Oklahoma Sooners: Frank Alexander

Sooner Snapshot: DE D.J. Ward 

February, 3, 2013
Leading up to signing day, SoonerNation will take a closer look at the Class of 2013 prospects currently committed to Oklahoma. The in-depth analysis pieces will take a look at the ranking, estimated year of impact and potential role of each future Sooner.

Vitals: Defensive end D.J. Ward (Moore, Okla./Southmoore) | 6-foot-3, 225 pounds

Committed: April 14, 2013
In 2011, the Sooners defense leaned on one of the better defensive end combos in school history: Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. The two combined for 14 sacks. Alexander earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, and Lewis became a fourth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions.

[+] EnlargeChuka Ndulue
Ty Russell/University of OklahomaSophomore Chuka Ndulue will be the Sooners' third defensive end in 2012.
Replacing their production won’t be easy, but Bob Stoops is confident in veterans R.J. Washington and David King. Both will be full-time starters for the first time in their careers as seniors, but Washington and King were critical pieces of OU’s “Endy” package – four defensive ends on the field at once – that was highly disruptive last season. Desping coming off the bench, Washington finished with five sacks and King recorded 31 tackles.

“They've played a lot of football for us,” Stoops said.

The Sooners will also lean on Chuka Ndulue, who emerged as the third defensive end in the spring over junior-college transfer Chaz Nelson and Geneo Grissom, who has since moved to tight end.

“We've got some young guys coming up,” Stoops said. “Chuka is doing an excellent job, and then even Michael Onuoha and Charles Tapper, two young freshmen that we're really excited about that we hope can jump in there help us some.”
Monday, Merv Johnson discussed his time as an assistant at Notre Dame. In the final half of his Q&A, OU’s director of football operations and color analyst for the Sooner Radio Network spoke with SoonerNation about his role in getting Troy Aikman to Norman, the best player he ever coached and his thoughts on the upcoming season:

Jake Trotter: You were the first one at OU to realize how special Troy Aikman was. How did that come about?

Merv Johnson: He was a kid from a small town over in Henryetta that really was a fine-looking specimen, all-around athlete, all sports and everything. Found out, we got him to agree to come to camp. I told Barry [Switzer], you need to look at him. Barry watched him throw, and that was it. There was no arm twisting. He watched him throw the football, and he was 100 percent sold.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Merv Johnson was the first OU coach to see Troy Aikman throw the football.

Trotter: How did you hear about Aikman?

Johnson: He was kind of a local phenom over there, we get those things all the time. But once you go and eyeball him and see what a physical specimen he is, his personality, then you really get excited.

Trotter: Aikman is one of many Oklahoma kids who went on to great college careers. OU obviously has taken a more national approach to recruiting in recent years. But how important is it to still recruit the Oklahoma kids?

Johnson: It’s critically important. It’s hard. You want to recruit the best player available. When you break down the number of scholarships you have, it’s not very many. And then you count the positions on a team, it’s 22 positions and two kickers, basically. And you may be able to recruit only one linebacker, or two, as an example. And you want the best you can find. The best athlete, best player, the guy that you think can project the furthest. That guy might be off somewhere else, and there might be a pretty good one in Oklahoma. But you can only take one of them. It’s hard, it’s hard – the superstar that you’ve seen really makes you feel like you’ve got a shot. You hate to say, well, we can’t take you because we want to recruit this Oklahoma guy. By the same token, after a very short time, the way recruiting is so accelerated, the youngster in Oklahoma may say, well, they’re not interested in me, I’ going to go somewhere else. And so, it comes down to evaluation, and you can’t do a lot of that, because there’s only so many times you can go to their campus or their games. You have to do a lot of it by video. But you’ve got to collectively as a staff study that player, and make sure you’re OK if you can’t take the Oklahoma kid. You need those kind of guys that always love the program. But if their talent level is not the same, you have to get the best talent you can.

Trotter: So if the Oklahoma kid is even with the national kid, you suggest going for the Oklahoma kid?

Johnson: I think you’d go on it. It didn’t take them long to go on [Sam] Bradford, and guys like that. And I think they had an opportunity with camp here and him being nearby to see Bradford, the coaches recognized what a great future he had. That’s what you have to do. You can’t just let it slip by you that easily.

Trotter: Which OU team you’ve been around was the best?

(Read full post)

To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today begins a series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. We'll start with the prohibitive favorite, Oklahoma.

Why the Sooners will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones gives Oklahoma experience at quarterback, but he'll be throwing to several untested targets this season.
1. They've been there before: Never, ever underestimate the importance of experience. Oklahoma lost a lot from last season's team, but it still boasts essentially a four-year starter at quarterback in Landry Jones, receiver Kenny Stills, and defenders like Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort, and Demontre Hurst. They were all key cogs in a 2010 title run that included a gutsy comeback on a neutral site against a very good Nebraska team. Oklahoma has a lot on its to-do list, but outside of a trip to West Virginia, the Sooners won't encounter anything too foreign this season.

2. Its secondary is fierce, and revitalized: Texas probably has the league's best overall secondary, but Oklahoma's not far behind. Cornerbacks Hurst and Aaron Colvin are solid, and safety Tony Jefferson might, by the end of the season, have a case for being the league's best overall defender after moving back to safety from nickel back. Fellow safety Javon Harris re-emerged this spring after a midseason benching, but still must prove he can prevent the big play in the fall. The best news of all for the unit? Coordinator Mike Stoops is back in Norman coaching them after nearly a decade as the Arizona head coach.

3. Oklahoma has more talent than anyone else: This one's pretty simple. If you line up every team in the league, truly examining everybody's two-deep, Oklahoma stands tall as the league's best team, especially at important positions like quarterback and the secondary. There are some questions along the defensive line, but the Sooners have solid athletes with potential. The same is true of the receivers, and running back will be a strength, even if Dominique Whaley isn't 100 percent next season. The linebackers are loaded again, and so is the offensive line, which might be the most important aspect of this year's team. If these games were played on paper, Oklahoma would be the champs.

Why the Sooners won't win the Big 12

1. Does Landry Jones have enough help? Ryan Broyles is gone, and Oklahoma's passing game seemed to self-destruct when he was gone. There's a lot of talent back, but offseason suspensions mean Stills will be flanked by a horde of freshmen targets. Can Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Courtney Gardner be enough? And can Jones string together enough solid games to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title? The solid offensive line gives some reason to believe he will.

2. There won't be enough pass rush: Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander were an absolute terror last season, even though both were plagued by injuries, and Lewis' season shut down early. Now, they must be replaced. R.J. Washington and David King have plenty of potential, but Lewis and Alexander were mostly experienced, known entities. Washington and King have never been relied on as heavily as they will be this season. Can they handle the load? Oklahoma's Big 12 title hopes -- and defensive passing statistics -- probably depend on it.

3. The pool of Big 12 title suitors is too deep: Oklahoma's the best team on paper, sure, but the Big 12 is going to be brutal, and wide open. Nine (maybe 10) teams could legitimately beat the Sooners. That's just one game. Five others (we'll get to them later in the series) have the chance to prove they're better than the Sooners over the course of a 12-game schedule. Will they do it? Ultimately, that might be up to the Sooners.

Chat wrap: Future of Franks, Reynolds

May, 22, 2012

SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers on Monday about Oklahoma football and recruiting. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

matt (okcity): personally I think that Trey Franks and Jaz Reynolds should be kicked off the team..how many chances are they gonna get? share your opinion on this if you like, I'd love to hear it but doubt you'll give it. But my question is do you see Bob Stoops telling them to hit the road?

Jake Trotter: Can't argue. I mean this is the fourth time Reynolds has been suspended. From what I've been told, they've been given another chance to work their back out of the suspension. Whether they'll agree to the guidelines and be able to follow them is another story.

Nolan (Iowa City): With the suspensions at WR...do you see TE becoming more involved in the offense or is the position too much of a unknown commodity?

Jake Trotter: Even with the suspensions we know more about what's left of the WR position than we do TE. Brannon Green was brought in to block, and he'll probably get the majority of the snaps. Not only will tight end not become more involved, it might be less involved in the passing game than last season.

Brian (Tallahassee FL.): How big of impact will Mike Stoops have on the defense? Will there any noticable change in terms of strategy?

Jake Trotter: Not so much Xs and Os, but count on Mike Stoops to have more guys ready to play defensively then years past. Mike was using 7-8 guys in his defensive back rotation in the spring, and he didn't even have a healthy Aaron Colvin. The Sooners should be better prepared against injuries this season.

Greg Moore (Norman, OK): 3 sacks and 11 tackles for loss from the entire DT unit combined last season isn't that solid. I know traditionally our DTs aren't stat collectors under Stoops...but that seems low.

Jake Trotter: Yeah, the DT unit wasn't great, and it's basically the same group from last season. That's why I don't understand why some people are suggestion the d-line will suddenly be great despite losing Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis.

Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. Frank Alexander's selection by the Carolina Panthers was overshadowed by the Detroit Lions selecting a trio of Sooners last weekend. But Alexander might be in the best position of all the OU players drafted in 2012. The Big 12 defensive player of the year was selected in the fourth round (No. 103 overall) by the Panthers, who traded away their third round pick in the 2013 draft to move up to take him. Carolina’s urgency to move up and willingness to sacrifice a higher value pick next year speaks to the type of player they believe Alexander could become. And if that’s not enough, the words of two key decision makers in Carolina speak volumes about Alexander’s situation.

“Frank Alexander is a guy we think can come in and play in our defensive rotation. He just makes plays, he fits into the same mold of the guys we’ve taken.” -- Panthers general manager Marty Hurney

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Where OU draftees ranked in high school 

April, 26, 2012
This weekend won’t resemble Oklahoma’s NFL draft class of 2010, when Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams and Jermaine Gresham all went in the first round.

That said, several Sooners with pro aspirations leave Norman with higher ESPN NFL draft rankings than high school recruiting rankings. Breaking down the OU draft class through that prism:

Frank Alexander

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Which Oklahoma player gets drafted first?

April, 26, 2012
With the 2012 NFL draft starting tonight (7 p.m. CT on ESPN), the SoonerNation staff predicts which Oklahoma player will be drafted first. Leave a comment with your prediction or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum. View ESPN.com's NFL draft coverage here.

I would be surprised if Ronnell Lewis didn't go first, perhaps as early as high in the second round. Jamell Fleming has really helped himself in the bowl game and the combine, but Lewis' upside is undeniable. But I could see somebody like Dallas (which by the way has shown a lot of interest in the Hammer) pulling the trigger on Lewis with its second-round pick. Lewis, with his background playing both outside linebacker and defensive end, is an ideal fit for a team running a 3-4 defense. And the best part is that Lewis, who only started one season at OU, hasn't quite figured it out -- he's a work in progress who's only going to get better.

-- Jake Trotter

[+] EnlargeRonnell Lewis, Frank Alexander
Jerome Miron/US PresswireFormer Oklahoma defensive ends Ronnell Lewis (56) and Frank Alexander are both projected to be drafted this weekend.
Ronnell Lewis will be the first Sooner taken in the NFL draft. An NFL team with multiple picks in the first three rounds (New England, Philadelphia, Cleveland) will find his exceptional athletic ability too difficult to ignore and pull the trigger on the second day of the draft. If a team feels like they are happy and have addressed their needs, they're more likely to take a chance on Lewis and his long-term potential.

-- Brandon Chatmon

Call it nothing more than a hunch, but the first Sooner to hear his name called is going to be cornerback Jamell Fleming. When talking about OU's secondary troubles in 2011, Fleming's name was hardly uttered. He finished the season strong, being named the defensive MVP of OU's Insight Bowl victory, and has carried that momentum throughout the pre-draft activities. NFL teams might question where Ronnell Lewis fits or just how healthy wide receiver Ryan Broyles is. Fleming isn't the most flashy pick, but he is about as steady as you get. With Fleming, what you see is what you get. And in this case, that's a very good thing.

-- Bob Przybylo

I've been on the Jamell Fleming bandwagon for a while and I think he's the first Sooner to be picked, likely on Friday night in the second or third round. Fleming is ready to play in the NFL immediately, while Ronnell Lewis -- a 'tweener without a true position -- is a project that will take time to develop into either a defensive end or an outside linebacker in the 3-4. Could teams pass on Lewis and pick a more NFL-ready player? After posting solid NFL combine numbers, Fleming could soar into the second round.

-- Dane Beavers
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. The NFL draft begins tonight at 7 p.m, and though it’s unlikely any Sooners will hear their names called during the first round, there will be plenty of familiar names coming off the board. Oklahoma’s defense was much maligned late last season but Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who torched the Sooners' secondary, is set to get selected No. 2 overall by Washington and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who had 18 receptions for 200 yards and one touchdown in two games against OU, likely will be drafted in the top 10. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper also has OSU quarterback Brandon Weeden going late in the first round. Clearly the Sooners weren’t the only team who struggled to stop Griffin or Weeden and Blackmon.

2. You have to wonder what it is like to be Landry Jones tonight. He could be walking across the stage to meet Roger Goodell, but instead he’s in class? There are several NFL teams looking for a quarterback in the draft and it’s easy to believe Jones would have been a top 10 pick if he had elected to declare early. Regardless, Sooners fans should be happy, they’ll have an NFL quarterback at the helm this fall, someone multiple NFL teams would love to have in their locker room.

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Chat wrap: Kenny Stills in the slot?

April, 10, 2012

SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers Monday. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag to be published on Friday.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

Jess (Oklahoma): Thoughts on Chaz Nelson and the D-line as a whole?

Jake Trotter: I think Chaz will help. His speed gives the position a change of pace off the sidelines. The starters there, though, will be King and R.J., with some combination of Walker, McGee and McFarland starting at tackle. The line has a chance to be good, but replacing Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis is not going to be easy.

Andy (OKC): Do u think Kenny Stills will play the slot receiver position this year?

Jake Trotter: I think that's a possibility, although I don't know if I see him as the full-time slot guy the way Broyles was. But with Metoyer coming on, they need to find a way to get both he and Stills on the field at the same time. That could require Stills sliding to the slot on occasion.

Adam (Wagoner, OK): What do you see as the biggest positive and negative to this upcoming team?

Jake Trotter: Positives: Veteran QB, several potential playmakers, veteran line, battle-tested LBs, 3 stars in the secondary; Negatives: No proven No. 1 WR, injury prone RBs, no experienced TE, questionable as to whether there are any difference makers on the d-line, return game.

Joshua (Lawton): With a QB corps of Blake Bell, Drew Allen, Kendal Thompson, Trevor Knight, and potentially Brayden Scott/Kelly Hilinski...which QB is most likely to transfer?

Jake Trotter: I can't see any of them transferring. Allen will be a senior next year, it makes no sense for him to transfer if he loses the job to Bell. Bell could still start his senior year, even if he loses the job to Allen, and could still operate the Belldozer. Thompson could always play another position if QB didn't work out. Knight is the only QB in his class, and really the only upperclassmen he would have to beat out would be Thompson.

Who will lead the Sooners in sacks in 2012?

March, 27, 2012
The Sooners recorded 40 sacks in 2011, led by senior defensive end Frank Alexander's 8.5. Now that Alexander has graduated and will head to the NFL, who will lead Oklahoma in sacks in 2012?

Among the returning starters, linebacker Corey Nelson had 5.5 sacks in 2011, while nickel linebacker Tony Jefferson added 4.5. And backup R.J. Washington, who is the favorite to start at one of the defensive end spots next season, added 5 in limited time.

Head to our "There's Only One" forum Insider to cast your vote.

For years, Frank Alexander has dreamed of playing in the NFL. Those dreams were in jeopardy at the combine. Alexander was not allowed to take part in the on-field part of the combine due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Alexander apparently had a hole in his heart.

[+] EnlargeFrank Alexander
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsFormer Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander was unable to participate in drills at the NFL combine.
“It was scary, man,” Alexander said. “You’ve been working all your life to get to this point. And you get there, and you hear news, and you can’t go. You thinking your career is about to end, that you can’t play no more. And the health situation on top of it.”

But since, the original diagnosis was overruled. Turned out, the OU defensive end didn’t have a hole in his heart, and he was allowed to participate in Oklahoma’s pro day on Wednesday.

The 6-foot-4, 271-pound Alexander, who was the Big 12’s defensive player of the year, ran the 40-yard dash in a solid 4.76 seconds. He also had a 9-foot, 9-inch broad jump and a 34 -inch vertical. More importantly, he was able to show scouts that he was healthy.

"I really was just grateful and thankful that I was able to get back out here,” he said. “I just wanted to do what I’ve been doing, and that’s playing football and competing. It wasn’t any big pressure or anything.”

Because of his athleticism and senior production, Alexander figures to be mid-round pick. But after the combine scare, he just feels lucky to still be playing.

“I had worked so hard to get to that point,” Alexander said. “I had been training for six or seven weeks, plus the 15 years of playing football. It was scary to know it could shut down because of one little judgment.

“I just feel blessed to be here today because I didn’t get to do nothing at the combine. I feel good.”
Several Sooners made themselves some money during the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Seven former Oklahoma standouts participated in the seven-day combine as teams and draft prospects prepare for the NFL draft which will be held on April 26, 27, 28.

Top Performers

Tight end James Hanna was one of the stars of the combine, ranking as the fastest tight end with his 4.49 time in the 40-yard dash along with top ten rankings in the three-cone drill (6.76 seconds) and bench press (24 reps).

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
James Hanna flashed his excellent speed near the end of the 2010 Bedlam game.

Hanna’s stellar numbers surprised many and will likely force NFL teams to go back and give his game film a closer look with the goal of figuring out if Hanna was under-utilized at OU or if his workout numbers simply don’t translate to the field.

Cornerback Jamell Fleming was another Sooner with a terrific showing during workouts. He could explode up draft boards with his solid 40-yard dash time, strong bench press numbers and excellent broad jump.

Fleming was also solid in on-field drills and could have cemented himself a spot on Day Two (second or third round).

Solid Showings

Defensive end/linebacker Ronnell Lewis had a solid showing, topping all linebackers in the bench press (36 reps) and running a 4.68 time in the 40-yard dash.

Receiver Ryan Broyles, who is still recovering from his torn ACL last November, impressed in his lone physical test, with 21 bench press reps at 225 pounds, which was second among receivers.

Tackle Donald Stephenson was the fastest offensive lineman at the combine, clocking a 4.94 time in the 40-yard dash. He showed excellent athleticism but will be looking to improve his 19 reps in the bench press at OU’s pro day.

Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
Travis Lewis will likely run the 40-yard dash again at OU's Pro Day in March.

Can’t Wait Until Pro Day

Linebacker Travis Lewis was very solid overall but ran a disappointing 4.88 time in the 40-yard dash which will be held against him unless he improves his time at OU’s pro day. Lewis did impress in other areas with a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump, which ranked sixth amongst linebackers, solid bench numbers and a 36-inch vertical.

Defensive end Frank Alexander didn’t workout at the combine due to a previously undiscovered heart condition, according to his Twitter page.

Complete Summary of Results

Broyles: second among receivers with 21 reps at 225 pounds.

Fleming: 4.53 in the 40; second among cornerbacks with 23 reps at 225 pounds; 34-inch vertical; 10 foot, 5-inch broad jump, ranking fourth among cornerbacks.

Lewis: 4.68 in the 40; 36 reps at 225 pounds, tops among linebackers; 31-inch vertical; 7.09 3-cone drill; 4.4 20-yard shuttle; 9-foot, 3-inch broad jump.

Travis Lewis: 4.88 in the 40; 22 reps at 225 pounds; 36-inch vertical; 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump

Stephenson: 4.94 in the 40, the fastest time among offensive linemen; 19 reps at 225 pounds; 35.5-inch vertical; 9-foot, 4-inch broad jump; 7.52 time in the three cone drill; 4.78 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle.

Hanna: 4.49 in the 40, the fastest time among tight ends; 24 reps at 225 pounds, fourth among tight ends; 36-inch vertical; 6.76 three-cone drill, second among tight ends; 4.11 20-yard shuttle, second among tight ends; 11.43 60-yard shuttle.

Alexander: Attended the combine but unable to participate in drills due to injury.

Loss impact: DE Frank Alexander 

February, 24, 2012
“Loss Impact” analyzes each outgoing starter or rotation player to assess how much his departure will impact Oklahoma next season.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Alonzo J. AdamsOklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander had a stellar senior season, finishing with 8.5 sacks.
What Oklahoma loses: The Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Frank Alexander took his game to another level as a senior. He led the conference in tackles for loss (19) and ranked among the Big 12 leaders in sacks (8.5) during his final season in crimson and cream.

He was one of the most consistent defenders on the roster until he was slowed by a shoulder injury in OU’s final few games. And when he wasn’t reeking havoc in opposing backfields with his penetration, he was knocking down passes with his well-timed jumps.

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Loss impact: Linebacker Travis Lewis 

February, 22, 2012
“Loss Impact” analyzes each outgoing starter or rotation player to assess how much his departure will impact Oklahoma next season.

Travis Lewis was never 100 percent last season. A broken big toe suffered of the first day of full pads hampered him until the Insight Bowl. In that game, we saw the real Lewis, who had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

[+] EnlargeDejuan Miller
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis started every game he played in for the Sooners.
Despite the toe, Lewis still became the first player ever to lead the Sooners in tackles in four seasons. And for the first time since 2008, OU will enter a season with someone else at weak-side linebacker.

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Stoops, Players Want To Effect Change
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sits down with Gene Wojciechowski to discuss his team's stand against racism.