The Sooners are getting taller and longer on the defensive side of the football, and it’s happening quickly under third year Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch. One of the philosophies on his defense is length and speed at defensive back and the Sooners’ last two classes have accomplished just that. Under previous defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, defensive backs were on the shorter side as he did not necessarily see as much value in recruiting bigger guys, if they could play. Alex Grinch’s aggressive, in-your-face style of defense helped the Sooners secure 16 interceptions while only giving up 12 TD passes in 2020, and things only appear to be getting better for the OU on defense.
Oklahoma still has plenty of secondary players who are under 6’ that will play a significant role on the OU defense. While Grinch would almost certainly be willing to recruit play makers under 6’ if they were the right players, it is important to note Grinch did not recruit any of these guys. They include Woodi Washington, an expected starter, Delarrin Turner-Yell, and Patrick Fields as the starting safeties the last two seasons, followed by Brendan Radley-Hiles, Jeremiah Criddell and Jaden Davis. Each of these guys are undersized, but have a chance to be major contributors and starters for the next Oklahoma team (other than Radley-Hiles who has entered the transfer portal).
However, the stars of next year’s secondary are likely to be CB DJ Graham (6’1) and DB Justin Harrington (6’3). The Sooners also expect contributions from CB Joshua Eaton (6’2), Kendall Dennis (6’1) and safeties Bryson Washington (6’2) and the transfer from Tennessee Key Lawrence (6’2). The freshmen coming in this year include 6’4 safety Jordan Mukes, and two 6’2 CBs in Damond Harmon, and Latrell McClutchin. Since Grinch and his staff began recruiting, the priority on tall and fast defensive backs has been obvious, and for the first time this year that length will be ever present on the field for the Sooners.
The importance of this cannot be understated. Oklahoma has struggled defending big athletic tight ends like Charlie Kolar of Iowa State over the last couple of seasons, as well as big, tall wide receivers Iowa State and Texas are typically lining up wide. OU has had to rely on being extremely physical to match up in the past, which has led to several holding and pass interference calls that have really hurt the defense in some key moments.
This adjustment in size is exactly how Alabama has played in the defensive backfield for years, getting big athletic freaks who can run, which has led to producing talent the likes of Patrick Surtan, Trevon Diggs, Minkah Fitzpatrick and more. Oklahoma looks to do the same starting in 2021.
In many ways, these struggles in the defensive backfield have been one of the biggest reasons OU football has not been able to get beyond a College Football Playoff appearance. With the offense still humming, but the defense now being molded to better compete with the best of the best, 2021 is shaping up to be the best season yet under Lincoln Riley.
But the question remains: Will they get over the elusive hump and reach a National Championship Game?