Will Oklahoma’s Defense be Championship Caliber in 2019?

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Will Oklahoma’s defense be championship caliber in 2019?  Before Oklahoma can compete for a national championship, the defense needs to be dramatically improved.  It was arguably the worst defense in the country the last two years. This has kept the Sooners from playing for back to back national championships.

Will Oklahoma’s Defense be Championship Caliber in 2019?

Coaching vs Players

First, there was plenty of blame to go around in 2018.  Poor coaching was without a doubt a factor in the poor defensive performance a year ago. Poor schemes, an obvious lack of discipline, and a very passive approach were evident from the coaching perspective. Many times, players had no idea where or when to line up.

Many players, especially in the secondary, have come in as highly touted freshmen and excelled. But they seem to regress by the time they were juniors or seniors.  That points to coaching, or lack of it.

Without a doubt, player’s shoulder a big share of the blame.  Clearly, there was a lack of effort at times on the defensive side of the ball. In addition, another factor was the poor tackling technique shown. This is something most players learn in middle school.  Obviously, that boils down to effort and desire.

Defensive Coordinator Change

Oklahoma fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops following a 48-45 loss to Texas. Although it was clearly time for a change, the defense did not improve following Stoops dismissal.

Oklahoma announced the hiring of former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch on January 4th.

Grinch brings a completely different style of play that the players seem to favor.  Grinch is implementing more of a fly to the ball, force turnovers, aggressive style of play.  As opposed to a conservative, passive style of play that obviously hasn’t been successful.

Projected defensive contributors

There is a lot of young talent at defensive end.  On one side the projected starter is Jalen Redmond. On the other side is Ronnie Perkins.  They will be backed up by Kenneth Mann. Newcomers Marcus Stripling, Kori Roberson, and junior college transfer LaRon Stokes could see playing time as well.

 The defensive line should be anchored by Neville Gallimore.  Others expected to see playing time include Dillon Faamatau and Marquise Overton.

The Sooners should be pretty well set at linebacker with conference preseason defensive player of the year Kenneth Murray.  Oklahoma has a budding star in second-year linebacker DaShaun White.

The most critical position for Oklahoma will be at defensive back.  This wasn’t helped with the season-ending injury to returning starter Tre Norwood during fall camp.

That being said, Tre Brown, arguably Oklahoma’s best cover man will start on one side. The other corner will be manned by either Parnell Motley or Jordan Parker.

Parker missed nearly all of the 2017 season after sustaining a knee injury in the season-opener against UTEP.  Comparatively, in 2018, he didn’t play in OU’s last four games in a year where he was asked to play safety.  Undoubtedly, the move to corner should help him as well as the team.

Brendan Radley-Hiles should be the starter at the nickel corner.  Radley-Hiles was a big disappointment in 2018.  In Radley-Hiles defense he was playing out of position most of his first season.  Therefore, the move to corner should help him.

The safeties were definitely the weak spots in the secondary in 2018.  The starter at strong safety appears to be Delarrin Turner-Yell, Patrick Fields has been penciled in at free safety.

Players that will be missed

The biggest loss on the defense is obviously Curtis Bolton.  Bolton was arguably the best player on a poor defense.

Norwood’s experience in the secondary will be missed. Sometimes, graduating players on a terrible defense isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Breakout players to watch

Now, Perkins is a future star at defensive end.  However, the same can be said of Redmond at the other defensive end. Redmond has the most potential. But, he also has the most athleticism at the rush end position. Furthermore, Redmond emerged as a five-star recruit according to 247 Sports. He was the Sooners most capable pass rusher when he was healthy.

His health is the only issue that might hold him back. If he’s fully healthy, he could become Oklahoma’s breakout player on the defense. Stripling, a highly touted recruit, could also be a factor in a fairly thin defensive line.

Critical areas needing improvement

The number one area needing improvement is tackling.  This defense could not execute simple form tackles a year ago.  This equates to simple “want to” and effort.

With that being said, the change in the scheme should result in improvements.  Players are excited to play the aggressive style of play that Grinch has installed.

Oklahoma had an all-time low in turnovers forced in 2018.  The style of play that Grinch has implemented focuses on flying to the ball and forcing turnovers.

The bottom line

For the Sooners defense to be championship-caliber they don’t need to be top five nationally with the prolific offense that Oklahoma trots out every Saturday.  If the defense can be top 50 Oklahoma can compete with anyone in the country.