We've already given you the early word on Oklahoma's offense for 2014. On the other side of the ball, the Sooners basically return nine starters. Really, OU’s defense is set if Hatari Byrd takes over at safety.
Mike Stoops is going to have more personnel to plug into the front six or seven in his new 3-4 scheme. OU should have better match-ups against bigger run offenses, in particular.
Returning starters: Jordan Phillips (RS-Jr.), Jordan Wade (RS-So.)
Returning contributors: Torrea Peterson (RS-Sr.)
New names to watch: Quincy Russell (RS-Jr.), Charles Walker (RS-Fr.), Matt Romar (RS-Fr.), Brandon Glenn (Fr.)
One of the bigger changes with the new defensive scheme is that OU has only one true defensive tackle on the field at a time. Before re-injuring his back, Jordan Phillips was well on his way to having an All-Big 12 season. His departure prior to the Texas game caused OU serious defensive problems. Phillips has now had back surgery, and all reports indicate that he should be back this fall. But we all know about back surgeries and DTs (DeMarcus Granger).
If he doesn’t return, OU should still be in much better shape with Jordan Wade returning after a very good freshman campaign. In the last two games, Wade was forced to man the nose guard spot by himself due to Torrea Peterson’s injury. Peterson has also shown some flashes of his talent at nose guard. OU decided to redshirt Russell after he got hurt in September, so he will also enter the mix at NG.
Finally, OU’s two athletic DTs come off their redshirt years as well, although one of them could be a factor at defensive end as well. Brandon Glenn figures to redshirt.
Could Mike move Wade or Phillips to DE against power-run formations? The depth and talent at nose guard might allow Mike to do some very creative things against run-first teams. If you remember the old Oklahoma 5-2 of the 1980s, Barry Switzer had two DTs flanking his NG for the most part.
Projected starters: Jordan Phillips if healthy; otherwise, Jordan Wade with numerous backups.
Returning starters: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (RS-Sr.), Chuka Ndulue (RS-Sr.)
Returning contributors: Matt Dimon (So.)
New names to watch: D.J. Ward (RS-Fr.), Michael Onuoha (RS-So.), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (RS-Fr.), Dwayne Orso (Fr.)
Tapper will be a preseason All-Big 12 picks and might be the Sooners' best defensive end since Jeremy Beal and Frank Alexander. Manning the other DE position will again likely
be Chuka Ndulue and Geneo Grissom. Both players had good junior seasons adjusting to the new position of 3-4 DE.
The wildcard to steal playing time is Matt Dimon, who provided quality depth as a freshman. After a full conditioning cycle and spring, he could be a real star for OU.
Finally, OU has 3 players who are more 4-3 DEs than the bigger 3-4 DEs needed. D.J. Ward had to have surgery in August and redshirted, but if he can add weight to get into the 260 range, he’s a threat to play. For both Obo and Onouha, you have to wonder if they will move into a hybrid DE/OLB role for OU. Orso should redshirt, but he’s the DE of the future: 6-5, 275/280 pounds with speed.
And, as I mentioned, you could see some of the talent at nose tackle play DE against run personnel looks.
Projected starters: Tapper and Ndulue.
Returning starters: Franklin Shannon (RS-Jr.), Dominique Alexander (So.), Eric Striker (Jr.)
Returning contributors: Jordan Evans (So.), P.L. Lindley (RS-Jr.)
New names to watch: Tay Evans (Fr.), Curtis Bolton (Fr.), Devante Bond (Jr.)
OU re-established the linebackers as a core part of the defense this season. A year ago, safety Tony Jefferson led the team in tackles. In 2013, Shannon and Alexander were the leading tacklers. In addition, Striker was a big play contributor with sacks, tackles for loss and numerous QB hurries. Jordan Evans provides the only real depth behind those three.
OU should be great shape with all of these young LBs getting bigger and stronger after a full conditioning training cycle, especially Evans and Alexander.
Bond is the key newcomer and should provide OU with a bigger OLB (6-3, 245) presence to hold the edge against physical run fronts. OU has been gashed at times when Striker has been on the edge. Bond is a terror on film at OLB in both the passing and run game. He’s sacking QBs and piling up tackles for loss versus the spread run game. OU has also been using Striker more in coverage as well, so the Sooners are going to have options in terms of matching up with different offensive attacks.
OU should be able to redshirt Tay Evans to add weight. He projects at either the MIKE or WILL LB spot. Curtis Bolton cold easily play as a freshman, providing another pass-rushing OLB for depth behind Striker and Bond.
Position coach Tim Kish is probably not done with LB recruiting and will likely add another body to rebuild the depth.
Projected starters: Franklin Shannon, Dominique Alexander, Eric Striker, Devante Bond.
Departures: Gabe Lynn, Aaron Colvin, Kass Everett
Returning Starters: Zack Sanchez (RS-So.), Julian Wilson (RS-Sr.), Quentin Hayes (RS-Sr.)
Returning Contributors: Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (RS-Jr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.), Dakota Austin (So.), L.J. Moore (So.)
New Names to Watch: Tito Windham (Fr.), Marcus Green (Fr.), Vontre McQuinnie (Fr.)
Mike did a great job adding depth and talent to the secondary last year, and numerous underclassman got quality playing time. OU’s replacements for Colvin both started a game at some point.
A key spring battle will be Stanvon Taylor versus Cortez Johnson at CB. The other CB spot is in the capable hands of Zack Sanchez, who had the best freshman year at CB since Derrick Strait.
Quentin Hayes returns at safety after his first year starting. Hayes provided good coverage with his speed and led all DBs in tackles. He could have a big senior year.
Finally, Julian Wilson as the nickel back had a much improved junior campaign. The biggest question mark is replacing Gabe Lynn, and OU has two very talented young safeties in Byrd and Thomas. Byrd played earlier in the season, but we saw more of Thomas later.
In addition, OU has depth at CB with L.J,. Moore and Dakota Austin. Moore, with more weight on his frame, could also be a backup for Hayes at safety. At this point, you’d expect the incoming frosh DBs to redshirt, but if Mike ends his class with big names like Steven Parker or Michaih Quick, you may see those players push for playing time.
Projected starters: Sanchez and Taylor/Johnson (CB); Hayes and Byrd (safeties); Wilson (nickel back); Thomas/Johnson/Taylor (dime back).