Sooners Saturday | Defensive Youth
– Charlie S
The Sooners took major strides in 2019 towards becoming a truly complementary football team as Alex Grinch appears to have them headed in the right direction defensively.
Offensively, it was a different type of year as Lincoln Riley turned the focus to the QB run game after he brought in Jalen Hurts from Alabama following last year and we talked about the potential return of the multifaceted offense next year last week.
When looking at the defensive roster, the first thing that jumps out is that Oklahoma will lose three key pieces in Neville Gallimore, Parnell Motley, and Kenneth Murray.
That is no small thing as each of those guys represents perhaps the best parts of the 2019 defense at each level (DL, LB, and DB).
The Sooners will get one more year in 2020 from DL LaRon Stokes, LBs Caleb Kelly and Jon Michael Terry, and DB Tre Brown who are all nice pieces and will be counted on to up their game. Kelly will likely be tasked with replacing Murray at the WILL and that position will likely be one of the keys to continued success for Grinch and the defense.
The rest of the 2019 defense was young. How young?
When you look at the roster, you see all of the guys below, who were all major contributors and have the chance to be in Norman for at least two more years:
DLs: Ronnie Perkins, Isaiah Thomas, Jalen Redmond, and Marcus Stripling.
LBs: Ryan Jobes, DaShaun White, Brian Asamoah, Nik Bonitto, and David Ugwoegbu
DBs: Patrick Fields, Delarrin Turner-Yell, Tre Norwood, Brendan Radley-Hiles, Jaden Davis, Woodi Washington
As I mentioned above, each of those 16 guys can be in Norman for at least two more years while some still have three years of eligibility left and they all flashed at times which is very encouraging.
That is not even taking into account some of the guys who didn’t contribute much in 2019 as they were focusing on building their physiques and learning the system in a redshirt role.
Guys like (DLs) Kori Roberson, Marcus Hicks, and (DBs) Jeremiah Criddell, Woodi Washington, and Jamal Morris.
You think about the guys that flashed at different times over the course of the season and you realize all is not lost due to the departure of the ‘Big Three’ (Gallimore, Murray, and Motley).
Guys like Jaden Davis, Dellarin Turner-Yell, David Ugwoegbu, Nik Bonitto, DaShaun White and Marcus Stripling flashed at times and they, along with the others, will have the opportunity to continue their growth and development. I would have no problem saying there is the possibility, maybe even probability of multiple cases of ‘All-Conference’ type recognition being handed down to the group of 16 that have multiple years of eligibility left.
The Sooners will also get Jordan Kelley back in the middle of the defensive line and should they hit on Perrion Winfrey and/or Joshua Ellison from the JUCO ranks, things suddenly do not look as daunting for the defense to continue to progress and help this Sooners program round into a complete football team over the coming seasons.
Yes, there is still work to do at every level of the defense but with the reinforcements from the 2020 class in the defensive backfield and linebacker, and the hope for immediate help from the two JUCO interior defensive linemen, the Sooners, with a return to normalcy offensively, should be in position to be a stronger and deeper complementary football team over the next few seasons at the very least.
Hale of a One On One Conversation with Rufus Alexander
– James Hale
*** As a beat reporter for the Sooners, I cover OU from a number of different angles and one of the angles I have always used is talking to former Sooners players who, like me, are keeping up with the program.
*** I have been blessed over the years to talk often about OU Football with greats like Jimbo Elrod, Thomas Lott, Scott Hill, Barry Switzer, Steve Davis, Merv Johnson, Joe Washington, Teddy Lehman, and many others and I’ve gotten a perspective of what’s going on with the team through the eyes of former great players and coaches who have been in the current players and coaches shoes.
*** I don’t point this out to drop names or brag about who I know but to give an indication of how covering the team takes many different layers and talking with formers players who have played the game but are still Boomer Sooner is still a unique and fun perspective.
*** It’s especially useful when a player had the status of Rufus Alexander and is still a part-time member of the Sooner Radio Network. Alexander was a three-year starter at linebacker for the Sooners and he had a monster 2006 earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American honors.
*** Alexander played in 39 games and started 36 and his linebacker coach at the time was Brent Venables who always said that Alexander was one of the best students of the game he has ever coached. Alexander has not stopped being a student of the game. That comes through with his commentary when he is on the Sooner Radio Network and he at times is also a host on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and he is often on with my show, Total Sports, on the Sportstalk Network at 1400 AM, 99-3 FM, and sportstalk1400.com.
*** Following the Sooners 63-28 loss to LSU in the College Football Playoff semi-final I had Rufus on the show to talk about the game the following Monday. I wanted to get his perspective on what OU has to do to take that next step to be able to win one of those semi-finals and get that elusive eighth natty. Below is some of that conversation:
JH: What happened to the Sooners against LSU?
RA: “Well, I think they went in there and played against a better team. You look at the game and see the Oklahoma offense still has a lot of growing to do. They will get better because they were young and it was all new to them (offensive line and quarterback). I thought the process throughout the entire year offensively hampered the run game. With Jalen Hurts at quarterback you didn’t get as much growth in the offensive line as they normally did compared to the offense they used to run.”
“LSU just went in there and said we’re going to stuff the box and stop Jalen Hurts and dare Jalen to beat them by throwing to CeeDee Lamb who had one-on-one coverage. They basically played him one-on-one with a guy that couldn’t technically cover him. If you look at the game he overthrew CeeDee a couple of times and the one catch that CeeDee had deep he made a really good catch on that. You look at some of the other passes like the pass interference to Jadon Haselwood if he throws from the pocket and he puts it out there where he could catch it then it wouldn’t be pass interference.”
“So, you had those struggles and those were things that we knew all year long and those issues in the passing game always continued to be there. Those issues really came up in the biggest game of the year and LSU really highlighted it.”
“Defensively, you can’t go into the game against the number one offense in the country without your best pass rusher, without your best safety and then your backup to the starting guy at nickel (Tre Norwood) who got kicked out of the game (Bookie). Now you are playing a backup true freshman safety (Woodie Washington) against the number one offense. All of those things happened and that was just super unfortunate for Oklahoma.”
‘They didn’t belong on the field with LSU and that’s a hard reality. That’s pretty much what happened. You just thought they would play better offensively and defensively but the things that we knew about Jalen Hurts really showed up in that game.”
JH: The defense made major strides from where they were in 2018 but what did you feel about how well the defense played this year?
RA: “The defensive grew a lot. I think Parnell Motely had the best back end to his career since he’s been at Oklahoma. He played well against Mims at Baylor and he played well in the LSU game. He’s been playing good football for a while so he played well. I think Tre Brown had moments and I think he took a step back a little bit as for how he played the game from last year to this year. He still made some big plays throughout the year.”
“You also look at the safety position guys grew up fast throughout the year. Pat Fields had his ups and downs throughout the year. Delarrin Turner-Yell had a really, really good season! That kid just kept on getting better throughout the year.”
“Ronnie Perkins had a monster year. He had a mishap at the end of the year that really cost the team and that is the maturity issue that OU has to get better at. Jalen Redmond, the more he gets on the field the better the defense will be in the defensive line. I think that help is coming with the (Perrion) Winfrey kid that they signed and the (Josh) Ellison kid that they got. If Oklahoma doesn’t bridge the gap between them and the young guys then Calvin Thibodeaux has to get better at some point at what he does.”
“The young kids not being there and not being ready to bridge the gap between the old and the young players is not good. It’s not good for the future of the program, It’s not good for Oklahoma defensive line-wise. You can see it and it’s been hampering their depth for a long time. He has to hit home with Marcus Hicks and hit home with (Kori) Robison, and he has to hit home with Jordan Kelly. They are all redstart freshman. So, with the two guys that he has in he has a good rotation. Then you add Perkins, Redmond, and Stokes and you can take Redmond and move him out to more of a traditional end, or even as a standup guy rather than playing him at D-tackle at 265 to 270 pounds.”
“Your flow to your defense upfront will be a lot better and you can attack a little bit more. (Nik) Bonitto and David Ugwoegbu are good young players for you and if they get the (Reggie) Grimes kid they are going to be in really good spot defensively.”
JH: I thought Redmond was one player that OU had that looked like he belonged out there against LSU and we all have to remember he has never played D-tackle before or even played that much football before. He looked as if he belonged out there didn’t he?
RA: “Yeah, he looked like he belonged on defense. Kenneth Murray looked like he belonged on defense. Neville Gallimore disappeared and his career at Oklahoma has been so up and down. He has so much potential and so much talent and I wonder how it’s going to translate over to the NFL. It didn’t come to fruition in college. He just wasn’t the dominant force that we thought he would be. He started off hot this past year and then kind of cooled down as the season went on.”
“He did that last year too but he had more knickknack type injuries throughout the year. His start to the year was really good but he really did simmer down as the year went on. I think if you look at the other young kid (Marcus) Stripling he’s going to be very good for them also.”
JH: Is Stripling undersized (6’3, 257)? Where is he going to end up playing along the defensive line?
RA: “You look at that young man and you say that he has to get bigger. The Bonitto body has not changed that much either. You need that guy to put on 15-to-20 pounds and be a force. Even by putting on 15-to-20 pounds get faster or get a first step or get a move with his pass rush. You can’t pass rush with just a continuous dip around the edge. You have to have a long arm and move where you can bully an offensive tackle or a spin move or something that throws that guy off.”
“David Ugwoegbu as well needs to put on a good 15-to-20 pounds. He is a good player that you want to put on 15-to-20 pounds and Nik Bonitto has to put on 15-to-20 pounds. you need that from those guys. It’s the same thing with Stripling as he really needs to put on 30 pounds to become a force to be reckoned with. There were times in games that he was getting crashed down and he just didn’t have the weight in his britches to play the edge like that.”
“However, all of them will get another year and Bennie Wylie has his work cut out for him. He has to develop toughness. I don’t care if anybody has a hangnail or whatever it is ‘dude you are going to workouts and you are working through it. If you can’t go through it then don’t show up at my place’. There has to be more tough love in the off-season program. We didn’t see the toughness side of it.”
“You can be outmanned or you can be outmatched but the toughness side of it OU didn’t have it in that game with LSU. You had a guy here-or-there that had it but most of the guys didn’t have it.”
JH: Rufus where do you see the Sooners offense moving forward?
RA: “I think (Adrian) Ealy will better and they have to figure out the left tackle situation. They have to get a better left tackle. The guards have got to get better. Tyrese Robinson had a bad game against LSU. They have to get better at communicating because you may have a young center next year if Creed Humphrey leaves. If you look at those two guards (Robinson and Marquise Hayes) he (Bill Bedenbaugh) is going to have other guys coming in, or have come in this past year, that’s going to push those guys a little bit.”
“I could see Robinson losing his position because of his up-and-down play. Bedenbaugh didn’t have that luxury this year and wasn’t comfortable with having guys to push those guys. I see the offensive line changing a little bit and some guys growing up to step forward and push guys that were in front of them.”
“Left tackle is the most important one and I see Stacey Wilkins taking that spot and being the guy there. He is a talented young man but you have to see his body change and see him put on another 30-t0-40 pounds to become an absolute monster at that left tackle. Ealy has the biggest upside among the young offensive lineman. I think his growth potential is great and he will be a first-round right tackle the way he is playing and the way he is moving. The way he progressed throughout the year if he stays healthy he is going to be one of those offensive linemen like Cody Ford. He is an excellent player and will be an excellent right tackle.”
JH: Following the game, a lot of people were saying that being in the Big 12 Conference hurts OU in postseason games like this and that because of the style of play seen in the Big 12 that OU needs to get out of the conference and play in the SEC or Big 10 Conference. What are your thoughts on OU playing in the Big 12?
RA: “I agree with it to a sense, but I also feel it’s Oklahoma’s fault. There are games where Lincoln Riley doesn’t have the killer instincts with his team. He gets into this point where he backs off and they go into this conservative mode of playing football in trying to close out the game. We have seen that a bunch of times when they are up big in games, right? I think you need to teach these kids to have that killer instinct too. The team that you want them to be you have to put the killer instinct in them.”
“Defensively, when you are up by a lot you should also do the same thing. Put your defenses in bad situations. Brent Venables when he was up he would see how teams would react to certain blitzes and doing certain things while they are playing. That’s the thing that you want to see OU do a little bit more because you are no longer playing against the Big 12 teams. They are not playing against the ACC teams.”
“They need to start throwing stuff when they know they are blowing these type teams out and they need to come with a man-to-man blitz and I’m going to blitz them and make my guys (DB) play man-to-man when we are blowing teams out. We are going to make them cover because we have to play ourselves to play against other teams (elite teams in playoffs) and we have to put our guys in situations where the odds are not always going to be in their favor.”
“It’s the same thing with Jalen Hurts. When you are up by a lot in some of these games your business was to make Jalen Hurts throw the ball deep in situations where CeeDee Lamb has to go up and make a play on the outside. Where he has to place the ball perfectly to the outside and do it over and over again. We don’t have the luxury of being in those pressure situations all the time like LSU who plays against good defensive teams like Alabama or Georgia.
“We have gaps in our games. We have to do better promoting that killer instinct in our kids.”
*** I always appreciate the candor with which Rufus speaks and the passion he still has for Oklahoma Football. I hope you enjoyed what he had to say and I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment section.
*** You may or may not agree with all he had to say, but one thing is for certain, he is not going to sugar coat his opinions!
Early Look | 2020 Offensive Line
– Charlie S
At the start of the 2019 season, Sooners offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh had the daunting task of having to replace four of the five members of his 2018 Joe Moore Award winning offensive line.
Cody Ford, Dru Samia, and Ben Powers all left Norman for their bright futures in the NFL as expected and Bobby Evans made the decision to leave early and jump to the league with them as well after initially indicating he was likely to stay in Norman for one more year.
That left Bedenbaugh heading into the 2019 season with center Creed Humphrey as his lone returning starter (cannot express in words how much of an impact Bobby Evans would have had if he had stayed) and a group of guys who, while talented, had little experience in-game action.
As the season approached, word was that the interior of the line was shaping into form nicely but the tackle spots were a work in progress.
The common thought was that Adrian Ealy would be the right tackle and Erik Swenson, Brey Walker, Darrell Simpson, and even Michael Thompson would be battling for the left tackles spot. However, back in spring, James told you all that Walker and Simpson were getting looks at the interior spots and Finley Felix was looking like the backup at both tackle spots with Michael Thompson disappearing (eventually winding up in the portal at the end of the season). The Sooners also brought in grad transfer guard RJ Proctor from Virginia and it was thought that he would be the main backup along the interior. Not ideal in terms of depth, that was for certain.
Fast forward to the season opener against Houston and your starting offensive line was LT RJ Proctor, LG Marquise Hayes, C Creed Humphrey, RG Tyrese Robinson, RT Adrian Ealy.
*Record scratch*…wait, what? RJ Proctor, the interior grad transfer from Virginia started game one for the Sooners at…left tackle? Didn’t see that coming back in spring, but we did hear that Proctor was working at tackle throughout fall camp and let you all know about that, so it wasn’t a complete shock.
Proctor started against Houston at left tackle and Swenson came in and played about half the game. Neither were very good. Rinse and repeat the prior sentence for most of the rest of the games throughout the year.
Things weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible as the interior was getting it together and Adrian Ealy was picking up his game (I still believe he could be an early round draft choice when all is said and done) but then the injuries hit. Going into the RRS against Texas, it was not known if either tackle would play and in the game prior to the matchup in the cotton bowl, Bedenbaugh actually had to move Tyrese Robinson out to right tackle (his first snaps at right tackle EVER) and you had a line of LT RJ Proctor, LG Hayes, C Humphrey, RG Walker, RT Robinson in games against Texas Tech and Kansas. Again, not ideal.
The rest of the season was a struggle with injuries for the tackles (I don’t believe either Ealy or Swenson was anywhere near healthy and we have been told as much) and the offensive line never felt like an OU offensive line. It just didn’t. They were not terrible (by other program standards) but they were not Oklahoma Standard even though they were semi-finalists for the Joe Moore award again.
The following is a sentence that has not been uttered very often round these parts since Bill Bedenbaugh has been in Norman, but…The Sooners offensive line was dominated more often than they dominated throughout the second half of the season. Following the Texas game, Baylor (two times) and Kansas State had strong showings against OU and LSU absolutely dismantled the unit.
That was the bad news…the good news? The unit should be much, much better next year. Their job was likely more complicated this year as well by having to adjust to the style of Jalen Hurts at QB who leaned more on the QB run game which can cause some confusion for the OL as they have to hold their blocks a bit longer and find themselves needing eyes in the back of their heads as they tried to help when Jalen was improvising.
Next year, with Spencer Rattler (or Tanner Mordecai) they will have a more traditional QB and a more traditional ‘OU’ offense which should help them.
It is looking likely that they will also return all five starters (counting Swenson as a starter here) next year which is huge. Does that mean all five of the returning starters will find themselves in that position this year? I doubt it.
Heading into the spring, I believe two spots along the OL are already solidly locked in. These two spots belong to Hayes (LG) and Humphrey (C).
At RG and RT I would feel pretty good about things if I were Tyrese Robinson and Adrian Ealy, but I think both will be pushed a bit with Robinson likely being pushed very hard by guys like EJ Ndoma-Ogar, Brey Walker, and Marcus Alexander. Ndoma-Ogar is likely to be the backup center at the start of spring, but it sounds like he has made a very good impression and should Bednebaugh be comfortable with another option at backup center, EJ will be a guy to keep an eye on to challenge Tyrese. Ealy probably is locked in, but I want to see how he recovers from his injuries and see who they will put out there as his true competition. Could be a guy like Felix or Swaby or a freshman like Raym or Anderson?
Left tackle is the spot where nothing is certain in my opinion. Actually I would say it is more certain that Wilkins starts and Swenson is the backup than the other way around, but again, that’s truly not ‘certain’. Will anyone else make a push there? If it’s a battle between Wilkins and Swenson, if Wilkins does what he needs to do over this offseason in the gym, I don’t see how he is not the starter based on his athleticism and higher ceiling in pass protection (those long arms and athletic feet are something Swenson just can’t answer).
Bedenbaugh brought in the best OL class in the country this cycle (my opinion) and the depth alone in 2020 should be light years ahead of the 2019 squad. I think guys like Raym, Anderson, and Harrison are guys who could see some time in reserve rolls in 2020 and Nelson and Parks will likely redshirt. As you know I am very high on each of the members of the 2020 class and I believe Noah Nelson will be a 2-3 year starter at tackle for Oklahoma.
Without attrition (and I think it is likely you see 1 or 2 guys hit the portal in the spring) this is what the offensive line roster looks like.
Erik Swenson OL 6′ 5″ 312 lbs RS SR
Finley Felix OL 6′ 5″ 314 lbs SR
Bryce Roberts OL 6′ 4″ 319 lbs SR
Dalton Bishop OL 6′ 5″ 296 lbs RS JR
Adrian Ealy OL 6′ 6″ 326 lbs RS JR
Marquis Hayes OL 6′ 5″ 332 lbs RS JR
Creed Humphrey OL 6′ 5″ 315 lbs RS JR
Ian McIver OL 6′ 3″ 326 lbs RS JR
Tyrese Robinson OL 6′ 3″ 328 lbs RS JR
David Swaby OL 6′ 9″ 319 lbs RS JR
Darrell Simpson OL 6′ 7″ 349 lbs RS SO
Brey Walker OL 6′ 6″ 343 lbs RS SO
Stacey Wilkins OL 6′ 6″ 310 lbs RS FR
Marcus Alexander OL 6′ 3″ 308 lbs RS FR
E.J. Ndoma-Ogar OL 6′ 3″ 344 lbs RS FR
Nate Anderson OL 6’5″ 262 lbs FR
Anton Harrison OL 6′ 5 310 lbs FR
Noah Nelson OL 6′ 8″ 295 lbs FR
Aaryn Parks OL 6′ 4′ 320 lbs FR
Andrew Raym OL 6′ 5″ 285 lbs FR
I have also been told by sources that right now, the Sooners have no interest in dipping their line into the transfer portal and adding anyone else.
In my opinion, 2019 was the best chance for the opposition to get one over on Bedenbaugh and his bunch…going forward, I would expect this group to be doing most of the dominating.
For multiple daily posts, Insider Notes, Our TFB ‘Pick Em’ Contest, More Sourced Practice Notes, member chats with TFB staff, James Hale’s Notebooks, TFB Sessions (5-minute audio talks) and much more, please check the Donor Board!