exceptional athleticism to be a matchup nightmare for almost any offensive lineman.
Why he’s important: It’s somewhat odd to put Phillips on this list after OU earned a BCS bowl berth on the shoulders of its defense, minus Phillips, in 2013. But the junior earns a spot here because he has the potential to transform OU’s defense from very good to dominant if he makes a healthy return to the field and raises his level of play another notch. His physical gifts make him the type of player that few offenses would have an answer for, thus opening up all kinds of opportunities for his teammates to make plays.
If he was missing: The Sooners have proven the wheels wouldn’t fall off if Phillips has any setback before the season. Jordan Wade was very solid in Phillips’ place last season and OU has other talented defensive tackles who could slide into his spot. But the Sooners have dreams of a College Football Playoff berth and those dreams become more attainable with a healthy Phillips. He’s an automatic mismatch in the middle of the field and has the ability to change games with his presence. There aren’t many Sooners, or Big 12 defenders, who can make the same claim.