As Clemson's ground game was hammering the areas once manned by defensive lineman Charles Walker in last season's Orange Bowl, it started to sink in around halftime for me that Oklahoma had lost the game before kickoff.
Walker's absence pretty much ended whatever hopes Oklahoma had of springing what I would have considered an upset of the Tigers. (Wrong team was favored.) Aside from not having their best run-stuffer, the Sooners' depth up front was stretched super thin. OU's defensive line couldn't hold up for an entire game against the physicality of quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and the CU offensive line, which helped lead to the avalanche of Tiger points in the second half.
In reality, the result was consistent with a unit that was just starting to shake off the effects of dubious roster mismanagement and sketchy personnel evaluations.
Bob Stoops has spent the last few years trying to rebuild a defensive roster that had been hamstrung by personnel mismanagement. Defensive line had suffered badly, as evidenced by the 2015 roster:
- OU had 15 defensive linemen on scholarship last season, including four redshirts;
- Eight of the 11 available defensive linemen were classified as redshirt sophomores or higher;
- Of those eight, Rivals rated two of them as blue-chip recruits (four stars or better);
- The three underclassmen included one four-star prospect, freshman Marquise Overton.
Sure, Walker, one of those non-blue chips, is developing into a potentially elite lineman. Since-departed defensive end Charles Tapper turned into an NFL draft pick. For the most part, though, three blue chips out of 11 does not fit the profile of a top-tier defensive line, especially when only two are upperclassmen.
The 2016 crop looks more promising:
- 14 DLs on scholarship, with freshman Amani Bledsoe probably taking a redshirt;
- Seven of the 13 available DLs are classified as redshirt sophomores or higher;
- Of those seven, Rivals rated two of them as blue-chip recruits;
- Three of the six underclassmen rated as blue-chip talents.
Needless to say, OU infused some talent into the unit with its 2015 recruiting class, which included Overton, Neville Gallimore and Du'Vonta Lampkin.
Now, the DL has a nice blend of maturity and young studs. Jordan Wade, Matt Dimon, Matt Romar and D.J. Ward are veterans who are no longer being forced into action by necessity. They'll get pushed by some promising youngsters. Consequently, first-year defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux should have an opportunity to field a rotation of at least six or seven quality contributors.
Aside from Walker, the '16 DL won't boast much all-conference material. However, a deeper pool of talent should at least match the performance of last season's group. If they raise the bar above 2015, the Sooners pose a threat to go even deeper in the upcoming postseason.