Positional Breakdown 2012: Defensive Line


A successful defense usually starts with effective play along the defensive line, and under Bob Stoops Oklahoma has usually had outstanding defensive line play.  2012 should be no different as the Sooner defensive line should have enough individual talent to deliver excellent results.

The 2011 Sooner football team had two stars at defensive end, Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis, but both have moved on to the National Football League.  The starters at defensive end in 2012 will be David King and R.J. Washington, who combined for 47 tackles, 9 TFLs, and 7 sacks in 2011.

David King’s starting spot is actually a bit in flux due to an indefinite suspension to defensive tackle Stacy McGee.  King will shift over to tackle for the season opener at UTEP and sophomore Chuka Ndulue will replace King as the starter at end.  With the early transition of Geneo Grissom from defensive end to tight end, this move will hurt the depth at defensive end, something very important in a conference with so many up tempo offenses.

R.J. Washington is a former top recruit for the Sooners (#1 DE, #13 National 2008), who struggled to make an impact in his first few years at Oklahoma.  After redshirting in 2008 Washington combined for only 7 tackles and one half sack in 2009 and 2010.  I certainly had the opinion that R.J. was another example of overhype in college recruiting and that he would never reach his potential.  However in 2011 R.J. Washington began to have an impact as a backup defensive end, registering sacks against Tulsa, Florida State, Kansas and then having his first two sack game against Iowa in the Insight Bowl.  Based on his projections along with his increased production from the 2011 season, I think R.J. Washington is in store for a breakout season that will garner post-season accolades, possibly First Team All-Conference or better.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see R.J. Washington leading the team and being near the top of the conference in sacks.

The backup defensive ends will be JuCo transfer Chaz Nelson and redshirt freshman Nathan Hughes.  Hopefully the Stacy McGee situation can get resolved so David King can return to his spot at defensive end and the Sooners can have a five-man defensive end rotation.

The Sooners return more experience at the defensive tackle position, as seniors Casey Walker and JaMarkus McFarland had seven and eight starts respectively.  Both players are big guys who average over 300 pounds, but the beast of the line could be redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips, who dropped around 25 pounds to be down to a lithe 6-6 329.  Getting back Stacy McGee will greatly improve the depth at tackle so the two-deep can include McGee and Phillips to rest McFarland and Walker.

As is the case with the rest of the defensive units, the biggest overall improvement could be the addition of Mike Stoops as the defensive coordinator.  I was always a big fan of Brent Venables, but it’s hard to compare with Mike Stoops when it comes to crafting defenses.  I think Mike Stoops changes to the defense along with his personality will help this line be one of the best that OU has had in years.