The Moore American

August 7, 2013

Sooners start from scratch on defensive front

American Staff
The Moore American

MOORE — The only player on Oklahoma’s defensive line with starting experience is senior Chuka Ndulue. He’s making the move from defensive end to defensive tackle this year.

In every sense, the Sooners are rebuilding the defensive line. This will be the first year under new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. And there are going to be several players getting their first real game action this season.

If OU coach Bob Stoops is concerned, he showed a good poker face Saturday at the Sooners’ Media Day.

“I believe there’s some capable guys coming up and they’re going to have a chance to be good players,” he said. “They just haven’t had the chance to be on the field as much yet. Again, there’s different positions every year that that’s very much the case.”

Stoops threw out the analogy of OU’s wide receivers last season. The group entered preseason camp very thin. But freshman Sterling Shepard emerged, the addition of Penn State transfer Justin Brown was a major boost and getting Jalen Saunders eligible midway through the season helped make the group one of the best in the Big 12.

Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said an essential element for the unit to improve is some impact defensive linemen.

The head coach feels like the potential is there, but admitted there’s a difference between being impactful and playing like an All-American.

“We feel we have some guys that are capable of being like that. Is there Gerald McCoy? No,” Stoops said. “That’s not going to happen every year either.”

Slowing down? Bob Stoops hinted at Big 12 Media Days that OU might slow down the pace of the offense to help out the defense this season.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel hopes that isn’t the case.

“When we’ve had the ability, our personnel has allowed us to (speed tempo), when they’ve had some experience with what we’re doing,” Heupel said. “Last year we played with more of it. It’s been a weapon for us. Certainly it’s one that we want to use this year as well. It’s another way to attack defenses.

“You look in the past at teams that have shifted, traded, motioned, been multiple with their personnel, played multiple formations, tempo is another way to attack. So I hope nothing changes.”

More from Finch: Roy Finch has the been the wild card in OU’s offense since 2010. The 5-foot-7, 167-pound senior has bounced around from running back to receiver. Last year, he played mostly on special teams.

Heupel has seen a different player since training camp began.

“A year ago, Roy got caught a little bit because of our situation at wide receiver heading into fall camp. He bounced around between wideout and running back. For whatever reason, I don’t think he was playing the way he’s capable of at any of the positions,” Heupel said. “His maturity, the way he’s approached the offseason, in the weight room, academically, at practice, meetings, he’s been tremendous. He’s been mature in a great way. Because of that I feel like he’s going to have a great year.”

Change has come: The breakout year wide receiver Trey Metoyer expected last season did not occur. The former five-star recruit only had 17 catches and one touchdown.

OU co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Jay Norvell said there was a coming-of-age process Metoyer went through last season.

“I see a different maturity in him, I see a different focus in him. He’s been rolling off the ball the last three days,” Norvell said. “When a player really starts playing with confidence on a consistent basis, that’s when you really gain trust in him. It’s really obvious around here that we’re trying to gain trust in him.

He’s one of the guys who hasn’t been consistent yet. He’s had a good camp but the key is when you play a guy at the starting position, you have to trust him on every day and on every snap. He has to raise his level of understanding performance every time he’s out there. So he’s trying to do that and he’s certainly had a great start. I think our football team responds when he makes plays. We’re excited about it right now. We’re cautious, but we’re still pushing.”

New spot every day: After three practices, freshman safety Hatari Byrd has played all three safety spots.

“He’s very knowledgeable. He’s easy to coach. He wants to be great,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “His maturity level is one of the highest I’ve seen this early on in his career. His maturity physically, we know what he looks like, but his maturity mentally and athletically. It’s a very unique set of tools to work with a kid this young. He may be the biggest, fastest guy that we’ve seen at this young of an age. Again, he possesses a lot of the intangible qualities, but again, it’s only three days. So far, so good. I think he has a bright future.”

The Sooners are replacing three starters in the secondary, including both safety spots.

Sign this, please: OU also hosted the Meet the Sooners autograph session Saturday. All the players and coaches signed for fans for about 21⁄2 hours.

What was the strangest thing Bob Stoops was asked to sign?

“A baby,” he said.

Stoops said he was asked to sign the child’s clothes.