OU hopes youth movement sparks improvement on D
Young playmakers quickly making good impression on OU's defensive coordinator
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.”
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...