Depleted OU defensive line still looking to improve

NORMAN, Okla. — First, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said holding teams to 10 or 17 points in the Big 12 was unrealistic, making sure the bar was set a low, manageable level.

Hey, maybe it was just a guy going with the ole’ rope-a-dope. You know, tell everyone listening the defense shouldn’t be expected to do too much, not that anyone really thinks Oklahoma will be much of a defensive team after what happened the second half of 2012 and the second half of 2011. A little lip service to get his team fired up.

But then Bob Stoops went and said the same thing, moving the already low bar down to Limbo height, saying not only was it unrealistic in the Big 12, but unrealistic to expect that kind of defense anywhere.

And sure, that kind of stinginess from the defense isn’t common, but 10 teams last year, led by Alabama at 10.93, held teams to under 17 points per game. OU was 50th in the nation, allowing just more than 25 points per game.

“Whatever wins the game,” Bob Stoops said. “I’ve felt that way going all the way back to being a defensive coordinator. Sometimes you win 7-6 and sometimes you have to win 49-50. As long as you win.”

And if the Sooners are going to win this season, it may be closer to the latter than the former, because even before the season starts, OU can’t seem to get a break.

Gone are five defensive linemen from a season ago and since the start of fall practice less than a week ago, the Sooners have lost two more to injury.

The weakest part of the defense just got paper-mache thin.

So, how is a defensive line that was generous a season ago, giving up more than 185 yards rushing in eight games, going to be better this year?

“I don’t take it personally,” said Chuka Ndulue, one of the few Sooners who has experience on the line, coming off a season where he was named to the All-Big 12 second team. “Sometimes it feels good. Right now, no one is giving us a chance and we nothing to prove except to ourselves.”

Well, there’s plenty to prove, actually, but before the Sooners start thinking about that, they have to figure out who’s going to be on the field.

Even Ndulue might not be there on Aug. 31 when Oklahoma kicks off the season against Louisiana-Monroe. He is expected to be suspended, due to an off-season DUI. Nothing has been announced as of yet.

What we do know is D.J. Ward, expected to contribute at end is out with a spleen injury. Bob Stoops didn’t have a timetable for his return. Could miss the season. Could be out for longer. Bad news for Ward, who sat out all last season as a senior in high school after his transfer was not approved by the Oklahoma State Secondary Association.

Then Tuesday, Bob Stoops said end Mike Onouha, who played in four games as a freshman, would be out for at least three games with a shoulder injury. He likely won’t even practice until mid-September.

Who’s left to stop the run?

“We’re the front line,” Ndulue said. “It all starts with us. It all starts up front. This year, everyone is more involved and better. As the year goes along it will look better.”

What it’s going to look like is we’ll all need a roster card. Past Ndulue and Jordan Phillips, there’s not a lot of familiar faces. Rashod Favors, who played linebacker a season ago and Geneo Grissom, who was projected to be a tight end, are now on the line. Charles Tapper is regularly talked up after playing in five games a season ago, but is a relative unknown. There’s also Torrea Peterson (five games) and Jordan Wade (redshirt freshman).

There aren’t a lot of answers.

“This is Oklahoma,” Ndulue said. “There is a huge tradition especially with the D-line. Everything we didn’t do right last season, we’re going to work on this offseason and build from that. So far that’s what we’re doing.”

For Ndulue that meant inventing a meal between breakfast and brunch. He said he’s up to six meals per day, putting on weight since moving to the defensive tackle spot. He’s up to 274 pounds, about 20 pounds heavier than last season.

“Chipotle was my best friend during that whole time,” he said. “I went there at least three times a day, which was kind of awesome.”It was double chicken fajitas with cheese. Same thing. It doesn’t change. It stays great every time.”

If the Sooner defense is more of the same it could be a long year, no matter what’s on the menu.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK