OU hopes youth move­ment sparks im­prove­ment on D

Young play­mak­ers quickly mak­ing good im­pres­sion on OU's de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor

Tulsa World - - Sports - By Eric Bai­ley will as a es­tab­lish leader this

NOR­MAN — Ok­la­homa's de­fense is go­ing through a youth move­ment this spring.

The unit only has three se­niors — Kahlil Haughton, Mar­quise Over­ton and Cur­tis Bolton — with sig­nif­i­cant play­ing time. There are plenty of young play­ers look­ing for­ward to mak­ing a name for them­selves dur­ing OU's spring prac­tices.

“I told (the younger play­ers) to just pay at­ten­tion to de­tails, keep work­ing hard and keep play­ing your game,” said Par­nell Mot­ley, who par­layed a strong spring last year into a start­ing cor­ner­back po­si­tion. “(I said) `Don't change any­thing about your­self be­cause at the end of the day, you are still com­pet­ing for a start­ing spot.' I told them my cir­cum­stances last year.

“They come in day in and day out, even off the field dur­ing film ses­sions, we get to­gether. So I love these guys and the in­ten­sity they bring day in and day out.”

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Stoops said he has been im­pressed with Pa­trick Fields, Ron­nie Perkins, Bren­dan Radley-Hiles and Jalen Red­mond, all of whom grad­u­ated from high school early to take part in spring drills.

“All four of them have shown signs of hav­ing the abil­ity of play­ing at this level, that's for sure. For be­ing here only for a few short months, they are very skilled,” Stoops said. “They're very zeroed-in on what they want to do. That's prob­a­bly what's stuck out the most — just how fo­cused and how ma­ture they are for be­ing here 2½ months.

“To me, that's one of the most im­por­tant qual­i­ties for a young player — their ma­tu­rity level, their abil­ity to get on the field and process what we're try­ing to do and be able to go out there and ex­e­cute it.”

It's not just fresh­men — in­clud­ing red­shirt play­ers like Justin Broiles, Levi Draper, Ryan Jones and Isa­iah Thomas — whom Stoops will de­pend on to make big jumps. It's sopho­mores like Ken­neth Mur­ray, Robert Barnes, Tre Brown and Tre Nor­wood who played last sea­son and will be asked to take a big­ger role in 2018.

“This group, we hope (the jump) is pretty ex­treme. We're count­ing on a lot of these guys,” Stoops said. “We have to get bet­ter at all lev­els of our de­fense. It was very dis­ap­point­ing at times a year ago and just didn't have any con­fi­dence in what we are do­ing. It starts from Day 1 and Day 2 (of spring prac­tice) here. We re­ally feel like we're head­ing in the right di­rec­tion. It's go­ing to be a long process. But we feel like we have the play­ers in place.”

Caleb Kelly is mend­ing from off­sea­son shoul­der surgery, so one of the de­fense's top play­ers is out of play.

Who him­self spring?

“We've got a young crew. Ken­neth has done a good job. Caleb. The older guys, who is it Kahlil and Buzzy (Bolton)? Who else? Q (Over­ton)?” Stoops said. “I'd rather have no lead­er­ship than bad lead­er­ship. That's how I look at it.

“These guys are very en­thu­si­as­tic. They all want to play and con­trib­ute. They all get along. It will be by com­mit­tee. It will be a great ef­fort. We're not there yet with that part of it. But I think they are all work­ing hard to play bet­ter. I think that's the most im­por­tant thing. They have to play bet­ter at all po­si­tions. And that other stuff will come.”

IAN MAULE/Tulsa World file

Ok­la­homa de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Stoops (left) and line­backer Caleb Kelly talk dur­ing a Dec. 29 prac­tice for the Rose Bowl in Car­son, Calif. Kelly is re­cov­er­ing from off­sea­son shoul­der surgery, but Stoops says he is im­pressed with his younger...

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