(Image via 247 Sports)
With the last few years in the fold, the Oklahoma Sooners pursued a defense that they believed would fix their defensive woes when it came to playing in the Big XII— the 3-4. With a player like Eric Striker speed rushing off the edge, that worked wonders against Big XII opponents, but it never felt comfortable for most. Even before Bobby Stoops relinquished the Iron Throne to Lincoln Riley, the Sooner Staff understood they would be going back to the 4-3…. kinda.
A traditional 4-3 defense has the following: two defensive ends, two tackles, a Will, Mike, and Sam. Well, this 4-3 is different in the notion that one of the down-linemen will be Obo Okoronkwo as a quarterback terrorizer to get around the edge. Sometimes he will put his hand in the dirt, other times he’ll be a stand up DE; as Mikey Stoops will say, the Sooners want to (must) remain “multiple.” So, when in position meetings, the likes of Obo, Mark Jackson, and Addison Gumbs will likely be with Coach Thibs, not Mike Stoops.
Emmanuel Beal will be starting at the Will (weak side linebacker) and he provides some sort of comfort because of his work and previous experience. He is a bit undersized for that position, but he plays much bigger than he is. Truth be told, after Beal makes his exit after this year, I’d be counting on Kenneth Murray to be taking that weak side spot. The coaches love him and that spot seems much better fit for his long, athletic frame. Right now, Mikey Stoops is having Murray battle with JMT, but that’s only for immediate pressure, which could suggest something else.
Jon Michael Terry (JMT) is pursuing a starting job at the Mike (middle linebacker) and this should be the major cause for concern among Sooner fans and coaches. The Mike is the quarterback of the defense and from what we’ve been hearing is that he has not solidified his spot because Kenneth Murray is pushing him in practice. JMT is fundamentally sound most of the time, and is a big athlete— but keep in mind he’s a redshirt freshman. Murray is a true freshman that is still adapting to his role in the defense (it’s hard when coaches want to try you at three separate positions), but is an incredible athlete along with the power he brings to the field. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody if JMT has a bad game or two, and suddenly Murray is the starting Mike. Forget about the wide receivers, the Mike is going to be by far the largest question mark heading into the 2017-18 season.
Y’all already know. Caleb Kelly makes your defense better. There is no position battle here, the only challenge is to get this man on the field as much as possible. In the traditional 4-3 defense, fans will see CK on the field all of the time, but what about when Big XII play comes to fruition? Besides Baylor and Iowa State, the Big XII is a conference made of spread teams— that means the Nickel will essentially be the base package Mikey Stoops operates from. In order to keep his playmakers on the field, the plan is to keep CK on the field with Beal in place of JMT. Caleb Kelly already has quite a few checkdowns as a SAM, so learning another position on the field could be confusing at times. But, CK has shown time and time again, he’s trustworthy, has great instincts, and knows how and where to ball out.
The Sooner staff is very familiar with the 4-3 defense and there are certainly glaring question marks over the middle of the defense. But, the notion that should give Sooner fans and players some excitement is that Mikey Stoops is ensuring he gets the best 11 men on the field. Having Caleb Kelly and Obo Okoronkwo on the field at the same time is a must— the defense is far more impactful that way. This defense isn’t too different from what they would play in a 3-4, the alignment is just different. One could say it’s a 4-3, but the formation is a simple adjustment and slide over to becoming a 3-4. So, take it for what it’s worth; the defense should be better in 2017.