In 2009, the Oklahoma Sooners were in every single game throughout the season, except for one. One would expect that the reasoning behind that would be the Sooners' offense, which put up a national record 51 points a game in 2008.
However, it was actually the complete opposite.
2009 was the year of the defense in Norman, and although the Sooners didn't have a successful season by the standards of the Oklahoma tradition, the defense was consistently a bright spot on the team.
They ranked in the top 10 in three major defensive categories and top 10 in two other lesser categories.
- Scoring Defense- seventh: 14.5 points per game
- Total Defense- eighth: 272.6 yards per game
- Rush Defense- eighth: 92.9 yards per game
- Pass Efficiency Defense- seventh: 98.98 QB rating
- Sacks- sixth: 2.92 per game
- Pass Defense- 20th: 179.7 yards per game
This fantastic performance came just a year after a very sub par year for a Bob Stoops defense. However, the defense in 2008 had zero worries when the offense was always scoring in bunches and always had a big lead.
Now, the attention turns to 2010 and the big question is can the Sooners replicate the defensive performance in 2009 in 2010?
The answer is absolutely.
The Sooners are once again loaded with talent at all defensive positions and should be able to duplicate last year's performance provided that the injury does not strike like it did in 2009.
However, just because the Sooners CAN be as good this season on defense, it doesn't mean that they will. There are several questions that have to be answered in order for the Sooners to reach their true potential.
1. Depth at defensive tackle
The Sooners have some serious questions at defensive tackle heading into the 2010 season. Gone is All-American Gerald McCoy and dependable players DeMarcus Granger and Cordero Moore. Sophomore JaMarkus McFarland is going to be a solid replacement for McCoy at one of the tackle positions. McFarland, a product of Lufkin, Texas, recorded 2.5 sacks as a freshman last season.
The main concern is the other position. Senior Adrian Taylor figures to be the other starter, but that remains to be seen. Taylor suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the Sooners Sun Bowl victory over Stanford and has not been practicing. Taylor is off crutches and is continuing to improve, but nothing is certain at this point. No one knows when Taylor will return or how ready to go he will be once he does return.
In the meantime, sophomore Casey Walker and redshirt Justin Chaisson, who was moved to defensive tackle because of the injury to Taylor and lack of depth, really need to step up. The Sooners also have three freshmen coming in at tackle who can contribute immediately.
If Taylor comes back in time for the season opener, and is his usual self, there isn't much to be concerned about here. If not, the Sooners will have to find someone else to step up fast or the middle could be a very vulnerable spot for the Sooners defense.
2. Experience in the secondary
For some of you out there, you're wondering why this is a concern at all. The Sooners have an extremely talented group of players in the secondary and it actually should be a strong point for the defensive unit.
That well may be, but there isn't a ton of experience back there, at least, not starting experience.
Both corners from last year's team are gone; Brian Jackson to graduation, and Dominique Franks to the NFL Draft early.
Both safeties are back, but Sam Proctor may have to fight to earn his job back after losing it late in the season last year. Quinton Carter mans the other safety position with Jamell Fleming, a junior, taking Proctor's spot.
At cornerback, senior Jonathan Nelson seems to have nailed down a starting spot after picking off three passes in his playing time in 2009. Demontre Hurst should fill the other corner back position well.
There is a lot of talent and depth backing up these four. Gabe Lynn, a redshirt freshman, should be a huge asset as should freshman Tony Jefferson, who was an all everything player in high school. Jefferson participated in the spring game and impressed the coaching staff. He will definitely be on the field in the fall.
The Sooners secondary will be extremely tough if all of the talent that they have translates into play on the field. That experience factor will be something to watch for come September.
3. Too many people at linebacker
This is the best kind of problem to have: Too many great players.
The Sooners lost Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds to graduation. Reynolds was denied a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, although I don't know how. Jordan Shipley had the same issues as Reynolds and got six. Lame, I know. Oh well.
Losing Clayton and Reynolds is hardly a loss though as Oklahoma replaces them with players that are more athletic and better than both Reynolds and Clayton. The problem is which ones are going to start?
Travis Lewis will hold on to his starting spot with ease. Lewis has become the new leader of the defense with the graduation of McCoy and has started at linebacker the past two years. Having him back in Norman is a huge boost for this unit and for defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
The other two spots are a toss up between four players: sophomore Ronnell Lewis, redshirt freshman Tom Wort, sophomore Joseph Ibiloye, and junior Austin Box.
All four have a case for a starting spot. Based on pure talent and athletic ability, Lewis and Wort have a leg up with Ibiloye and Box coming in behind. However, Box easily has the most experience in the group, having filled in for Reynolds last year after Reynolds went down for the season with an ACL injury against Texas.
What's more is that one of the Sooners' top prospects, Corey Nelson of Dallas Skyline, is also a linebacker and brings a lot of talent to the table.
Venables is going to have his work cut out for him to try to get all of this talent on the field at some point throughout games. However, he can rest easy knowing that no matter what combination he goes with, the linebackers are probably going to be the strongest unit on the field.
Oklahoma has the potential to be better in 2010 than they were in 2009 on defense. If these questions get answered at defensive tackle and in the secondary, the defense will be just like and F-5 tornado on the Oklahoma plains: Devastating.