There’s no doubting that Oklahoma had a national championship caliber offense in 2018. There’s also no doubting that the defense was more than just a scapegoat in OU’s 54-48 Rose Bowl exit from the College Football Playoff.
In Oklahoma’s loss to Georgia the defense surrendered 210 yards through the air and 317 on the ground. The Bulldogs’ stable of running backs averaged 9.3 yards per carry as they gashed the Sooner defense for five rushing touchdowns.
Lincoln Riley showed commitment to defensive coordinator Mike Stoops following the loss, but fans don’t seem to be as forgiving.
“Mike is a really good coach. I have a lot of confidence in him as I do our whole staff,” Riley said during a meeting with reporters a couple of days after the Rose Bowl. “To do what this staff and this program did this year with all the changes and all that, it’s unprecedented. People better remember that, too.”
So if Mike Stoops isn’t going anywhere, and the defense is in desperate need of something different, then where do you look for change? It has to be the players on the field.
“Those will be conversations that we have as we do our year in review and self-evaluate,” Riley said about the defensive player personnel. “I think a lot of that is going to improve with recruiting. That’s always the biggest issue. You look on the field with the two defenses (Oklahoma & Georgia) and one of them looked a little bit different than the other, just physically.”
“We’ve got to continue to grow in that area. I think we’re starting to. The young guys that have contributed this year, this class even, you take the guys that we just signed and we’re getting ready to sign some other pretty good ones here, I think that’s getting ready to happen.”
|2017 Oklahoma Defensive Stats|
|Yards Per Game||Yards Per Play||Rushing Yards Per Game||Passing Yards Per Game|
The Sooners ranked 54th nationally against the run and 87th against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 12.5 yards per completion against OU, while running backs averaged 4.38 yards per carry.
If a defensive revival is going to come to Oklahoma in 2018 then it’s going to come more from personnel changes than it will from schemes. The induction to some younger players in 2017, the attrition of graduating players, and the return of experience and depth may put the Sooners in just the right conditions for that to take place.
|2018 Oklahoma Defensive Linemen|
|42||Mark Jackson, Jr.||DE/LB||Jr.|
The Sooners are deep at defensive tackle! Amani Bledsoe and Neville Gallimore are both experienced and can create either a fantastic tandem or rotation. Bledsoe has played in 16 games at Oklahoma, including 8 starts last season, and Gallimore has made 25 game appearances, with 11 starts. Marquise Overton led Oklahoma’s defensive linemen with 43 tackles (3 for loss) in 2017 and will anchor the middle of the line once again in 2018.
Other players you can expect to see make an appearance in the middle of the defensive line are freshmen Michael Thompson and Ronnie Perkins, along with junior Dillon Faamatau.
Mark Jackson backed up Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in 2016 and 2017. Now it’ll be his turn to move into the starting line up at defensive end. He’ll be opposite of Kenneth Mann, who had five sacks last season. I would also expect freshmen Ronnie Perkins and Jalen Redmond to make their way into the rotation at some point as well.
|2018 Oklahoma Linebackers|
Kenneth Murray was the first true freshman in 42 years to start an OU season opener at inside linebacker when he debuted against UTEP last season. The co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year ended up being a starter in all 14 of Oklahoma’s 2017 games, recording 78 total tackles.
Murray will be joined by Caleb Kelly at the inside linebacker position this fall. Kelly began making the transition during the spring despite not being a full participant due to shoulder surgery.
“I’m excited about it,” Kelly said about the transition. “I feel like our O-lineman have said I’m a pretty big hitter and I’m one of the guys on the team where they feel me when they block me, so getting to do that more often, I feel I’ll be successful at it.”
Hybrid LB/DE Mark Jackson worked out as Oklahoma’s strongside linebacker in the spring, along with Ryan Jones. This appears to be Jackson’s spot for the fall, giving Mike Stoops the ability to bring him to the line to change the defensive front without changing personnel.
Addison Gumbs looks to have the weakside linebacker spot locked down but Curtis Bolton will be healthy again, after missing 2017 with an ankle injury, and will make a push here as well.
Two other guys that will be in the mix at linebacker are John Michael Terry, who was supposed to be Oklahoma’s starting middle linebacker in 2017, and Levi Draper. Both will see the field, in one capacity or another, in 2018.
|2018 Oklahoma Defensive Backs|
|35||Robert Charlton, II||DB||RJr.|
You always hate to put labels on young players but you just can’t help but think that Brendan Radley-Hiles has potential to be a Roy Williams type player in Oklahoma’s secondary. There may not be a player to make a bigger impact on the defensive side of the ball than Radley-Hiles. He’s got the versatility to play any position in the secondary but looks to land at the nickel back.
Robert Barnes played in 10 games last season, as a true freshman, and looks to take over as the starting free safety. He’ll have to hold off Chanse Sylvie over the summer, but he certainly seemed to have a stronghold on the position coming out of spring.
With Ryan Jones moving to linebacker, Khalil Haughton seems to be a shoe in to replace Steven Parker at strong safety.
The Sooners are young at the corner position but they are finally deep again. Tre Brown, Tre Norwood, Parnell Motley, and Jordan Parker all have starting experience. Having Parker back from injury will be huge for the position. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second week (UTEP) last season.
Justin Broiles will be in the mix here as well. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see Mike Stoops go with a rotation of corners in order to take full advantage of the depth.