OU 11 - Defense: No. 3

Down the stretch we come with the countdown with the top three.

Football season is almost here for Oklahoma. And SoonersIllustrated.com is eager to get you ready for what could be a memorable 2014 season.

During the next two weeks, Bob Przybylo and Justin Hite are going to reveal their top 11 players on offense and defense and how those players will impact what happens on the field this fall. Let the countdown and debates begin.

Defense

No. 3

Bob Przybylo: Cornerback Zack Sanchez. It’s his time to shine. He got a baptism by fire playing opposite Aaron Colvin. He took some hits, but he delivered some of his own that should make him better for it this season.

One encouraging sign with Sanchez was the fact his two interceptions happened in the final three games of the season. Balls he was simply deflecting in the first part of the season, he was now snatching up and taking back the other way.

Sanchez knows the cornerbacks are going to be tested early and often, and he knows nobody is going to shy away from looking in his direction this season. But he’s ready for the challenge, embracing everything that goes with being a No. 1 cornerback.

The fact Sanchez did make so many mistakes as a redshirt freshman can actually be seen as a positive because it shows just how far he can still progress as a player. And right now there really is no ceiling for Sanchez.

No. 3

Justin Hite: Defensive end Charles Tapper. With the size of a defensive tackle and the athleticism of a linebacker, Tapper is the definition of the perfect defensive end – in the 3-4 or the 4-3.

He’s an elite pass rusher and an underrated run stopper – although he’s not really all the underrated. But to be able to serve as a standout defensive end in an even or odd front is no easy task.

It requires incredible diversity.

Still in just his fifth year as a football player, Tapper’s improvement scale is exponential. The next level will be necessary if the Sooners are going to reach the four-team playoff. Tapper has to be the focal point of the opposing offensive line every time they walk up to the line of scrimmage, which is a tough task considering Eric Striker will be lining up behind or on the opposite side of Tapper for almost every snap.

Tapper finished just shy of 50 tackles last season, an incredible total for a defensive end. He also finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks. He’ll be in the Lombardi Trophy conversation this year, and he’ll be in a battle with Striker all season long for the team sack championship. If the competition is tight, that’s good for Oklahoma.

Is the ten-sack threshold a possibility? Maybe, but it’ll be more likely that Tapper and Striker combine to hit 15. And a good pass rush will be the best thing for Oklahoma this season.

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