“Sometimes you’ve got to learn the hard way.” That’s what Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore said, during the spring, when asked about the disappointments of the 2017 season.
“As soon as I was done with the season I already knew what I had to be better at. You learn from your mistakes.”
Dropping out of the starting lineup after the first five games last season, Gallimore saw his total in tackles drop from 40 in 2016 to just 28 last year. Injuries played a role in that as well (He missed the Texas Tech and Oklahoma State games) but you won’t find anyone, including Gallimore himself, saying that he doesn’t need to improve his game.
Of course Gallimore wasn’t by himself in the category of defensive line disappointment. Opposing offenses often abused the Sooners upfront. In OU’s playoff loss to Georgia, at the Rose Bowl, the Bulldogs ran for 317 yards.
Equally frustrating was Oklahoma’s low total of just 26 quarterback sacks. Of the four playoff teams, the Sooners by far had the lowest sack total. Georgia was next with 36 sacks, then Alabama with 40, and Clemson with 46.
Improvement begins with ownership of the struggle. Gallimore has done that and it’s serving as his motivation during the off-season.
“You’re starting to see his skills show up every down,” Mike Stoops said early into spring practices. “He’s starting to play more consistently. He’s been probably our most improved player, I would say, that I’ve seen thus far.”
Gallimore was joined by Amani Bledsoe and Dillion Faamatau in receiving significant playing time during the spring and senior Marquise Overton should be completely healthy by the time fall camp gets started.
With more depth than they’ve had in a while on the interior of the line, Oklahoma is looking to move Gallimore from a tackle position to a true nose guard. The experiment produced positive results in the spring and should continue into the fall.
“I’m able to play faster there (at nose guard) because I’m more comfortable and I’m able to see things happen before it happens,” Gallimore said. “It’s part of becoming more mature as a football player.”
If it helps Oklahoma get stronger and produce more upfront then everyone in crimson and cream should be for it. Stoops seems to think there’s been a noticeable difference already.
“The defensive line has become a factor,” Stoops said. “For any team, defense all starts up front. Just like our offense, it starts up front. Those guys have done a great job. A bunch of them … we have more of a physical presence about us up front.”
That was near the end of spring ball though. The true measuring stick for improvement begins on September 1st.