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 Friday, we complete the countdown with No. 1.
No. 1: LB Eric Striker, junior
2013 role: Striker showed he is one of the best pass rushers in the Big 12, creating havoc as a edge rusher for most of the season. He started all 13 games, finishing with 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors.
Expected 2014 role: Striker has his eyes on becoming one of the most feared pass rushers in the entire nation. The Sooners spent a large portion of the spring using Striker at nickelback and working him in coverage to make him a more versatile and complete player. Nonetheless, don’t expect OU to take him away from what he does best: Rush the quarterback.
Why he’s important: Ask Alabama. Striker’s three-sack performance against the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl was a main reason the Sooners shocked the world with the upset win. The junior tends to make big plays in big games. He played a role in defensive touchdowns against Alabama, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame, three of OU’s best wins of 2013.
His ability to consistently win one-on-one battles on the edge helps the entire defense, particularly the secondary. Even when he’s not getting to the quarterback, opponents must account for him, opening rush lanes for teammates and lowering the amount of time the Sooners defensive backs are in coverage. He also sets a tone for the defense with his aggressive nature and relentlessness.
If he was missing: The Sooners would be left searching for ways to replace him. Nobody on the current roster brings the same things to the table that Striker does and his absence would create a noticeable void. He is one of the top defenders in the Big 12 and the Sooners have -- and will continue to -- find the best ways to use his talents and maximize his impact.