Other than quarterback, no other position this spring will face the same level of fan and media scrutiny as Oklahoma's defensive line. Everything we previously knew about the DL position has changed in the last three months.
Jackie Shipp is gone, replaced by Jerry Montgomery. Plus, no more waiting for multi-year contributors Stacey McGee or Jamarkus McFarland or Casey Walker to reach their potential.
The biggest question, though: What defensive scheme is OU going to run, 4-3 or 3-4?
With graduation losses and attrition, OU has two returning players with any playing time, Torrea Peterson, who was suspended or hurt for most of 2012, and Jordan Phillips. There's only one other DT on campus this spring, redshirt freshman Jordan Wade. OU suffered a blow in DT department when Quincy Russell did not graduate from junior college in time to enroll for spring ball.
So, the young DTs will get lots of reps this spring. From an athletic standpoint, Phillips has the potential to be an elite DT, a true difference maker. He made some plays last year in limited action, but he was not a dominating force by any means.
With Peterson, you really have to wonder if he will ever produce on the field. Like Phillips, the potential is very high.
Wade started getting some buzz during bowl preparation. Some offensive linemen talked about him being a difference maker at DT.
If OU changes its scheme, the D might only play one of them at a time. Ideally, Mike Stoops would probably prefer
to stick with a four-man DL, but two DTs are going to have to prove that they belong on the field every down and against every offensive scheme.
The dropoff at defensive end last year was significant and could no longer mask the underwhelming play at DT. This spring, OU needs to find new DEs who can play against the shotgun/spread running game and get pressure on passing QBs. Simply put, OU needs DEs making plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Geneo Grissom and Chuka Ndulue return, but neither player is sure-fire lock to start this fall. Ndulue has the best stats of the returnees, but he did the least with the most playing time last year. Once he moved back to DE late in the year, Grissom seemed at times to be the best DE on the field. During winter workouts Grissom posted a 4.65 40-yard dash at 6-4 255, putting him in that elite athlete category.
If not Grissom or Ndulue, then watch out for Charles Tapper, Michael Onouha and D.J. Ward. Tapper and Onouha received limited playing time last fall, but athletically are in a different league than most of the guys on the roster. Tapper (6-5, 265) could be a 3-4 DE – he has been likened to a faster version of Frank Alexander. Meanwhile, Onouha (6-5, 240) could end up playing outside linebacker in that same scheme.
D.J. Ward missed his senior year as a result of changing schools. Having enrolled early at OU, Ward, who's now up to 6-4, 255, will get a chance to enter the race in the spring for PT in the fall.