Having already taken a look at arguably the Sooners' weakest link heading into 2009, let's turn to possibly the strongest. OU's collection of talent on the defensive line is as good as you will find across the country.
Consider, for instance, that the Big 12's preseason defensive player of the year in 2008, Auston English, may not even start in '09. After battling injuries throughout last season, the senior defensive end will be competing with a pair of talented underclassmen for a spot on the first team.
Junior DE Jeremy Beal built on a strong finish as a freshman to become OU's best pass rusher last year. The 260-pound All-Big 12 selection led OU in sacks in 2008, finishing with 8.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Given the trajectory he has been on in, it's not a stretch to think Beal could turn into an All-American this year.
Sophomore Frank Alexander had a Beal-esque freshman season. Alexander sat out the first five games of the '08 season while recovering from a nagging arm laceration--read: nightclub stabbing. Once he was ready to go, though, Alexander turned out to be a terror in opposing team's backfields. Despite appearing in just nine games, the gargantuan Louisianan made honorable mention All-Big 12.
Still-maturing redshirt freshmen David King and RJ Washington will try to earn some snaps this season as well. King wowed the coaching staff during spring practices, making his way onto the second team heading into the fall. Meanwhile, Washington is a former five-star recruit who could turn out to be too good to keep off the field when all is said and done. Overall, a five-player rotation at defensive end isn't out of the question this year. In fact, Homerism has some unsolicited advice for defensive coordinator Brent Venables: draw up some exotic third down packages to get as many of these guys into the action as possible.
What the end spots have in depth the defensive tackles have in star power. Native Oklahoman Gerald McCoy turned down big bucks from the pros to come back for one last season in Norman. The second team All-American brought it week in and week out in '08, but he played possibly his finest game of the year in the BCS championship against Florida, when it was clear McCoy was the finest player on the field wearing crimson and cream. The big fella should command double teams consistently throughout the season, opening up loads of opportunities for his teammates. Homerism fully expects McCoy to go somewhere in the top 10 of the 2010 draft.
If there's a weak link in this crew, it's McCoy's partner at tackle. Sooner fans can keep on hoping against hope that beastly DeMarcus Granger can make a full comeback from severe back problems, but, truth be told, OU may be lucky if he even contributes this year. Word out of Norman is that Granger still has yet to receive full medical clearance. With just a few weeks to go before fall camp opens, that's not a good sign. At this point, anything out of Granger in '09 is gravy.
That leaves junior Adrian Taylor and senior Cordero Moore left to help hold down the fort. Taylor has shown himself to be serviceable, while Moore has yet to fully capitalize on his substantial talent. Could this open the door for heralded recruit JaMarkus McFarland to see time in his first year on campus? If history is any indication, the OU coaches prefer to let defensive tackles toil on the scout team for a year before they get game time. However, for a team with national championship aspirations, precedent won't get in the way if McFarland can make an immediate impact.
The bottom line is that this unit has it all: talent, depth, skill and experience. Few offensive lines on the Sooners' schedule will be able handle this bunch, and Homerism suspects that a clear majority will get flat-out whipped by OU's front four.