Editor’s note: This is the last installment of a 10-part series on potential breakout OU football players for 2019-2020.
Here's a list and links to previous stories in the series: 1) Charleston Rambo 2) Patrick Fields 3) Jalen Redmond 4) T.J. Pledger 5) Delarrin Turner-Yell 6) Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease, Trejan Bridges 7) Brayden Willis 8) Austin Stogner 9) DaShaun White
ARLINGTON, Texas — Oklahoma’s defensive resurgence rests partially on its returning experience up front.
Neville Gallimore referenced that continually during Big 12 media days. There’s Kenneth Mann, Marquise Overton, Ronnie Perkins, Jalen Redmond, Dillon Faamatau — all will be back.
But Gallimore could be the most important piece. In some ways, though he has started 24 games with the Sooners, the redshirt senior nose guard is still searching for a breakout season.
“I’m just scratching the surface,” Gallimore said. “I still feel like there’s another level that I can tap in. I’m starting to get that.”
Recruiting top talent at defensive tackle has been an issue for the Sooners, whose last All-Big 12 player at that spot was Gerald McCoy in 2010. OU has had just two defensive tackles drafted since 2013.
There’s hope in the locker room that Gallimore has something big planned for his final season in Norman. It would benefit not just the Sooners, but Gallimore’s potential NFL future.
A product of Ottawa, Canada, he’s one of OU’s strongest and physically imposing players. But that isn’t directly reflected in his three sacks from a year ago.
Lincoln Riley contends there’s more to him than numbers. Gallimore may not be Quinnen Williams, the Alabama defensive tackle who gave the Sooners trouble in last year’s Orange Bowl, but he can be a force.
The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman ranked Gallimore the nation’s No. 2 athletic “freak” in college football. Between Nov. 24 and Dec. 30 of last season, Gallimore was one of OU’s best-graded defenders each week, according to Pro Football Focus’ analysis.
“He's very, very difficult to single block. Even for our really good players last year, he's a difficult match up,” Riley said. “Anybody knows you start having a guy in there you got a double team … Kind of like [Williams], that was such a factor in the game, us having to double team him so much. The guy had maybe one or two tackles in the game and he totally changed the game. A great interior defensive lineman does that. They don’t necessarily have the impact of their game measured in the stats.
“Neville is extremely explosive. He’s learning to do that more consistently.”
Gallimore lost more than 30 pounds, slimming down to 299, in order to prepare for his role in Alex Grinch’s one-gap system that figures to give him more playmaking opportunities at the line of scrimmage. He said his latest 40-yard dash was clocked at 4.76 — quicker than the 4.83 Williams ran at the past NFL Combine.
“As a defensive line that should be what you want to do, be aggressive, play behind the line of scrimmage and have the opportunity t0 stop the run as well as get to the quarterback,” Gallimore said. “That’s where the fun happens.”
The weight loss hasn’t affected his performance in the gym, where Gallimore says his max lifts have remained the same or increased. As a more conditioned player, he feels better than ever.
And he’s aware there’s an open spot to become OU’s next notable defensive tackle.
“Absolutely. But at the end of the day, it’s easy to talk about it, but you’ve got to go show it on the field,” Gallimore said. “My focus right now, when we put the pads on and the season’s here, is being able to show that.”