Now that Calvin Thibodeaux has been hired, what challenges are facing Oklahoma's newly minted defensive line coach?
Challenge 1: Develop the young talent on the Sooners' DL and integrate those players into the rotation.
Thibs is in pretty great shape from the standpoint of depth and talent. He inherited:
- Three contributors – including one legit star in Charles Walker – from the Bobby Jack Wright-Jackie Shipp combo;
- Two good years of recruiting by Jerry Montgomery with five four-star linemen;
- A fortunate late switch by Du'Vonta Lampkin; and
- An elite 3-4 defensive end in Amani Bledson added this February by predecessor Diron Reynolds.
He gets five players who have started games: nose tackles Matt Romar (6-0, 285) and Jordan Wade (6-3, 305) and defensive ends Matt Dimon (6-2, 265), Walker (6-2, 295) and D.J. Ward (6-2, 260). He also has promising backups: NTs Marquise Overton (6-1, 305) and Courtney Garnett (6-2, 310) and DEs Neville Gallimore (6-3, 300), Lampkin (6-5, 310), Austin Roberts (6-6, 260), Gabe Campbell (6-6, 260), Kenneth Mann (6-4, 260) and Bledsoe (6-5, 270).
After a huge rebound year on defense in Big 12 play, OU's DL got exposed without Charles Walker by the bigger, talented Clemson offensive line in the Orange Bowl. Yet, OU finally has recruited some talented depth at DT/DE.
Gallimore and Lampkin are as talented a duo as OU has signed in a long time. The hype on them has been building all fall. Mike Stoops acknowledged as much in his national signing day interview.
Additionally, Overton flashed big-time ability at NT in limited action. (In fact, I'm still not quite sure why he didn’t get reps versus Clemson.)
All the new personnel are the kind of bodies and talent upfront OU needs to stop a top pro-style offense. In reality, OU has been playing the 3-4 scheme with mismatched personnel for the last two years, and the Sooners finally have some size and length to add to the mix. Those guys need to start playing.
Challenge 2: Despite being a first year coach, Thibs needs to sign one elite player in recruiting at NT while adding at least one DE prospect.
For many fans, this is the top question surrounding Thibs. Can he recruit and close on elite DL talent?
He never had the chance at his previous stops, and DL is the toughest spot in Power 5 recruiting. There are only so many big, athletic guys out there, and everybody needs them. Note that Thibs is playing catch-up and will have to do some work countering negative recruiting whispers about why OU has burned thru three DL coaches in four years.
Furthermore, Thibs has inherited a very tough recruiting setup overall at NT for year one:
- Texas only has two big-time DTs right now in five-star Marvin Wilson (6-5, 310), who has every offer in the world, and three-star Deiontae Watts (6-3, 300). More names may show up – Walker was ignored until December – but the competition for Wilson was already going to be intense. Before his departure, Reynolds had OU in a good spot with Wilson. There's no word on where OU currently is. Wilson would be a landmark recruit like Tommie Harris or Adrian Peterson.
- After an insanely deep group last year, Louisiana appears to only have only one major DT, Tyler Shelvin, and he is already committed to LSU.
- OU’s other pipeline in California does not appear to have a deep DT class, either. The best prospect out west appears to be Greg Rogers (6-4, 300) from Las Vegas. OU will be fighting the usual parties from the West Coast for his commitment.
- There’s not really a DT/NT fit among the best linemen in Oklahoma – Brandon Evers is more a 4-3 DT.
At DE, things are more promising. A host of prospects with OU offers could easily project into 3-4 DE or be the outside linebackers OU needs to really run the 3-4. In addition, there are some bigger kids who are already near that size similar in frame to Bledsoe. A few to watch: Isaiah Thomas (6-5, 230), Tulsa Memorial; Earnest Brown (6-5, 235), Texas; D.J. Johnson (6-5, 245), California; Jaelan Phillips (6-5, 240), California; Emmanuel McNeil (6-5, 280), Georgia; Trevor Kent (6-5, 245), Kansas.
Overall, expect to see more offers at both DL spots going to national kids, especially in ACC and SEC territory. That region has the majority of the best big athletes this year.
OU’s current depth means that Bledsoe should redshirt, so OU could afford to sign one “big” DE recruit and one or two “going to be big” DE recruits.
Thibs only needs one NT, but that one has to be someone who push the talented kids already on campus. OU does not need just another body.