Back when camp opened Sooners Illustrated posed five questions Oklahoma had to answer on both offense and defense.
Now it’s time to revisit those questions, concluding with defense.
Then: Is there an answer at defensive tackle?
Now: Yes, and they are positive answers. Jordan Phillips was a beast in the middle until a genetic back issue forced him to have surgery and miss the rest of the season. In his place, Jordan Wade has done a great job and is getting better with each game. Versatile players like Matt Dimon and Chuka Ndulue are showing the ability to play both end and tackle, while Torrea Peterson is getting better as well at tackle. Quincy Russell hasn’t made a dent yet in the rotation, but it hasn’t hurt OU’s effectiveness at the position.
Then: What role will linebackers play?
Now: A huge role, and it’s another reason why the defense has been so improved since last year. Corey Nelson was having his best season yet until a torn pectoral muscle took him out. Frank Shannon has done well, while Eric Striker has become a force coming off the edge. Shannon has 53 tackles and an interception, while Striker has 2.5 sacks and 30 tackles. Freshmen Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander are getting more and more time and getting more comfortable with every possession. Linebacker is definitely not a sore spot this season.
Then: Who will grow up the fastest?
Now: None of the above. Threw out names like Cortez Johnson, Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. The name we should have been talking about was redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez. All Sanchez is waiting for is that first interception. He leads the team by far with 10 pass breakups and has also contributed with 31 tackles. That’s not to say Thomas and Byrd maybe haven’t grown up during practice and still could see some time, but Sanchez has been the story of the secondary.
Then: What Class of 2012 defensive end makes an impact first?
Now: Had a feeling Charles Tapper was going to make a splash this season. Had no idea it would be this big, though. Tapper leads the team with 4.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. Tapper has brought the pressure back to defensive end. His combination of speed and power has been a tough matchup for all opposing tackles. There hasn’t been one game this season where Tapper has made at least one huge play to help OU on defense. Tapper also has 34 tackles. Onuoha battled an early-season shoulder problem and hasn’t seen the field yet this season. He could be on pace for a redshirt year.
Then: Will OU tinker its defensive scheme?
Now: The Sooners opted to go for a 3-3-5 defense, and it has worked out pretty well. Safeties like Quentin Hayes and Gabe Lynn are coming up huge. Lynn leads the team with three interceptions. The three linebackers on the field at almost all times has helped in OU’s run defense, while Aaron Colvin and Sanchez have done a great job of limiting big plays through the air. Things aren’t perfect and injuries have hurt the group, but Mike Stoops has been able to make some quality adjustments in year No. 2 and has OU rolling in the right direction on the field and on the recruiting trail as several quality defenders have had their eyes opened by what OU has done this season.