Sooners tinker with defensive options in spring

Bob Stoops considers the start of spring practice one of his

favorite times of the year.

For all of the challenges ahead for Oklahoma over the next six

weeks, he still loves the opportunities that are there, too.

The Sooners will be trying to figure out how to replace NCAA

career receptions leader Ryan Broyles and a handful of other

starters moving on in hopes of playing in the NFL and seeking the

right solutions to shore up a defense that gave up huge numbers in

a few losses last season.

Stoops sees the joy in figuring it all out.

”I don’t have any big concerns,” Stoops said Monday before

Oklahoma took the field for its first of 15 spring sessions. ”It’s

just like every year. It’s never going to change. Players graduate,

players leave early and you’ve got other guys that you’ve been

working with and developing ready to play. I’m excited about what

the potential is, so we’ll just see.

”Concerns are everything. I want to see everybody get better,

even guys that have played.”

Stoops will benefit from the services of Landry Jones, who

decided not to enter the NFL draft and instead will be back for his

fourth season as starting quarterback. He’ll be trying to plug the

holes left by Broyles, a two-time All-American, as well as a group

of defensive starters including ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell

Lewis, linebacker Travis Lewis and top cornerback Jamell

Fleming.

Newcomers Taylor McNamara and Brannon Green will get their first

chances to prove themselves at a tight end position left barren

when seniors James Hanna and Trent Ratterree completed their

careers and Austin Haywood transferred.

”What we’re after is more development, not just where everyone

focuses on where you lost guys. I want to see even guys that were

here a year ago play better and work to make improvement,” Stoops

said.

Center Ben Habern (back), running back Dominique Whaley (ankle),

defensive tackle Casey Walker (shoulder), linebacker Tom Wort

(back) and safety Aaron Colvin (shoulder) are among a group of

starters that will miss the spring. Stoops said there’s a chance

Wort could be cleared to participate later in the drills.

With that group missing and another chunk of the roster gone as

part of the normal attrition on a college team, the spring has a

bit of a rebuilding feel to it.

”It always feels that way this time of year because you’re

always losing guys and you know how much work you’ve got to do to

bring guys along, but I’m never alarmed about it because I always

feel we have young players coming up and guys that haven’t quite

played as much that are now ready to have a bigger impact and for

the most part worked that way,” Stoops said.

”So, we’ll get out there and start working them.”

Among position moves, Lane Johnson will move from right tackle

to left to replace Donald Stephenson and receiver Joe Powell is

switching to defense.

Generally, there could be some tinkering with the addition of

Mike Stoops, Bob’s brother, as defensive coordinator and Tim Kish

as linebackers coach. Still to be determined is whether playmaker

Tony Jefferson will land at free safety or at nickel back after

playing both spots last season.

”This is a time of year where a lot of guys will come on and

then you start to see who’s making the most plays most

consistently,” Bob Stoops said.

”I’m kind of excited even because of Mike Stoops being here and

Tim Kish being new to allow them to see for themselves, moving

these guys around, who they feel are playing the most consistently

or who they can count on.”

Mike Stoops, who was his brother’s defensive coordinator before

spending seven-plus seasons as Arizona’s head coach, came in as

Brent Venables left to become Clemson’s defensive coordinator. When

he left, the Sooners ranked among the nation’s top 10 defenses four

straight years. They haven’t been in the top 50 three of the past

four years.

”I don’t think there’s any need for magic fixes,” Bob Stoops

said. ”We’re coming off a 10-3 season. We had a couple of games

that, sure, we didn’t play as well as we normally do defensively

but in our league … I think we’re in the top one or two in

scoring defense and total defense, right?

”I don’t know that there’s a big, drastic fix that needs to

happen, honestly.”