Oklahoma Football: 5 Keys to Turning the Defense Around in 2013
Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma football program are heading towards the offseason with a number of problems to solve, but in order for a successful 2013 campaign they must figure out a way to turn the defense around.
The Sooners lost a majority of their regulars from last year's defensive unit including 11 seniors from the latest depth chart, according to SoonerSports.com. They also lost Tony Jefferson and Tom Wort, who each declared for the NFL draft after Oklahoma's 41-13 loss to Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl.
None of this spells success and it might force Oklahoma into rebuilding mode on the defensive side of the ball.
Bob Stoops and younger brother Mike don't have much to work with going into the offseason. They will be pretty much building from scratch, and here are the five keys to turning their team's defense around for 2013.
Rebuilding the Defensive Line
Oklahoma's rush defense ranked ninth in the Big 12 last season after giving up 2,499 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. There's more to stopping the run than just the defensive line, but as the old saying goes, it starts up front.
The Sooners lost five defensive-line regulars to graduation and need to replace them in order to improve one of the league's worst rushing defenses. They have 11 defensive linemen remaining on their roster (SoonerSports.com) and have committed seven defensive line players to their 2013 recruiting class, according to ESPN.
Chuka Ndulue is Oklahoma's lone returning starter (SoonerSports.com), and the Stoops brothers will likely start the defensive line's rebuilding process around him and Jordan Phillips. They are the Sooners' most experienced players returning from 2012.
Rebuilding the defensive line will take time, but it will also take the Sooners one step closer to turning the entire defense around.
Finding a Middle Linebacker
ESPN's Jake Trotter reported Tom Wort's intentions to declare for the NFL draft on Jan. 9, leaving the Sooners with just one experienced inside linebacker going into 2013.
Frank Shannon returns as Oklahoma's most experienced middle linebacker after starting two games in 2012. However, he didn't play in their two regular-season losses against Kansas State and Notre Dame.
According to ESPN, the Sooners haven't committed a linebacker in their 2013 class and didn't commit one in 2012 either. They have just five linebackers on the roster outside of Shannon, Corey Nelson and Aaron Franklin. Nelson and Franklin played outside linebacker in 2012.
There isn't much to choose from right now, but finding a dynamic middle linebacker should be a key to rebuilding the defense in 2013.
Replacing Tony Jefferson
Losing free safety Tony Jefferson leaves a key void in Oklahoma's secondary going into 2013.
Jefferson was awarded second-team All-American honors by the Associated Press and named to the All-Big 12 First Team by the AP and coaches. Along with Aaron Colvin, Jefferson was one of Oklahoma's best defensive players in 2012 and replacing him will be no easy task.
Colvin and Lynn return as the Sooners' most experienced secondary players. Lynn played mostly nickelback in 2012, and Colvin was an All-Big 12 First Team cornerback.
Julian Wilson started two games in Oklahoma's secondary in 2012, and The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey projects him to replace Jefferson at free safety. He finished his sophomore campaign with 29 total tackles, according to SoonerSports.com.
The Stoops brothers have plenty on their plates this offseason, but finding a replacement for Jefferson will be a major key to turning the defense around in 2013.
Focusing on Stopping the Spread Offense
If it wasn't apparent before Oklahoma's loss to Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl, it is now. The Sooners must find a way to defend the spread offense.
In 2012, 7 of the 10 teams in the Big 12 averaged over 38 points per game, and five teams averaged over 495 yards per game as well.
The Big 12 is an offensive league, and it's up to the Stoops brothers to figure out how to slow down their conference rivals.
The Sooners gave up just 206.1 yards per game through the air, but they gave up an average of 192.2 on the ground, according to SoonerSports.com. In order to stop the spread offenses in the league, they will have to find a way to consistently stop both the run and the pass.
The Sooners have a bevy of positions to fill on defense, but in order to compete in the Big 12, the players filling those positions must be able to defend through the air and on the ground.
Developing Young Talent
You can't drop 11 seniors from the depth chart and not be forced into developing young talent.
Bob and Mike Stoops will be forced to develop young players at nearly every position in order to turn the defense around in 2013.
The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey is projecting two players to start on the Sooners' defense without any experience in Mike Stoops' defense. He also projects a combination of 12 redshirt freshmen, freshmen and sophomores to be named to Oklahoma's defensive depth chart.
Nine of Oklahoma's 19 commitments in their 2013 recruiting class are defensive players according to ESPN. The Stoops brothers will have plenty of young players to mold going into 2013.
If the Sooners want to rebuild their defense going into next season, they will have to develop the young talent heading to Norman this offseason.