In 2022, Brent Venables was supposed to waltz right into Norman and “scheme away” a decade’s worth of below-average defensive play, or at least that’s what some folks would have you believe.
To begin the season, the unit certainly looked improved, and much of that was due to an effective pass rush. Through nonconference play, the Sooners ranked among the nation’s best with 15 sacks through three contests. However, the pass rush vanished when Big 12 play began, and Oklahoma managed just 13 sacks the rest of the way, which ranked dead last in the conference.
Defensive ends coach Miguel Chavis is fully aware of the issues his room had last season but he also knows exactly what is expected of his group.
“As a former defensive lineman, and as a person that’s been in this defense going on seven years with Coach Venables, it is built around defensive lineman setting the tone, setting the edge, creating a wall, and creating havoc on the quarterback and the backfield,” Chavis said. “If you want to be a multiple aggressive defense, your defensive linemen have to play well.”
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof is placing an emphasis on getting off the field on third and fourth down this season, which the Sooners didn’t do well at all a year ago. Much of that pressure, again, falls on the pass rush from the edge.
“We’ve talked about that all offseason, amongst a host of other things,” Chavis said. “There’s been a lot to talk about, and a lot to get better on, and one of those is getting off the field on third down and fourth down. But, you’ve got to be great on P&10 (Possession & 10). If you’re going to be great on third down, 3rd & 8 is a heck of a lot easier than 3rd & 1. So, it’s not just third down. It’s what you do on first and second down.”
Heading into the 2023 season, Oklahoma’s defensive ends room looks much different than it did a year ago. Newcomers such as Adepoju Adeboware, Trace Ford, and Rondell Bothroyd are all expected to play significant roles.
“Anytime you introduce anyone, whether its a transfer or a high school player it changes the dynamic of the room,” Chavis said. “I’m trying to get every guy to be great individually, but also to be great as a room. So, it’s fun navigating that. Each guy [is asking], ‘How do I fit? Within the defense, within the team, within the university, within the room?’ I don’t have a guy in my room right now that’s not uber-competitive, that doesn’t see the challenge, that doesn’t understand the expectation, that hasn’t worked really, really hard this offseason since January. We’re excited.”
Plus, returning players such as R Mason Thomas have transformed their bodies this offseason, and look ready to expand their roles from a season ago. When asked specifically about the Sophomore out of Ft. Lauderdale (FL), Chavis couldn’t help but grin.
“I’ve seen an elite level of consistency [from R Mason Thomas],” Chavis said. ” We’re talking about a guy that weighed 216 pounds last year, and he weighs 240 today. That’s 24 pounds of muscle… He busted his butt. He freaking worked. He’s got a maturity that’s different. He’s got a Mamba mentality. He’s got a look in his eyes that’s just different.
“I love him because I can coach him really hard. I love guys that I can coach hard. He’s a great athlete but hasn’t done anything on the field, and he knows that. I ask him, ‘What have you done?’ He says, ‘Nothing.’ He’s had a really, really spring and a really, really good summer, but it’s got to translate to the fall. That’s when it matters the most… But, we’re excited about R Mason, pray the good Lord keeps him healthy,” Chavis said, knocking on the table.
Overall, Chavis seems very confident in what his room looks like heading into his second year in Norman, thanks to a good mix of returning players, and newcomers with high upside.
“I’ve got a great room, and I’m excited about the guys,” Chavis said. “Coach Venables and our staff have worked very, very hard. It was a team effort to assemble a room that is both highly experienced and competitive.
“I don’t know the last time that a guy as good as Trace Ford transferred from Oklahoma State to Oklahoma. Rondell Bothroyd was an All-ACC selection and just a phenomenal player. PJ Adeboware was a five-star, and the first one since 2016 to sign at Oklahoma on defense. Taylor Wein is a diamond in the rough that nobody is talking about. The dude is an animal…
“Then, the guys that were here like Ethan Down, Reggie Grimes, Marcus Stripling. Marcus Stripling is 250 right now. I mean, you should see this guy. He’s freaking jacked up and has worked really, really hard. R Mason Thomas has gained 24 pounds.
“We’re excited. The guys know there’s gonna be some different lineups going against one’s, two’s, three’s, and play your schedule. I ain’t looking for no moodiness. I ain’t looking for, ‘Why am I running out there?’ Whether I’m at Oklahoma, Clemson, or somewhere else, I’m gonna do my best and I’m gonna max out my opportunity.
“We’ve got to get guys thrown in the fire and see who can play under pressure. And the only way you do that is to put them in there. So, we’re gonna mix it up. Ain’t nobody got a [starting] job.
“Ethan Downs was second-team All-Big 12 last year. He was one of the standards when it comes to being an Oklahoma man. He’s got to go out and prove it. Rondell Bothroyd started at Wake Forest and was a phenomenal player. And? PJ Adeboware was a five-star. Yep. So, go prove it, man. The left tackle at Texas doesn’t care about how many stars you’ve got. They don’t care. You’ve got to freaking go prove it every day. So, I’ve got a group that’s very aware of that. I’ve got a group that’s eager to please and I’ve got a group that’s playing a lot more physical.