Sooners’ recruiting class leans toward defense

Attempting to stiffen up a defense that faded late for a second

straight season, Oklahoma loaded up along the front line and in the

secondary Wednesday on national signing day.

Coach Bob Stoops and his staff received letters of intent from

seven defensive linemen and four defensive backs, making up nearly

half of a 23-player recruiting class. Junior college transfer

Quincy Russell is among four defensive tackles in the class, with

in-state products D.J. Ward at defensive end and Stanvon Taylor at

cornerback highlighting those position groups that Stoops called

”major needs.”

”Toward the end of the year, we gave up just way too many

points, way too many yards,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops

said. ”Even as good as those teams were, we need to be better

equipped to handle those styles of offenses. Certainly, I think

this group of players will help us move forward with our

defense.”

Two more homegrown products, Dominique Alexander from Tulsa and

Jordan Evans from Norman, were the only linebackers in the

defense-heavy class aimed at offering better resistance against the

Big 12’s increasingly potent offenses. Seven of the league’s 10

teams ranked in the top 25 in scoring last season.

”We have to adjust to what we see in this league, and we feel

like we addressed a lot of those issues with our defensive line and

certainly our secondary guys,” Mike Stoops said. ”It’s one of our

strongest groups of secondary players. And the two linebackers give

us a lot of flexibility – two big, fast, physical guys that can

play in space.”

The Sooners have received increasing scrutiny on their defensive

line since the departure of Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 pick in the

2010 NFL draft. Elite-level, NFL-bound tackles such as McCoy,

Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek have played key roles in

Oklahoma’s best teams contending for national championships.

Without one, the Sooners have given up yards at a record-setting

rate the past two seasons. Bob Stoops expressed hope that the new

crop will shore up the defensive line.

”On the defensive line, you have to be able to run – to be any

good anyway. That’s the only way you’re going to get penetration,

get to the quarterback, those kinds of things and be able to chase

a ball down to the sidelines,” he said.

”They’re hard to find. There’s just not a lot of them, but we

love these four guys.”

Oklahoma also added running back Keith Ford and quarterback Cody

Thomas, a major-league baseball prospect who Stoops says is

committed to playing football for the Sooners.

”Talking with Cody and his family through this whole recruiting

process, he is adamant that he truly wants to play football unless

he was picked so high that couldn’t turn away from it,” Bob Stoops

said. ”Most indications are that football is important enough to

him that he’s going to want to pursue that. … We wouldn’t have

pursued this and gone down this road if we didn’t feel there was a

great chance that Cody would be with us.”

The Sooners added just three offensive linemen in what has been

a thin position recently because of injuries. However, two of the

three are junior college transfers – Josiah St. John from Trinity

Valley (Texas) and Dionte Savage from Arizona Western, the same

school that provided starting running back Damien Williams in last

year’s recruiting class.

There’s also an influx of four high-school receivers – a

position that went from a big question mark during training camp to

a strength last season when Justin Brown from Penn State and Jalen

Saunders from Fresno State were allowed to transfer in without

sitting out a year. There will be openings, though, because Brown

was a senior and Kenny Stills left early to enter the NFL

draft.

Austin Bennett, Dannon Cavil, Jordan Smallwood and K.J. Young

make up the incoming receiver class. The other addition is Jed

Barnett, a punter from Laney College who could step in immediately

for departing senior Tress Way.

The class was rated 15th in the country by recruiting website

Rivals.com and 16th by ESPN, and Bob Stoops said he considered it

comparable to many in his 14 seasons as head coach.

Only time will tell how it really stacks up on the field.

”Who knows how all these kids are going to react once they get

here, to the disciplines and the structure and all that it takes to

be a great player at this level?” Mike Stoops said. ”But our hope

when we went into this recruiting season for me personally was to

recruit good, strong kids of character and toughness that it takes

to compete at the very highest level and can take the rigors that

come with the pressures of playing at Oklahoma. And we feel like we

did that.”