The departures of Big 12 defensive player of the year Frank Alexander and ultra-gifted Ronnell Lewis leave significant voids for the Oklahoma Sooners at defensive end. The candidates to replace the two pass-rushing demons consist of a mixed bag of solid veterans and up-and-comers.
Although it won't set Sooner fans' hearts aflutter, the betting money right now would have to be on seasoned seniors David King and R.J. Washington to take over as starters. We've seen time and again just how much Bob Stoops values the kind of experience guys like King and Washington bring to the table. Both saw action in all 13 games a season ago, combining for 7 sacks and approximately 50 tackles.
Of the two, Washington stands to gain or lose the most ground in the next 15 practices. A five-star recruit when he signed with OU in 2008, Washington has never quite put everything together. To be sure, he has had moments where he looked like a potential NFL guy. Most of the time, however, he has been on the sidelines.
The pieces are all there for Washington to be an all-conference performer, but that's if you're looking for a best-case scenario. Perhaps a more reasonable expectation would be a move similar to the one made Pryce Macon. Macon, a tantalizing talent in his own right, toiled in obscurity his first four seasons in Norman. In the spring of 2010, however, the buzz around the fifth-year senior's development started to grow. That fall Macon rang up 6 sacks and turned into a key contributor on the defensive side of the ball.
The Sooner coaches also appear to be waiting for the light to go on for rising third-year DE Geneo Grissom. A highly touted edge rusher out of Kansas, Grissom has struggled to stay healthy and failed to make the splash some were hoping for last fall. Another year in the OU strength-and-conditioning program combined with a strong spring should put Grissom firmly in the rotation.
Another name sure to attract attention this spring is junior-college transfer Chaz Nelson. Juco scouts have raved about his potential. Diamond-in-the-rough prospects such as Nelson obviously tend to have high bust potential. Stoops wouldn't bring one in with two years of eligibility to sit the pine, though, so expect Nelson to get a long look in the next few weeks.
Another somewhat raw prospect, Chuka Ndulue, should have a spot in the mix as well. The tremendously athletic Nigerian immigrant will be going into his third season in OU's program. The Sooner coaching staff undoubtedly hopes he's ready to tap into all of that potential they saw when they recruited him out of Dallas Jesuit Prep in 2010. Ndulue may need one more season to marinate, however, before the Sooners can expect to rely heavily on him.