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Blogging about college football by an Oklahoma Sooners fan.

2012 Sooners Season Preview: Young DTs, old DE key for defensive line

David King
King a DT for a day? A week? A year?

Go back and watch highlights of the defense from the early years in Bob Stoops' tenure. Those were some downright nasty defensive lines he and his brother Mike had.

Oklahoma's recruiting on the defensive line in the last five years hasn't exactly set the world on fire. The Sooners have signed some solid players in that period. Tommie Harris, Dan Cody and Dusty Dvoracek they are not, however.

Mike can do plenty to clean up the sloppy play in the talented secondary he's inheriting. There's no wand he can wave that will turn his pluggers in the front four into top-notch NFL prospects.

On the other hand, OU has managed to field some decent defenses in the past that didn't feature lines stacked with big-time names. The d-line is arguably as boom or bust as any position group on the 2012 OU team. Falling on the right side of serviceable will come down to two key questions.

Can a young buck come through at DT?

The loss of Stacy McGee to an indefinite suspension leaves a solid group of tackles just a little less stable to start the year.

It may seem odd to say there are still questions about a guy who was named to first team of the Big 12's preseason all-conference squad, but the accolades for defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland reflect the quality of defensive linemen in the league. Frankly, the senior's impact on the field has yet to live up to the hype that accompanied his recruitment.

OU's dwindling depth on the d-line means McFarland will see plenty of time this year, especially given that big Casey Walker apparently continues to struggle with injuries and conditioning. It would help if a youngster could step in and steal some snaps from the vets.

Might that be redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips? Phillips has the natural ability to play a host of position on either side of the line, but he belongs to Jackie Shipp for now. Hailing from a tiny town in Kansas, Sooner fans have been anxiously anticipating this physical specimen's debut.

The fact that defensive end David King is moving inside in McGee's absence either speaks highly of the coaching staff's confidence in their second unit of edge rushers or their lack of it in OU's younger defensive tackles. While practice reports on Phillips have been generally positive this month, it appears as though he hasn't made enough of an impression to be a major factor in the rotation come September. Hopefully, November will tell a different story.

RJ Washington
Is RJ Washington for real?

"Will RJ Washington contribute this year?"

It's a question diehard Sooner fans have been asking every August since the five-star recruit hit campus in 2008.

Washington redshirted that season, and his development has taken a similarly slow course. As a reserve in 2011, Washington showed flashes of growing into a terror coming off the edge, notching 5 sacks on the year. He had a particularly strong showing in the Insight Bowl win over Iowa when matched up against Riley Reiff, a first-round pick in April's NFL draft.

Washington has garnered praise from the coaching staff for his play and leadership throughout the offseason. He has also added needed bulk to his frame, which should put him in position to play all three downs.

Frank Alexander, another enigmatic defensive end, made an unexpected leap in his fifth year, earning Big 12 defensive player of the year honors along the way. The difference between Alexander last year and previous campaigns was his consistency from play to play.

Unlike Alexander, Washington has elite natural ability. If Washington develops the same type of consistency this fall, he could surpass Alexander's level of play from a year ago.

The good news is that neither of those propositions is completely outrageous. The bad news is that there really aren't any sure things on this year's defensive line.

Boom or bust – there is no in between for this unit.