By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — There have been obvious changes since Oklahoma last stepped onto the field. Three new assistant coaches along with a competition between Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight for the quarterback job are the evident ones with spring practice set to begin Saturday.
However, it’s on the defensive side of the ball where OU realizes a dramatic leap is needed.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in trying to re-establish ourselves as one of the top defenses,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said Thursday. “At times, I thought, last year we played well. But down the stretch, when we really got against some really good offenses, we didn’t play nearly as good as we need to here at Oklahoma. We’re always going to have great expectations for what we expect to do when we step on the field.”
There is a defensive overhaul afoot, although OU coach Bob Stoops didn’t do much to announce what they were. He did say newly hired assistant Jerry Montgomery will be in charge of the defensive line. The ends and the tackles had been broken up into separate meeting rooms since 1999. The hope is this will help create a cohesive defensive front.
As far as reports about OU shifting from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 (or 50 front), the spring will serve as an experimental phase.
“It’s something we’ll do some in the spring, but we won’t do it solely,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “We’ll still be in our four-man front as well and we’ll work some different guys in the rotation there inside. We’ll also experiment because I think it’s a positive to be able to jump into a 50 and do some of that stuff like we had in the past.”
Bobby Jack Wright will shift from defensive ends coach to overseeing the cornerbacks. Wright was the secondary coach from 2005-09. Experience won’t be an issue. The move will also allow Mike Stoops to spend more time coordinating the defense and working with the safeties.
The changes come as OU searches for a more effective way to combat offenses that get more prolific every season. The Sooners allowed 398.1 yards per game last season and allowed 25.46 points per game. But the games that stick out were four of the last five. The Sooners allowed a combined 2,325 yards and an average of 43 points in games against Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic against Texas A&M.
The trait all four shared was the ability to spread the field with four wide receivers and run the ball with the quarterback.
Stopping the run was the major issue. OU often used six defensive backs to combat the receivers. The personnel decisions made them extremely susceptible to the run.
“I think our scheme did a little bit of an injustice to our linebackers a year ago,” Mike Stoops said. “I sound redundant, but I don’t know how else to say it: When you’re going against four wideouts 70 percent of the game, that’s extraordinary and it limits some of the things these guys can do. We’re gonna try to keep two linebackers on the field as much as we can in each situation.”
The next 14 practices and the Red/White Game on April 13 will be the time when OU gets to experiment.