The Oklahoma Sooners haven’t had many problems in the last 20 years when it comes to replacing offensive stars and production. You couldn’t say the same for the defense, especially lately.
Of course, OU’s 2018 defense didn’t have many players whose play qualified them for star status. The task at hand for new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch this spring will be putting numerous returnees and a handful of newcomers in position to turn into standouts when games kick off this fall.
Grinch has his work cut out for him this spring whipping OU’s defense into shape. Changes on that side of the ball highlight the major storylines for the Sooners as spring practices start.
5 Storylines to Watch During Oklahoma’s Spring Practice
1. It’s Jalen Hurts' show
The Sooners landed the crown jewel of this class of graduate transfers in Hurts, who was the SEC’s offensive player of the year not so long ago. Hurts earned plaudits at Alabama for his leadership and character, but OU head coach Lincoln Riley also needs a quarterback who can sling it. Spring practice will offer the first look at how well Hurts is adapting to his new surroundings. Riley will also have an opportunity to tinker with tailoring OU’s offensive scheme to his new QB’s talents.
2. Who fits where in OU's defense?
Hurts’ arrival and hiring Grinch to oversee a defensive renaissance make for one interesting offseason in Norman.
The Sooners essentially lost one starter off the 2018 defense. That’s not necessarily a good thing, given how poorly the unit performed last year.
For his part, OU’s new defensive coordinator has to figure out how the pieces he’s inheriting work in his scheme. That could mean shifting some players to different positions or moving on from some veterans in favor of younger prospects who are better suited to what Grinch is trying to do.
It should be an eventful spring on that side of the ball.
3. Chemistry on the offensive line
OU has benefited from superior QB play in its four-year run of Big 12 conference championships, but the offensive line has had a big hand in the program’s success as well. Last year’s group might have been the best to ever come through Norman.
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will spend the next six months figuring out the best combinations to fill openings at both guard positions and each tackle spot. Fortunately, center Creed Humphrey returns to anchor the line. Four new faces up front could get messy, though.
Bedenbaugh also will work to identify players who can provide depth on the second string.
4. Safety competition
OU’s safety play was mediocre in 2017 when manned by Will Johnson and Steven Parker. It only got worse last year after the two graduated. A revolving cast of Robert Barnes, Delarrin Turnen-Yell, Brendan Radley-Hiles, Tre Norwood and more shuffled through the back end, none stood out.
Grinch will coach the safeties in addition to his duties as coordinator, so he has plenty of work to do. Even though most of the key candidates are back to audition for jobs in 2019, the Sooners may not have any answers at the position before fall.
5. Creating a pass rush
Among a multitude of problems on defense last season, OU’s anemic pass rush helped turn its secondary into a shooting gallery for the gun-slinging passers of the Big 12. Part of Grinch’s mandate is upping the pressure on opposing QBs.
Sophomore edge rusher Ronnie Perkins is back after leading the team as a rookie with a pedestrian total of five sacks. A handful of players with a smattering of sacks return, but the team lacks proven rushers who can get after the quarterback on their own. The situation looks even dicier when you consider the uncertainty around redshirt freshman Jalen Redmond’s health.
Grinch will need to figure out a way to either set his rushers loose or build more pressure packages into his defense. That process starts this spring.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.