Mason Prince | Sports Anchor
Defense wins championships. I know it, you know it, and Bob Stoops knows it. After a less than stellar performance last season, the OU defense is looking to return to national championship form. In order to do so, they’re going to need players as well as coaches to step up their game.
Will the secondary get any better?
Kerry Cooks enters his first season as the Secondary Coach. Oklahoma fans are hoping that Cooks’ secondary is like a fine wine that just gets better with age.
At one corner, you have Zack Sanchez, the Carbernet. He’s one of the best and most recognizable in the nation. After an injury-plagued season last year, he’s seems ready to return to form. He was named to the Bednarik Award Pre-Season Watch List, and deservedly so.
The other corner is Sophomore Jordan Thomas, the Riesling. Like the wine, Thomas is new and fresh. Thomas is a different player depending on how he is utilized in the defense. He’s a good supporter in a zone coverage scheme, but leave him in one on one situations, then he tends to be over matched like we saw against Texas Tech. However, the Riesling gets better with age, and with another year under his belt, Jordan Thomas should develop nicely.
Hatari Byrd, the Chardonnay, returns for his junior season as arguably the most recognizable name out of the platoon of safeties the Sooners boast. Like the wine, Byrd is bolder-bodied than others at 6’ 1” and 206 lbs. He can take on a variety of flavors to suit whatever the defense needs of him. He’s bold and can take you by surprise, and if it’s your first time taking on the OU secondary as a receiver, he’s probably not the person you want a to see.
There are many others who could be fighting for the second safety spot, but let’s just say for the sake of my metaphor that it is Steven Parker, the Merlot. You can pair him with almost anything and he will make it better. He’s a big body with a nose for the football. Whether he’s in man or in zone, run or pass, you can bet that you are going to see Parker around the football. Like the Merlot, Parker can only get better with age.
Can the defense stay healthy?
Towards the end of the season the OU training room might have resembled something like the hospital scene in Forrest Gump. This season, the Sooners need everyone to stay healthy if they want a chance at a Big 12 title.
Here are the three players at each level of the defense who OU cannot afford to lose throughout the year.
Zack Sanchez must stay healthy in the secondary. Similar to Darrell Revis, Sanchez has an amazing ability to make QBs throw away from wherever he is. The secondary needs a 100 percent healthy Zack Sanchez to stay competitive.
There is no player on the OU defense who is as important as LB Eric Striker. Whether it’s rushing the passer, stopping the run, or all-around leadership, no one compares to number 19. Opposing teams have to know where he is every single play, and that is something that can’t be matched.
The defensive line looks a lot different from last season. After losing DT Jordan Phillips and DE Chuka Ndulue, it’s up to Charles Tapper to bring his veteran leadership to an inexperienced defensive line. Tapper totaled 37 tackles and 3 sacks last season. Those numbers should improve this season, as he was named to the Bednarik Award Pre-Season Watch List.
Is Mike Stoops on the hot seat?
Last year’s defense came into the season as one of the biggest bright spots on the team. Oklahoma ranked 1st in the Big 12 in rushing defense, but that’s only because teams were throwing for nearly 300 yards a game against a young, hobbled and inexperienced secondary.
The Sooners finished 5th in total defense which led to many in Sooner Nation asking for Mike’s job.
So, with Kerry Cooks taking over the secondary and Stoops moving his focus to the outside linebackers, will another season of sub-par defensive play lead to big brother Bob booting Mike out of Norman? Perhaps.
There are no positive eight-win seasons, no at-least-we-got-better-years and no excuses. In Norman, only two things matter: beating Texas and beating everyone else. Mike Stoops understands that, he’s been in Norman long enough to know. Another lackluster year maybe it for Mike, but it won’t be by the hands of his brother.