Oklahoma football: Key players to help revive the struggling Sooner defense

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 19: Neville Gallimore #90 of the Oklahoma Sooners sacks Skyler Howard #3 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half on November 19, 2016 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 19: Neville Gallimore #90 of the Oklahoma Sooners sacks Skyler Howard #3 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half on November 19, 2016 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Oklahoma football doesn’t have many question marks heading into the 2019 season, but defense continues to be one of them.

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The most talked about flaw of the past few years for the Sooners has been their defense. The Sooners ranked 124th in the country in total defense last year according to ESPN.

In 2017 the Sooner defense was slightly better, earning the rank of 81st in the country in total defense.

One good thing from these struggles, it united the fan base around one common goal, to fix the defense. But who will be the players that start this change?

The front seven 

The Sooner defense struggled at times to get to the passer and to prevent big gains in the ground game. They ranked 73rd in sacks with 28 and 59th in rushing defense allowing 159.8 yards per game.

While it’s not statistically the worst aspect of the defense, it still seems to be clear that if this defense wants to take the next step then improving in these areas would be instrumental.
Three guys who could all have big impacts in this area are Kenneth Murray, Ronnie Perkins and Neville Gallimore.

Kenneth Murray has been a key part of this defense over the last two years. Coming into this year, it looks like his role could be even larger.

The junior from Missouri City, Texas has already totaled 233 total tackles in his two years. Also notching 5.5 sacks in that timespan.

However his career hasn’t been easy. He was heavily criticized after the crushing loss to Georgia two years ago and again after losing to Texas in the regular season.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

Through the hardships he has maintained his leadership and that should continue. One thing that might change is how he is used in this defense.

In the new scheme you might see more of Murray rushing the passer and less of him dropping back into coverage. This will bode well for Murray, as he seems more fit for this role.
Next up is sophomore defensive end, Ronnie Perkins.

Perkins got into every game last year, as a freshman, and he started seven of them. In those games he totaled 37 tackles and five sacks.

He seems to be one of the few locks in this defenses starting 11, especially in the new scheme. Don’t be surprised if Perkins ends up as the sack leader of this team, or even the conference.
Up next is a player who shouldn’t be left out of any talks about this year’s Sooner defense, Neville Gallimore.

The redshirt senior from Ontario has already made his mark on this team, but he’s in prime position for dominance this year.

Gallimore has amazing athleticism, especially for being an interior defensive lineman.
This athleticism has been felt in each of the 38 games he’s played in, racking up 118 tackles in his career.

That number should go up drastically in the new defensive scheme this year. Gallimore’s quickness paired with the stunts that Grinch likes to use, could be a commanding pairing.

Each one of these three players will be paramount for the Sooner defense this year. If they can all do what they are capable of, then this year could be more of an improvement defensively Han some people expect.

The secondary

The most polarizing issue in this defense is the secondary, a group that gets plenty of scrutiny in a full spread and raid conference.

The Sooner secondary ranked 129th in the country last year giving up 294 yards per game.

With it being near impossible to be worse than last year, who will be the players to help turn it around?

First up, Brendan Radley-Hiles otherwise known as Bookie. He was expected to be the five star recruit to save the defense last year, but that didn’t go as the fans had hoped.

Bookie played in 13 games last year, starting in 11 of them, in those games he totaled 39 tackles and five pass breakups. While it wasn’t the breakout season some were hoping for, he did make a few mice plays.

Bookie’s main highlight was against Kansas State. He lit up the receiver right as the ball arrived and forced an incompletion. This one hit excited all of Sooner nation.

It also proved that he has potential to be a good player, just needs some time.
He was transitioning from corner to nickel, so some growing pains were expected. This year, he has more experience in this position and a year of getting used to the speed in college.

Another player that’ll be looking to improve on last year’s production is junior corner back Tre Brown.

Brown started in 8 games last season and he played in all but one. His production was solid with 58 tackles and 12 pass break ups.

However, there were still instances where he was beat on the deep ball, a sight many Sooner fans are almost accustomed to.

Even with those struggles, he still made a very positive impact on the defense. In the big 12 championship game he gave Sooner fans the best highlight of the year from that side of the ball.

He crashed down on a corner blitz and drilled Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger in the end zone for a safety. That one play ignited a sense of hope among fans for the future of this defense.

Brown has shown the speed and talent to be a good corner in this conference. Now it’s just showcasing that every play he’s out there.

Another player to keep an eye on in this secondary is sophomore safety Patrick Fields.

Fields only saw the field in six games last season, getting 13 tackles in those games. But eight of those tackles were against Alabama in the playoff.

Even though he didn’t receive much playing time, that performance against Alabama showed his potential.

Fields will be looking at a bigger in this new attacking defense and he seems to be the perfect fit for an attacking safety.

All of these players will be looked at to improve that dreadful pass defense ranking and make the Sooner defense a threat again.


Overall these six players will all look to leave their mark on this team and improve the Sooner defense.

With that being said, they aren’t the only ones with talent that teams should keep an eye on. This defense features more talent than in recent years and there will be many contributors.

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Will this talent be enough to flip the script on this defense and satisfy fans, is one of the most polarizing questions going into this year’s season.