Bringing It All Together | Defensive Front (Updated 11:31 am)

Image via Sooner Sports

So now that the off-season is finally over and OU’s first game is upon us, I’ll summarize what we’ve heard about the players from inside sources, media opportunities, etc. I’ll go through each position group throughout the week starting with the defensive front.

Defensive Line:

– OU’s starting 3-man front is Charles Tapper (DE), Chuka Ndulue (DE) & Jordan Phillips (NG).

Tapper is a guy everyone expects a lot from, but he’s also a guy who came to OU as a raw but athletic prospect. So it’ll be interesting to see just how big of a jump he has made as he enters his junior season.

Phillips, as you all know, was injured last year but towards the end of fall camp was taking more and more reps and will continue to do so leading up to La Tech. The big question is going to be how quickly he can get back to last year’s form and then, how many snaps he can take? The coaches really feel like Phillips is a difference maker in the middle, and with some of the concerns about size and physicality at the inside linebacker position, Phillips’ presence really helps OU’s defense on the inside run game. Additionally, he gives Oklahoma a legitimate three points of pressure (both ends of the 50 front and in the middle).

– With Jordan Wade getting a ton of snaps last year in Phillips’ absence, he should make for a solid back-up/rotation guy in 2014. And he actually showed some of the quickness we remember from his HS days in the Sugar Bowl to end the season. Wade looked more like a 1-technique last year instead of a 2-gap NG. He weighed a little under 300 lbs, but he’s now up to 315 lbs and I’ll bet he’s just as quick, if not quicker.

– It’s easy to forget that Chuka went from being an even front DE to a B-gap player last year. That’s a significant difference and you could see early on him learning to deal with the physicality of play inside. I remember seeing him get washed down a couple times in the Texas game. But now he’s stronger, his technique is better, and he’s going to have a better feel for the angles that OL are going to attack him from.

– I think we all want to see what Charles Walker can do. He obviously has all the physical tools, but as Mike Stoops has said, he just has to work on being more consistent with his technique and being a player who will consistently make the play he needs to make. Walker, to me, has the look of a gamer. I get the feeling by mid-season he’s going to be making a lot of plays. He’s just going to need some time to get comfortable.

Matt Dimon is a guy I’m really interested in seeing. Dimon was difficult (to say the least) to block in high school and even got some reps as a true freshman last year. We haven’t heard much about him in the off-season, but I’m excited to see him on the field just because we all know that players can make their biggest jump between their first and second year.

– I haven’t heard anything about Torrea Peterson. I liked Torrea in high school. He was quick off the ball and that’s always the first thing I’m looking for in a defensive lineman. At times last year he showed that quickness, but unfortunately if you’re playing the nose in this front your quickness, when not used properly, can easily take you out of a play which happened to Torrea. I almost wonder if he’s quick enough to play strong side DE. He’d obviously bring great size to the position. Again, haven’t really heard Torrea’s name come up much so we’ll have to wait till Saturday to see if he gets in the rotation.

– Another guy I can’t wait to watch is DJ Ward. Coming out of HS, Ward was a quick kid that showed some good bend around the corner. Really looked like an even front edge rusher. When OU made the transition to the 30/50 front, I would have guessed that Ward would end up as a Jack LB. But OU has kept him at defensive end. He’s definitely undersized and the move there doesn’t seem intuitive, but Coach Montgomery has more than earned my respect. So if he’s got Ward there, then I’ve got to think they see something they like. I will add though that it’s not always easy for guys who are used to playing with their hand in the dirt to play standing up.

I spent an hour on the phone recently with a young man, who is a friend of mine, whose coaches were trying to explain to him how important it was, based on his body size, that he transition from a DE to a stand up OLB. It’s just not something he feels comfortable doing. In the off-season, there was talk about beefing the defensive front up and they’ve clearly done that. But one of the things I was concerned about was losing some of the athleticism that we had. Some folks may look at the defensive line recruiting, or even look at the variety of defensive line player builds, and think OU lacks an identity there. But I believe, in fact, the diversity is the identity. Neville Gallimore and Gabriel Campbell, for example, have very different builds, but as such they each bring unique and specific tools that can be used in OU’s front.

– I know there are some people that think OU might be a little overrated, but I’m not one of those folks. At least not on defense. Defense, as they say, starts up front and it’s hard for me to see a scenario where OU is anything less than excellent in the front seven. OU had too many young guys getting serious playing time last year, and too many guys that are going to naturally take big steps forward both in terms of athleticism and technique to not have a great defensive front. And to me, that’s going to help mask some of the potential issues as you get further and further back.

UPDATE (11:31 am): So since this was posted this morning, OU has released a depth chart. A couple interesting things I wanted to comment on:

1. Torrea Peterson is indeed listed as a back up DE. So it appears they do believe he’s quick enough to play the position.

2. Jordan Wade is listed fourth as an NG behind Romar and Peterson! I just spoke to a source and was told that Wade has NOT taken a step back. But Romar and Peterson have just gotten better and simply past him on the depth chart.

  • Zack

    Great write up. So is ward around 260? I’ve heard different weights some saying he’s 250 some as high as 270. I think he’s behind a lot of talented guys who more than likely will be gone next year. So if he can get to 275/280 next year I could see him starting where tapper is now.

    Also I had a question about the term 50 front because in my mind that’s 5 down lineman. But is it considered a 50 based on how close to the line our jack and Sam will play?

    • Boom

      50 means 5 guys, doesn’t mean their hand is in the dirt. From what I’ve read and like you would like to get clarity, DJ is around 260. I don’t think he has the quicks like Grissom so I guess he is a DE.
      I’m curious about where Romar fits in. 4i or 2 gap-NG. Also, how Orso is progressing too.

      • Super K

        Yea Boom, DJ is definitely playing DE with his hand in the dirt right now. Orso is learning and LOVING it. He’s having to gain a lot of strength…he was a guy who really was more of a basketball player and he’s having to learn how to play low, etc. but he’s progressing well. I think he’s gonna be good!

        • Daryl

          Just like Tapper! That sounds promising!

      • Zack

        DJ had a nice clip on that oklahoma drill against farniok or one of the other RS freshmen. I think he may be explosive and be able to hold up against the run if he gets to 275 next season. He just needs to keep working hard and I guess if he has trouble putting the weight on then try him at jack next year.

    • Super K

      I think Ward is somewhere in the low 250s. Definitely light for the position. Also, I tend to prefer characterizing the front as a 30 front because the 2 edge guys are OLBs but coach Stoops uses the old school “50 front” terminology.

      • wolfbuilder

        K when I want to know what kinda D a team is running I look at it from the offense side, as a Center looking across the line the end man on the line is a Dend (Striker & PL or Grissom). In the sugar bowl Wade was a NG, Tapper & Chuka were DT, and Striker & PL were Dends when Bama used a 12 or 21 package

  • CcrBoomer

    Any word on where Quincy Russell, has he not come along like coaches had hoped. I believe he is a Sr. this year?

    • Super K

      Have no clue bro. Wish I knew but haven’t heard a single solitary word about him.

      • Brian

        I do know that he got a redshirt last year.

        • rphdenton

          he’s a sr per oui and roster on soonersports…….no redshirt

      • Boom

        mystery player. Seems to be one every year.

        • JB

          Apparently, he’s not as good as the other 4. Not to say Russell’s not a good player, it’svjust that the others are better.

  • Lesslie Stanford

    I really like what our defense is looking like! Should be really good!

    • Super K

      Should be excellent. Important that the ILBs stay healthy though.

  • EasTex

    Great info, K.
    I agree with you on Dimon. Watching him in the state championship game his senior year, where he was named the Defensive MVP of the game, no one player could block him. Double teams were mostly ineffective if the ball came toward him. The only time they could consistently block him was with a double team and a RB chip.
    Would love to see him be as explosive and quick at this level.

  • Krys Allen

    In that photo what are the pads on the outside of the helmet for? Players that are prone to concussion or something?

  • Doobie74OU

    I feel kind of sick at my stomach even asking about moving him but is Eric Stricker getting any practice time at ILB just in case a rash of injuries occur. He seems like the type of player that could be a disruption at whatever position he plays! I know he is Awesome rushing off the edge but it also seems we have a couple other guys there to make that a much deeper position than ILB. He is not all that different in terms of size compared to Evans or Alexander. Hope it never comes to that but it would be nice to have a plan.

    • Super K

      Not sure Doobie but I wouldn’t think so.

      • Doobie74OU

        I really hope there is no need for it anyway. Just the thought of a walk-on being the primary back-up made me almost as sick as moving Eric Stricker.

  • bmrsnr

    Romar is a pretty small guy, probable close to 6’0, maybe smaller, how do you see him being used at NG? Is it going to be harder to 2-gap being so small?

    • Super K

      I would have thought but maybe he plays with really good pad level and nose how to attack the combo blocks that he’ll see a lot in there. If you know how to not get scooped and you’ve got good strength and pad level you can probably overcome some weight deficiencies but his weight definitely isn’t ideal for that position.