Oklahoma Sooners: DJ Ward

The loss of Oklahoma’s top defensive recruit in its Class of 2013 is disappointing but not crippling for the Sooners.

Freshman defensive end D.J. Ward is projected to miss six weeks after having his spleen removed on Tuesday. But the Oklahoma native wasn't poised to make a major impact on the Sooners defense in 2013 even though he enrolled early to participate in spring football with an eye on making an immediate impact during his first season.

D.J. Ward
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comHaving his spleen removed was the latest setback for freshman defensive end D.J. Ward since committing to Oklahoma.
It is a major setback for Ward however, as he’s faced with spending more time watching from the sidelines after missing his entire senior season of high school. His last full season of playing football was 2011 when he was a junior at Lawton (Okla.) High School. He missed his final prep campaign after transferring to Oklahoma City (Okla.) Douglass then Moore (Okla.) Southmoore and being ruled ineligible to play. He also missed the majority of spring drills as he waited to be cleared to participate, so being able to spend as much time on the field as possible was important for Ward this August. Now, his development has taken another step backward.

Meanwhile, the Sooners should able to handle the loss with ease. Sophomore Charles Tapper is a different player in his second year in Norman after arriving to campus as a raw, yet talented, prospect at defensive end. He’s currently running with the No. 1 defense along with junior Geneo Grissom.

The impact of Ward’s injury will start to hit the Sooners as they try to encourage competition and create depth at the position. Freshman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has been impressive during preseason camp and could be poised to provide depth in Ward’s absence. Fellow freshman Matt Dimon has also impressed teammates early on. Sophomore Michael Onuoha, who could eventually battle Tapper to start, should return from a shoulder injury early in the season to provide additional options for defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.

Coaches' corner: DE D.J. Ward

February, 22, 2013
After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff was finally able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

Defensive end D.J. Ward (Moore, Okla/Southmoore) could be the most overlooked signee for Oklahoma. He didn't play during his senior year of high school after he was ineligible to play due to transfer rules. Therefore all the buzz and hype he had garnered during his sophomore and junior seasons disappeared.

D.J. Ward
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comWatch List defensive end D.J. Ward is already on campus at Oklahoma.
Yet, it didn't impact the Sooners coaches' excitement about landing Ward.

"D.J. is a guy that has been dying to play again," coach Bob Stoops said. "He has had a great attitude through it all and has continued to lift and run. You can tell that he looks like he is in excellent shape."

Ward is already on campus as an early enrollee which should help him shake off the rust after missing an entire season. Stoops is confident he can overcome it.

"I believe he will," he said. "He has continued to work out hard and looks great but I guess you do, you miss those snaps on the field.”

Once he does get back in the flow of playing football, Ward could make a difference during his career. He has good size, strength and quickness which gives him the ability to be a every down defensive end who can hold up against the run while developing into a solid pass-rusher.

"DJ is your prototypical defensive end," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

And it could be sooner than expected with OU searching for pass-rushers this fall. The Sooners really struggled to rush the passer in 2012, opening the opportunity to make an immediate impact for newcomers like Ward.

"[He's] another guy who can factor in right away," linebacker coach Tim Kish said. "He’s got tremendous athletic ability, great size, great strength."
NORMAN, Okla. -- Anyone who watched Oklahoma’s defense in the final four games of the season knows that the Sooners were in dire need of help in the secondary and along the defensive line. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel torched the Sooners’ defense on their way to record-breaking performances, as OU had no answer for the dynamic playmakers.

Quincy Russell
Courtesy of Trinity Valley Community CollegeBob Stoops is expecting a big immediate impact from juco defensive tackle Quincy Russell.
The Sooners hope they’ve addressed those needs with their defensive line and secondary signees in the Class of 2013 and will see immediate dividends on the field this fall.

“You’re never going to get everyone you want but we feel like we’ve helped ourselves in some critical areas,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

Cornerback Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla./East Central) joins safeties Ahmad Thomas (Miami, Fla./Central) and Hatari Byrd (Fresno, Calif./Central East) as signees who appear poised to step right in and play in the secondary. Taylor, in particular, drew a lot of praise from Mike Stoops while drawing comparisons to All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin from OU head coach Bob Stoops on signing day.

“We’re projecting him to come in and solidify that corner position for us,” Mike Stoops said. “I can’t say enough about this guy, he has all the qualities you want in a superstar.”

Yet those impact signees in the secondary won’t mean much if the Sooners cannot solidify their defensive front. To that end, OU signed seven defensive linemen (four defensive tackles, three defensive ends) on Wednesday, with junior college transfer Quincy Russell (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley) looming as the biggest potential impact player along the defensive interior.

(Read full post)

Roundtable: OU's best recruiter in 2013 

January, 31, 2013
Every Thursday, the SoonerNation staff will answer a roundtable question about OU football. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

[+] EnlargeCale Gundy
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCale Gundy's work of adding one of the top tailbacks in Texas earns high praise.
Today's question: Which Oklahoma coach has recruited best for the Sooners in 2013?

• In two years, Bobby Jack Wright has loaded up the defensive end spot for bear in Norman. Last year, he signed promising athletes Charles Tapper and Mike Onouha. This year, he augmented the position further, garnering commitments from two of the Top 25 DEs in the country in D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon. That foursome, along with upside prospect Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, whom the Sooners swiped from Oklahoma State, should ensure that defensive end is a position of strength for years to come.
It’s not like Oklahoma isn’t set at the defensive end position for the 2013 class. Two of the Sooners’ first three commitments were at the position and both D.J. Ward (Moore, Okla./Southmoore) and Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas/Katy) are ESPN 300 prospects. Ward is No. 110, while Dimon is No. 284.

But the thinking all along has been OU wants three at the position. And the biggest targets for OU defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright had been a couple of committed prospects.

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Thomas, Taylor rise in ESPN 300 

November, 7, 2012
Ever since Oklahoma quarterback commit Cody Thomas (Colleyville, Texas/Heritage) was dropped from the ESPN 300 in July, Sooners fans have been clamoring for him to return to the rankings.

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