Oklahoma Sooners: Matt Dimon

Crimson Countdown: DE Matt Dimon

August, 11, 2014
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This summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on the Oklahoma Sooners' roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 90 Matt Dimon, defensive end, 6-foot-2, 271 pounds, sophomore

Impact thus far: Dimon worked his way out of a redshirt season, playing in 12 games as a true freshman in 2013. He made the biggest impact of his career with a solid showing against Kansas, recording two tackles and adding a blocked punt against the Jayhawks.

Impact in 2014: Dimon is one of the reasons the Sooners could have one of the deeper defensive lines in the Big 12. Rarely talked about, Dimon is solid and relentless from his defensive end spot, providing another quality option in OU’s defensive line rotation. He should be a contributor this fall.

Long term upside: Expect him to be a key contributor in OU’s defense for the next three seasons.

Evaluation grade for Dimon: B. He hasn’t turned it into consistent on-field production yet but all signs point to Dimon being a terrific evaluation. He’s taken the right approach since he stepped on campus and has a great mindset that will make him an asset for years to come.

Development grade for Dimon: B. Normally Dimon’s five-tackle freshman season would be looked upon as a waste of a year but he brought a different option to the table at defensive end and saw significant time as a backup defensive end which could help him expand his role this fall. Even though he finished with single digit tackles, he saw more time on the field than his numbers would signify.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma is dreaming of a national title run that would make its Allstate Sugar Bowl destruction of Alabama an afterthought.

If that dream turns into reality, the Sooners will likely have their defensive line to thank. As the defensive line went, so went the Sooners in 2013, as the group sparked the Sugar Bowl win yet faltered in OU’s losses to Baylor and Texas.

[+] EnlargeGeneo Grissom
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Geneo Grissom is hoping to build off a two-sack performance in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
It’s hard to imagine the defensive line taking a step backward in 2014. In fact, the group could end up becoming one of the best defensive lines of Bob Stoops' tenure after entering the spring of 2013 as one of the biggest question marks on the roster.

“It has a chance to be one of our deeper and better ones,” Stoops said. “Imagine that, in a year's period of time.”

Every significant contributor returns along the defensive line, including All-Big 12 end Charles Tapper, and the group should be boosted even more if tackle Jordan Phillips, who was playing at an all-conference level early last season, returns to full health after a back injury ended his sophomore season early. From top to bottom, it’s one of the deepest units in years.

“Yeah, no question,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said when asked if this would be one of the deepest defensive lines he has coached.

“You get Jordan Phillips back and we can go two deep and not really slide much. Tapper and Geneo [Grissom] are difference-makers, and the other guys will be difference makers as they continue to grow too. Chuka [Ndulue] is the old, reliable horse in there that holds down the fort, he pushes things to the other guys. They all work together extremely well. We have a unique group and they play hard.”

The bowl win over Alabama was a glimpse at just how good OU's defensive line could be. Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, who was sacked seven times, probably still has nightmares of defenders setting up camp in the backfield. Make no mistake, OU won the game in the trenches and hopes to continue that trend in 2014.

The returnees have proven to be quality Big 12 defensive linemen, yet their playing time is far from secure. The development and growth of several young defensive linemen has spurred Mike Stoops' belief they can go two deep without a drop off. Matt Dimon, Mike Onuoha, Charles Walker and Matt Romar are just a few of the young defensive linemen on the roster who have increased the competition.

“There’s a huge competition,” Ndulue said. “There’s a bunch of great guys out there, and any one of them could be the starting man. There’s just more drive because you want to play, so we just know that your job is on the line each snap so it just makes you play to the best of your ability. As the defensive line, we know that there’s competition every day. It makes our [meeting] room a lot better.”

At the center of it all is defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, who joined the Sooners in February 2013 to jump start a disappointing defensive front. He has done that and more, proving to be stellar position coach after arriving from Michigan with a reputation as an elite recruiter.

“The defensive line is where the game is played,” Mike Stoops said. “They are very disruptive and that is what you need to have. [Montgomery] is very good with technique and he has a great relationship with the players, and that has all been very positive. They play hard and they play with technique, and that is where it all starts up front. They have been a catalyst for us.”

Few envisioned the Sooners’ defensive line becoming one of the Big 12’s best in 2013. Yet it was.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a very strong group for us a year ago, but they really flipped it and now it is one of the best groups in the country,” Mike Stoops said. “Again, hopefully we can get [Phillips] back and make this group even stronger. It can be a dominating group if we can get him back healthy and playing at the level he was playing at a year ago.”

Now the defensive line is looking to be called the nation’s best, with the goal of being the driving force behind a College Football Playoff berth.

“It all starts with the big guys,” Ndulue said. “If we’re not being dominant, getting driven back into the linebackers, it’s going to be a long day for us. If we’re playing on their side of the line of scrimmage, we can do something great.”
The injury bug has hit Norman, Okla. this spring.

Oklahoma will be without several players during its spring game on Saturday but none of the injuries are major.

Nickelback Julian Wilson, defensive lineman Rashod Favors, defensive tackle Quincy Russell, receiver Sterling Shepard, receiver Durron Neal, tight end Blake Bell, guard Adam Shead, tackle Tyrus Thompson, guard Nila Kasitati and guard Tyler Evans will miss the action due to various injuries but none of them require surgery and head coach Bob Stoops said he expects all of them to return after a short hiatus.

Those injuries have opened the door for several young players on the roster.

“They’re getting more snaps and having to step up,” Stoops said.

Here’s a closer look at how those injuries could open up spring game opportunities for several players on the roster.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Robin Alam/Icon SMIOLB Eric Striker has been taking some reps at nickelback this spring.
Wilson: The senior has missed the spring anyway, allowing Ahmad Thomas, Eric Striker and others to get the reps at nickelback. Thomas is showing great versatility and carving himself a role on the defense. Striker, a returning All-Big 12 second teamer, will be on the field regardless, it’s just a matter of where. Both guys get the chance to prove they can fill a variety of roles on Saturday.

Favors: Several young defensive ends including Mike Onuoha are showing good upside this spring and Favors' injury gives them more chances to impress in the spring game. Onuoha was right alongside returning Big 12 first teamer Charles Tapper as the future at the position before a shoulder injury forced him to miss his sophomore season while Tapper starred. He could be hungry to prove he could have made a similar impact. Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward are other young defensive ends who could end up providing quality depth this fall.

Russell: This injury hurts Russell in the race to earn playing time in 2014 and opens up additional opportunities for redshirt freshman Charles Walker to show he’s ready to make an impact in the fall. It also gives the opportunity for another redshirt freshman, Matt Romar, to show Walker isn’t the only youngster looking to force his way into the lineup along a veteran defensive line.

Bell: More than anything Bell’s injury robs us of the opportunity to see the Belldozer play tight end before the fall. And, quite frankly, that’s all anyone is going to think about when it comes to Bell’s absence on Saturday. The overriding question about Bell is not if he can win the starting tight end job, it's can he prove to be one of the best 11 players on offense? That answer will define his playing time and it won't come until the fall.

Shepard and Neal: Redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood, K.J. Young and Dannon Cavil could have lost all right to complain about a lack of opportunities with these injuries. Don’t be surprised if Smallwood is one of the stars of the spring game, Young is silky smooth and Cavil brings a unique size and athleticism to the receiving corps. Sophomores Derrick Woods and Austin Bennett will also get the chance to shine after limited duty as freshmen in 2013.

Offensive line: Injuries have hammered the offensive line throughout the spring, so being thrown into duty in the spring game will be nothing new for guys like tackle Sam Grant, tackle Christian Daimler and guard Kyle Marrs. They’ll get the chance to get a bunch of reps against a deep defensive line and potentially secure a reputation for themselves before a talented group of offensive line signees arrive in the summer looking to rise past them on the Sooners' depth chart.
Oklahoma begins its spring football drills on Saturday.

An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we’ll make five spring predictions, continuing with No. 2:

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor looks ready to make a leap in his sophomore season and become another stalwart in Oklahoma's 2013 class.
No. 2: The Sooners’ Class of 2013 shows signs it was vastly underrated.

Why it matters: OU fans were less than impressed when the Sooners inked ESPN.com’s No. 17 recruiting class in February 2013. While the Sooners coaching staff swooped in to land a few late bloomers and potential hidden gems, OU fans were lamenting the recruits they had missed out on. Now, one year later, that class appears poised to have a significant impact on the program.

What it would mean: First off, it would underscore the value of evaluation and development. Secondly, it would mean the Sooners have a bright future ahead.

Linebacker Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 newcomer of the year, while running back Keith Ford, cornerback Stanvon Taylor, safety Ahmad Thomas, safety Hatari Byrd, receiver K.J. Young and guard Dionte Savage are on the verge of locking up starting spots. Cornerback Dakota Austin, receiver Austin Bennett, receiver Jordan Smallwood, defensive tackle Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans, defensive end Matt Dimon and quarterback Cody Thomas are among several members of the class who could be contributors.

Over half the class appears ready to make an impact (or already has made an impact) heading into their second season on campus. This spring provides the opportunity for the majority of this class to prove they are ready and able to help spark a successful 2014 season in Norman, Okla.

While the class is appearing to develop quickly, OU has its fingers crossed that its development continues. OU’s hopes of competing for a Big 12 title and national title this fall rests on several members of this class. It’s critical for sophomores such as Ford, Taylor, Byrd and Young to become key pieces of the 2014 squad, otherwise the Sooners could be forced to turn to true freshmen.
Oklahoma begins its spring football drills on Saturday.

An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we’ll make five spring predictions, continuing with No. 3:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCharles Tapper's strength, speed and desire make him a potential All-America candidate at defensive end for Oklahoma next season.
No. 3: The defensive line shows it can be one of the deepest and best since Bob Stoops took over in 1999.

Why it matters: Games are won in the trenches; just ask Alabama. At this time last year, questions about OU’s defensive line sat atop the list of concerns heading into spring. Now the Sooners return a defensive line full of playmakers, including All-Big 12 defensive end Charles Tapper. How well that group continues to develop will have a major impact on OU’s national title hopes.

What it would mean: If the Sooners defensive front takes another step forward, it could become the foundation of a national title run. Tapper has NFL talent and a hunger to be great, Geneo Grissom played one of the best games of his career in the Sugar Bowl, and the two Jordans (Jordan Phillips and Jordan Wade) are a terrific potential duo in the defensive interior. Add in Chuka Ndulue and OU has all the making for an exceptional defensive line.

Yet how well the depth behind that group develops could be the key. Charles Walker's name repeatedly came up as a stellar scout teamer during his redshirting freshman season and could earn himself some playing time this spring. At defensive end, Matt Dimon, Mike Onuoha and D.J. Ward could show they are ready to play as well, which would make the Sooners three-deep at all three positions on the front.

It’s a talent-laden group that returns playmaking starters while still featuring several youngsters with terrific upside. If the competition for playing time raises the overall level of play of the entire group, they should provide nightmares for Big 12 offensive coordinators this fall while becoming one of the best defensive line groups in Stoops' tenure.

Grading the class: 2013

February, 7, 2014
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Oklahoma added several recruits into the fold on Wednesday with an eye on creating the foundation of a future championship squad. Yet recruiting is an inexact science as some projected stars rise to meet those high expectations while others struggle to make a difference.

Thus it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s last five recruiting classes. On Friday we end the series with an early review of the Class of 2013 including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees and complete busts.

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander could be on the verge of becoming Oklahoma's next great linebacker.
After a solid start in the recruiting cycle, OU scrambled to complete its class in 2013 as it came up short on several targets before filling its class with unheralded prospects in the final few months before signing day. The class ended up as the No. 17-ranked class in the nation by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

Linebacker Dominique Alexander: The Big 12 freshman of the year looks like a future star in the Sooners’ defense. His unusual maturity, instincts and hunger to improve should make him one of the Big 12’s top linebackers. He had 80 tackles and two forced fumbles in 13 games (8 starts) as a true freshman. The No. 115 athlete in the nation, Alexander is one of the top hidden gems the Sooners have unearthed in the past five years.

Running back Keith Ford: It went largely unnoticed due to the score but Ford was arguably OU’s featured back during a 36-20 loss to Texas. If fumble troubles had not emerged the No. 27 player in the ESPN 300 likely would have cemented himself as the Sooners’ back of the future as a true freshman, having surpassed Alex Ross on the depth chart. Nonetheless he appears set to have a bright future.

Cornerback Stanvon Taylor: The No. 199 player in the ESPN 300, Taylor started his third collegiate game against Tulsa. He played on special teams in all 13 games and will be in the competition to replace All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin after mentoring under the Sooners’ star for one season.

Linebacker Jordan Evans: Evans stepped in to have an exceptional game against Texas Tech to cement himself as an exciting prospect. The No. 82 defensive end in the nation, Evans could end up being a major contributor for the next few seasons in Mike Stoops' defense.

Bull’s-eye

Guard Dionte Savage: The senior made his first start in the Sugar Bowl and had a solid performance in OU’s win over Alabama. OU signed him to provide depth in case injuries hit and he ended up providing depth when injuries hit, making it an ideal signing.

Defensive end Matt Dimon: The No. 284 player in the ESPN 300 worked his way onto the field as a true freshman and should be in the rotation as a sophomore. He played a special teams role as well including a blocked punt against Kansas.

Defensive tackle Charles Walker: The No. 40 defensive tackle in the nation, Walker redshirted in 2013 but already has been anointed as one of the most impressive redshirting players in the class. Don’t be surprised if he makes an impact as a redshirt freshman this fall.

Receiver K.J. Young: Much like Walker, Young has taken advantage of his redshirt freshman season and seems poised to see the field this fall. He impressed with his ball skills as soon as he arrived on campus but couldn’t play his way out of a redshirt season. Now, with OU looking for playmakers at receiver, Young could make a name for himself this fall.

Completely missed the mark

Tackle Josiah St. John: Junior college players are brought in to play immediately and have an impact in Year 1. The No. 6 player in the ESPN JC 50 did not make an impact despite some injuries at the tackle position.

Overall grade: A

This class has already made a major impact on the Sooners’ program in the 12 months since they signed. Alexander is the star of the class with several other true freshmen consistently seeing the field on special teams. And multiple freshmen who redshirted could earn spots on the field this fall. It’s early but this already looks like a quality class and much better than the No. 17 class in the nation.
In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Thursday, we take a closer look at the defensive end position.

Starter/contributors: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), P.L. Lindley (Jr.), Matt Dimon (So.)

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCharles Tapper's blend of size, strength and speed -- and yeah, just ask Bama WR Amari Cooper about his speed -- makes him nearly unstoppable.
Tapper is no longer a future star, the "future" no longer applies. He earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore and will be a core contributor on OU’s defense in 2014. The Baltimore native brings a combination of size, strength and speed that is tough to match. Watching him chase down Alabama receiver Amari Cooper in the Sugar Bowl should tell you all you need to know about the Sooners’ defensive end.

Grissom was the Trevor Knight of the defense in the Sugar Bowl, taking his game to another level against the Crimson Tide. He’s another guy who went from potential to production in 2013. If he gets even better in 2014, OU’s defensive line could be devastating.

Lindley brings good depth, size and strength to the defensive end spot. His ability to slide into OU’s defense against certain offenses makes him a valuable asset.

Dimon provides quality young depth as a player who earned himself a role in the defense immediately. He played in his first-ever game and carved out a special teams role during his first year on campus. He’s one reason OU should be excited about the future in 2014 and beyond.

On the cusp: Mike Onuoha (So.), D.J. Ward (redshirt freshman)

Onuoha redshirted as a sophomore but he brings a skill set that nobody else along the defensive line possesses with his length and athleticism. That unique ability leaves his chances of making an impact in 2014 within his hands more than anyone else's.

One of OU’s top signees in 2013, Ward redshirted last fall. He is talented but there’s so much talent ahead of him it would be a slight surprise for him to rise into the defensive line rotation immediately.

On the recruiting trail: Dwayne Orso Jr. (Birmingham, Ala./Homewood)

Orso is a solid prospect in the mold of former Sooner Frank Alexander. He should bring versatility and upside to an already stacked defensive end group.

Overall Grade: A+

What more do you want?
NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma’s defense was among the Big 12’s best in 2013.

And it could be even better in 2014.

[+] EnlargeMatt Dimon
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFreshman defensive end Matt Dimon and other young players will make OU's defensive line one of the nation's deepest.
Freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander, sophomore defensive end Charles Tapper and redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez were key playmakers while helping OU’s defense finish first in the Big 12 in total yards per game allowed at 336.3 yards. Other young defenders could help the Sooners defense next season and OU’s coaching staff got a glimpse at some of the young talent on the roster as their young players took the majority of the practice repetitions earlier this week.

“All of the young players are improving," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “That’s critical this time of year, you could see them in three days starting to get better.”

The defensive line is quickly looking like it could be a clear strength of the defense with freshman Matt Dimon joining redshirting freshmen Charles Walker, Matt Romar and D.J. Ward along a defensive front that is poised to return every starter in 2014.

“We have a lot of guys coming up,” defensive end Chuka Ndulue said. “When they get it figured out, because right now they are just doing it off of raw talent and making plays … They are kind of like Tap (Charles Tapper). Just imagine a bunch of Charles Tappers running up and down the field. That’s going to be good.”

Walker, in particular, has impressed his teammates during his redshirt season on the scout team defense.

“He’s a monster, a man child out there,” Sanchez said.

A former high school running back, Walker was an late addition to OU’s 2013 recruiting class. The Sooners are hopeful that Walker translates his raw potential into consistent production in 2014. If he does, OU’s defensive line could be one of the deepest units in recent memory.

“Charles Walker on the defensive line has a great future ahead of him,” center Gabe Ikard said. “He might be the most explosive guy we have on the team right now. If he is able to develop the skill work that Coach [Jerry] Montgomery has been able to develop in the guys that are playing right now, he could be an animal on the football field because he is extremely explosive.”

In the secondary, L.J. Moore has impressed at cornerback. Moore, a true freshman, saw limited action in early games this season but wasn’t a consistent contributor during the Sooners’ road to the Sugar Bowl.

“L.J. has been doing his thing,” Sanchez said. “He got moved to the scout team throughout the year but he’s back and he’s competing. That’s big. When you get moved to the scout team, sometimes it can do things to your confidence, you kind of don’t want to be here, you don’t care but these past couple of days it’s been good to see that from him.”

Those young standouts could combine with Alexander and Jordan Evans, who each played well as true freshman linebackers, to give OU talented freshman and/or sophomores along the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.

“It’s been great to see these guys out there,” sophomore linebacker Eric Striker said of the young talent on the roster. “To see them do [well] is a good thing for the future.”
NORMAN, Okla. -- Standing on the letter "O" in Baylor's end zone, Bryce Petty took the snap and play faked to running back Shock Linwood. Just 2.6 seconds later, Oklahoma linebacker Dominique Alexander engulfed Petty to give the Sooners' their first points of the game on a safety and record the first sack of his collegiate career.

The true freshman has come a long way since preseason camp opened in August.

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIFreshman Dominique Alexander made his first start against Texas and has improved steadily since.
The big play was a glimpse of the upside Alexander possesses, as he accelerated around the corner, unblocked, to sack Petty in the biggest game of Alexander's career thus far. The Tulsa, Okla., native has grown immensely as a player since his first start against Texas in the Red River Rivalry.

"I'm playing faster since my first start; I'm seeing things," Alexander said. "My coaches said my vision has gotten a lot better, seeing the whole play. I can see things a lot better with the more games I've played. I have a lot more confidence since my first game."

Alexander has been one of the most productive players on the Sooners' defense since Corey Nelson was injured against TCU. He has stepped into Nelson's role and recorded double-digit tackles in two of the four games, including an 11-tackle effort against Baylor last Thursday. He ranks third on the squad with 51 tackles.

"For a guy who has not been in the system at all until this summer he has shown great maturity on and off the field," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "He's a guy we can lean on and will be a strong player in this system."

Alexander has been a shining light during some cloudy days for the Sooners, who have lost two of their last four contests. And he isn't the only reason for hope for the future on the defensive side of the football.

OU entered the season with an inexperienced defensive unit, yet thanks in part to strong contributions from young, inexperienced players like Alexander, the defense has emerged as the strongest unit on the team. Alexander, linebacker Eric Striker, cornerback Zack Sanchez, defensive tackle Jordan Wade and defensive end Charles Tapper are among several freshmen and sophomores who have shown they can be the foundation of the Sooners defense in the future.

"All those guys show signs of building for the future," Stoops said. "I'm excited about all of our young players."

Striker is the Sooners' top pass rusher and has been terrorizing quarterbacks throughout the season. He has proven very difficult to block with one blocker in passing situations, and the sophomore is tied for the team lead with seven quarterback hurries to go with his 2.5 sacks.

Tapper has looked like one of the best defenders on the team at various times during his sophomore season. His strength, athleticism, quickness and speed could make him the nest great defensive end in Norman. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss along with his seven hurries to tie Striker.

Sanchez has had ups-and-downs during his redshirt freshman campaign but has displayed the competitive nature that many stellar cornerbacks possess. He went from afterthought to starting every game of his first season on the field and should be a key contributor for years to come. He has been picked on throughout the season and has responded with a team-high 10 pass breakups.

Wade has stepped in for Jordan Phillips, who was lost for the season with a back injury. The redshirt freshman hasn't been the anchor or disruptive force that Phillips was becoming, but he has shown signs he could be a quality defensive tackle for the Sooners during his career. He has blocked two kicks and recorded one sack this season.

Several other youngsters, including cornerback Stanvon Taylor, defensive end Matt Dimon and linebacker Jordan Evans have had their moments, as well, during their true freshmen seasons and look like they could become the foundation of what the Sooners hope can be a championship defense in the future.

"I couldn't be more excited about what we are doing with a lot of these guys," Stoops said. "They show a strong desire to want to be good. They show a very competitive element. There's a lot to build on."

Dimon's development key for Sooners

October, 24, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Matt Dimon’s career was in its infant stages.

Yet his Oklahoma teammates already had a feeling the young defensive lineman could help them during his first season in crimson and cream.

[+] EnlargeMatt Dimon
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFreshman defensive end Matt Dimon has cracked OU's D-line rotation and will see increased playing time as the season goes on.
“In the summer you watch all the freshman, you always keep an eye on who is going to be able to help you, who is going to be able to make an impact,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said. “The whole D-line, we all had an idea Matt was going to be one of those guys that gets in early, get some snaps early.”

One person who wasn’t convinced? Dimon himself.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen in fall camp,” Dimon said. “But I knew if I played with great effort, good things would happen for me.”

Things didn’t change immediately once preseason camp began, and one play in particular left Dimon with the feeling he had a ways to go before he could be an contributor in OU's defense.

“The second day, Dionte Savage put me on my behind,” he said. "That was kind of an eye opener -- it’s not high school.”

But the Katy, Texas, native kept working to improve, and his teammates’ belief in him has helped push him to greater heights.

“I’ve had really good days where I felt like I belonged out there and I’ve had days I didn’t feel like I belonged out there,” Dimon said. “The main thing is I’ve had teammates that have said, ‘Hey, you belong out here,’ Honestly that’s been the biggest eye-opener that I can do this.”

Now, seven games into his true freshman season, not only is Dimon confident he can make an impact, the Sooners need him to make an impact with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips set to miss the remainder of the season. The freshman, who has the versatility and strength to play defensive tackle or defensive end in OU’s system, will provide quality depth down the home stretch of Big 12 play.

“I thought Matt Dimon really came on and gives us another guy that is reliable and can play physical for a true freshman,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “So he just adds depth to our interior defensive line.”

Dimon has emerged as a rotation player on the Sooners' defense and is coming off one of his best games to date with two tackles and a blocked punt in spot duty against Kansas. He's impressed teammates with his ability to impact games thus far.

“[He has the] ability to make plays as a freshman,” safety Quentin Hayes said. “Most freshmen they get in there and they don’t play like he’s been playing. [He has] strength and the ability to find the ball.”

He hasn't been a dominant force but he hasn't been overmatched either, as Dimon has recorded five tackles while seeing action in all seven games for the Sooners. His strength has been his No. 1 asset and is an uncommon asset for a freshman who was in high school just a few months earlier.

“He’s so stout, he just doesn’t move,” Grissom said. “Once he puts his hands on you, good luck, especially for a freshman.”

Dimon has improved during the first half of the season and his increased playing time is a sign he continues to improve, which has been his goal since preseason camp began.

“As a player you want to be better than that last game,” Dimon said. “I feel like I’ve done that every game so far. I’ve had great encouragement from the coaching staff and my teammates. Everybody has their bad days, and they’ve always been there to pick me up on those bad days.”

Charting Sooners' impact freshmen

September, 25, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Bob Stoops was praising Oklahoma’s freshmen before the season even began, calling them one of the more talented groups the Sooners have signed during his tenure.

They haven’t disappointed, with nine players from the 2013 recruiting class playing in the first three games. Cornerback Stanvon Taylor made his first career start and running back Keith Ford scored his first career touchdown against Tulsa. Here’s a look at the true freshmen who could have a significant impact on the Sooners during their final nine games:

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford is one of many OU RBs competing for carries this spring.
Running back Keith Ford: Defenders beware -- approach any opportunity to tackle Ford with aggression. Otherwise, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound running back won’t hesitate to run you over. Ford has been impressive with his physical running style and relentless leg drive during his limited opportunities in the Sooners’ backfield. He has 11 carries for 66 yards and one touchdown. He’s forced himself onto the field in a matter of two months in pads for the Sooners, so there’s no reason to think he can’t carve out a permanent role in OU’s offense during conference play.

Defensive end Matt Dimon: He has seen spot duty in the Sooners’ first three games and could provide depth for the Sooners’ defensive line this season. He stepped on campus ready to play with his physical stature and maturity. Don’t expect him to force his way into the starting lineup, but he should be able to provide solid contributions in spot duty. His ability to play defensive tackle and defensive end will help him earn opportunities.

(Linebacker Dominique Alexander: The Tulsa, Okla., native has already played with the Sooners' starting defense and continues to come on thanks to his versatility at linebacker. As the former safetycontinues to progress and improve, he should give OU quality depth at linebacker and the ability to rotate with Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon. He has six tackles, including half a tackle for loss this season.

Linebacker Jordan Evans: Much like Alexander, Evans' versatility could help him earn increased playing time. The Norman, Okla., native already has secured himself a spot on OU’s special teams and played some at linebacker in mop-up duty. He brings a size/speed ratio that is unmatched at linebacker, but he’ll have to continue to progress as he learns the nuances of the position in OU’s defensive system. Evans has four tackles, including half a tackle for loss.

Cornerback Stanvon Taylor: The Tulsa, Okla., native has already started a game in crimson and cream less than a month into the season. He was solid against Tulsa with All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin sidelined by injury. Taylor also has played a role on the Sooners' special teams in all three games. His continued development is critical for the Sooners as he would allow OU to go two-deep at the cornerback spot.

Safety Hatari Byrd: The Fresno, Calif., native had his ups and downs after replacing an injured Gabe Lynn during the second quarter of OU’s 51-20 win over Tulsa on Sept. 14. Byrd showed his willingness to be physical but also showed some inexperience in coverage against the Golden Hurricane. Don’t expect him to take Lynn’s starting spot, but he will provide quality depth behind Lynn if he continues to develop throughout his freshman season.

Safety Ahmad Thomas: Another freshman who has been a constant on special teams, Thomas is another defender who is helping to create depth. He’s already making an impact on multiple special teams units and should continue to be an important chess piece for special teams coach Jay Boulware. Don’t expect him to force his way into the starting lineup on defense, but he will continue to be an impact player on special teams.

Game preview: Tulsa at Oklahoma

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
10:00
AM ET
NORMAN, Okla. -- There are plenty of Oklahoma fans who have been yearning for Blake Bell to start at quarterback.

They’ll get their wish on Saturday when the junior will lead the Sooners' offense against Tulsa. It’s a huge game for Bell, who was disappointed after losing the quarterback battle to Trevor Knight in August. Saturday could be a day of redemption for him.

Here are some storylines, players to watch and a prediction:

Storylines

Will Bell jump start the passing game? The Sooners running game is operating at a high level, averaging 310 yards which ranks No. 12 nationally. But, at some point, the Sooners will need to lean on their passing game, which has been terrible in their first two games. Bell will get the opportunity to show he can be a threat as a passer against the Golden Hurricane.

Will the Sooners continue to improve? It will be important for OU to avoid any kind of letdown after two wins to start the season. The Sooners haven’t won with style points, but they could against Tulsa with another dominant defensive performance joined by an explosive, big-play offensive output. It's important they enter their bye week with momentum before their hyped nonconference battle with Notre Dame on Sept. 28.

An opportunity to develop depth. If OU takes care of business, several young players should get opportunities. The Sooners should win this game comfortably and shouldn’t hesitate to give guys like running back Keith Ford, cornerback Stanvon Taylor, safety Ahmad Thomas, defensive end Matt Dimon and others extensive playing time.

Players to watch

Quarterback Blake Bell: Make no mistake, this game is about Bell. All eyes will be on him as he starts for the first time in his career. Simply put, Bell can silence his doubters with a great performance. Or he could give those doubters validation if he struggles. No pressure, though.

Cornerback Cortez Johnson: With Zack Sanchez proving himself more and more each week, Johnson needs to step up and show the Sooners’ coaches that there are three quality cover men on the roster. With Aaron Colvin nicked up, Johnson will probably play more than he has at any point this season, so he, like Bell, needs to seize the opportunity to prove he should be a core contributor.

Receiver Sterling Shepard: The sophomore looked like he was poised to have a breakout season during his second year on campus. Yet, he has three receptions for 23 yards through two games. He’s too talented to remain quiet for the duration of the year. And the Sooners are smart enough to try to get him going before he starts to lose confidence.

Reason for concern: Tulsa running back Trey Watts, the son of former OU quarterback J.C. Watts, is the headliner on the Golden Hurricane offense. He’s one of college football’s most versatile running backs and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season. Expect the Sooners to try to force TU to use other offensive threats to beat them.

Prediction: OU 35, Tulsa 13. The Sooners' offense still can’t find a rhythm, and that's become the storyline this season. OU has its moments offensively but never looks like the explosive offense we’ve come to know. Fortunately for Oklahoma, the defense continues to set the standard and tone for the entire team as the Sooners cruise to an easy win.
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.
It was only revealed after his commitment just how much ESPN 300 quarterback Cody Thomas wanted to be Oklahoma’s quarterback.

Pretty quiet during his recruitment, Thomas came clean after he committed about how he made sure OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel didn’t forget about him.

Thomas is also an accomplished baseball player and was drafted in the 30th round of the MLB draft by the New York Yankees in June. But it’s not pro baseball that is his calling -- he wants to play football and baseball for the Sooners.

[+] EnlargeCody Thomas
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comFour-star quarterback Cody Thomas will wear No. 14 with the Sooners, following in the footsteps of Sam Bradford and Josh Heupel.
Prior to his arrival on campus, Thomas talked to SoonerNation one more time to discuss his hectic schedule.

SoonerNation: Who is your roommate going to be?

Cody Thomas: Jordan Smallwood.

SN: How did that all come about? I know you thought you would be with Matt Dimon.

Thomas: Yeah, I was going to room with Dimon. He talked me and said he wanted to room with one of the other guys from Houston, Christian Daimler, that they had been working out together. It wasn’t a big deal to me. It was just a last-minute thing. It’s fine.

SN: What jersey are you looking to wear?

Thomas: I’m going to wear No. 14. It’s what I wore when I was a freshman in high school. I’m happy with it.

SN: Who is a player on the team right now that you’ve been talking to the most?

Thomas: Quarterback Trevor Knight is somebody I’ve really gotten to know a lot better here in recent months. We really clicked on my visit. His advice for me is to not be intimidated. It might look overwhelming, but just be who you are and things will take care of themselves.

SN: When did you know in your heart OU was the place for you?

Thomas: At that spring practice. That’s all it really took. When I went up there, I loved it so much. I didn’t need to see a game or anything like that. I was already hooked.

SN: When you leave OU, what do you want your legacy to be?

Thomas: Simple: The greatest that ever came through the program. That’s my goal -- to be the best quarterback the school has ever had.

SN: I know you had baseball during the spring, but were you able to work on anything in terms of football?

Thomas: I was. I concentrated a lot on my strength, and Coach [Josh] Heupel gave me a lot of things to look at in terms of learning more about my position.

SN: You were at the spring game. Did you get a chance to talk with ESPN 150 quarterback and OU commit Justice Hansen?

Thomas: I did. He looks good. Definitely happy to have him. My advice for him was he’s going into his senior season so he needs to enjoy it. It goes by quick, real quick.

SN: How tough has it been to juggle baseball and football for as long as you have?

Thomas: It hasn’t really been that overwhelming. It’s just something I’m used to doing. Baseball wasn’t that stressful because you never know what the Major League teams are thinking. OU isn’t stressful because I’ve had the full support of Coach Heupel and Coach [Bob] Stoops and Coach [Sunny] Golloway (Note: This interview was conducted before Golloway left OU for Auburn). If they didn’t have my back, it could have been tough. But they’ve been great the whole time.
You’ve seen them while prepping your fantasy football team. Or reading ESPN Insider Chad Ford while getting ready for the NBA Draft. The “tier system” is an effective way of making sense, differentiating and analyzing a cluster of players. Everyone from pro sport general managers to college coaches out on the trail recruiting employ this method.

With this is mind, SoonerNation has parsed out Oklahoma’s roster into 10 separate tiers. Here they are:

Tier 1: The Elite (Guys who could play for almost anyone)

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