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Oklahoma’s Hopes of a Sixth-Straight Big 12 Title Hinge on the Defensive Line

NCAA Football: South Dakota at Oklahoma

The 2020 season hasn’t even kicked off yet, and the Sooners already have reasons to be concerned their streak of five-straight Big 12 titles could be in jeopardy.

First, the schedule. In their first four games, Oklahoma faces the proposition of dealing with two ranked foes (Iowa State, Texas), their sole Big 12 conference loss from 2019 (Kansas State), and doing it all without their best two defensive players in DT Jalen Redmon and DE Ronnie Perkins.

Oklahoma was supposed to have one of the best defensive line units in the conference, and perhaps in the nation, anchored by Redmond, who some see as a potential first round NFL Draft pick, and Ronnie Perkins who has been tremendous for OU.

 

Jalen Redmond chose to opt out of the season after a tough offseason. He underwent surgery, missed all of camp, and reportedly contracted COVID-19 early in the summer. It made sense for him to opt out, having health concerns to deal with, and not being in good football shape due to those health concerns. As for Ronnie Perkins, he will miss what is expected to be four games of the 2019 season due to suspension for failing an NCAA drug test. Perkins also missed their contest against LSU in the Peach Bowl. This suspension is a continuation penalty of an archaic rule, but that’s a story for another day.


So with those two out of the picture for at least the first month, along with Neville Gallimore who is now in the NFL, Oklahoma is going to be looking for some young players to really step up to the plate on the defensive line.

La’Ron Stokes is back in the mix after winning the 2019 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12 Conference. Also, they’ll have veteran players like Isiah Thomas as well as Jon-Michael Terry. But young players like Reggie Grimes, Joseph Wete, Marcus Stripling, and Jordan Kelley must carry the day for the Sooners to be stable along the front and get through a grueling first few games.

This is a year earlier than many of those names were expected to contribute, but such is life for teams in 2020 dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  OU is also plugging in the highest-rated JUCO DT prospect Perrion Winfrey on the defensive line. While the cupboard is by no means empty, Oklahoma is still suffering the loss of their two leading sack men from last year, who they expected to play vital roles in 2020.

With all this being said, the Sooners are no stranger to depth issues on defense. Last season the Oklahoma secondary struggled immensely to find a clean rotation on the back end, which led to OU’s depth being exposed by the eventual National Champs in Atlanta.  OU will now start 2020 replacing six starters in key positions along their defense, with the departures of Parnell Motley, Kenneth Murray, and Neville Gallimore, while also losing Caleb Kelly for the year to an ACL injury.

 

If the Oklahoma Sooners are going to win their sixth-consecutive Big 12 Championship and make it to either Miami or Dallas, the defensive line is the biggest concern OU will need to find an answer, or answers, for. Any team need pass rushers to win championships, and you will need them to beat the best two quarterbacks in the Big 12 preseason, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger and Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, in the first four games of the year.

That’s no easy task. And Alex Grinch, Calvin Thibodaux, and Jamar Cain will have their work cut out for them. There have likely been many sleepless nights lately for the defensive coaching staff, but now is the time to step up.

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