By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — There was no sense of denial with Oklahoma’s secondary following the 2012 season. The Sooner defensive backs knew there were problems that had to be fixed.
Physical issues could be handled in individual offseason workouts, but other matters took more of a collective effort.
Mainly, it was the collective effort that had to change.
“Quite frankly, we were soft last year,” OU safety Gabe Lynn said.
The senior, who was named the Big 12’s defensive player of the week after coming up with two turnovers in the 16-7 victory of West Virginia, didn’t mean the Sooners were weak physically. He described a defense that was just trying to get through games instead of win every snap.
Playing defense at the major college level requires much more than 11 really good athletes. It’s a unit that requires all 11 doing something that makes the sum bigger than the parts.
OU struggled to do that because of constant communication breakdowns.
“Last year we gave a lot of plays away just off of mental busts and relaying the wrong call to somebody,” nickelback Julian Wilson said.
Those busts creates easy plays for offenses. Receivers run around uncovered and running backs find gaping holes because of them.
Through two games, the 14th-ranked Sooners (2-0, 1-0 Big 12) have been much better in that area.
“It’s a big part of our defense. You have to communicate on any level,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “You saw the other night, I knew there would be a lot of movement in the game. There was movement on every play. They were moving a back out. They were moving a receiver across. Our rotations and communication as a secondary, I think we hit every one but maybe one out of 50 motions. We missed one or two, I think, out of the 45-whatever motions they had. Those were always a good sign as well.”
The defensive coordinator wouldn’t put a number on how many of those were typically missed last season. But it was something OU couldn’t afford to continue. The whipping it took against Texas A&M in the At&T Cotton Bowl Classic presented that vividly.
“It started right after the A&M game. You see what happened that game. It’s just the little things, we started working on those more,” Wilson said.
The emphasis carried over to spring practice and continued right into fall camp. The goal was to be a defense where, mentally, all were seeing the same things.
“You see before plays, we’re all looking at each other and talking to each other. The reason is we take film a lot more serious and we prepare a lot more this year. Also, we’re a closer group,” Lynn said. “Not just the secondary or the linebackers, the whole defense is closer. Some plays you might see a D-tackle talking to a safety or a linebacker talking to a safety. Whoever it is, everybody’s communicating well.”
The third test comes when the Sooners face Tulsa (1-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Owen Field. They’ll face another offense that does a lot before the snap to confuse a defense. There will be motions and shifts to adjust to and audibles to make. One deaf ear or one failure to look for the right signal kicks open the door to a big play. It will be that way in every game this season.