Three Oklahoma defensive players to watch this season

Oklahoma Sooners DT Jordan Phillips (80).

Matthew Emmons/Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Geneo Grissom was a star against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Linebackers Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander are two of the most-dynamic players on the defensive side of the ball.

Quentin Hayes had more than 100 tackles last season. Even punter Jed Barnett is getting a lot of run this preseason.

So, who are some of the candidates on the defensive side of the ball who could surprise this season?

Oklahoma has the best defense in the Big 12 and the Sooners strong performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl should give the defense a bump in confidence heading into 2014.

Here’s a peek at some of the under the radar players on the defense going into this year.

Check back here for a series detailing the Oklahoma football team. Friday we’ll take a look at who the best candidates are to carry the ball in 2014.

Here’s Wednesday’s look at some under the radar offensive players:

Jordan Phillips, DT

A year ago, at this time, Phillips was the talk of the defense, but due to a back injury, the6-foot-6, 334-pound missed all but four games.

Oklahoma tabbed as Big 12 favorite in preseason poll

In 2012, as a freshman, Phillips played in 11 games and had 12 tackles. In 2014, Phillips very well could be the team’s best interior defender.

Phillips has been injury free this umber and will join a line with Charles Tapper, Geneo Grissom and Jordan Wade.

"Jordan, If he stays healthy, can be as dominating a player as there is in college," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said to the Tulsa World. "He’s got all the tools."

By the end of the season, if Phillips plays the way Sooner coaches think he can, he’ll be on everyone’s radar. For now, after missing more than half the season, Phillips is the most anonymous of all the defensive line players.

Hatari Byrd, S

Similar to Phillips, there was a lot of talk about Byrd heading into last season. But the freshman never really lived up to the preseason hype.

Remember, Byrd was the player OU coaches were saying could play a number of different positings in the secondary. Instead, Byrd only played five games and had three tackles. The four-star recruit should be better this year.

The OU secondary isn’t a strength this season and that could lead to an increased amount of playing time for Byrd at  the  free safety position . Ahmad Thomas (So.) and Steven Parker (Fr.) could also see time, but Byrd (6-1, 201) would seem to have a a real shot, considering what coaches were saying about him last year.

Jordan Evans, LB

Despite an alleged sexual assault investigation, starting linebacker Frank Shannon remains on the team at Oklahoma. However, Evans could either slip into that role or at least see major time in the same spot, depending on what happens with Shannon.

Evans stood out in the spring game. He had three tackles at middle linebacker. Evans played eight games last season, but missed games late int the season with an ankle injury. He had eight tackles against Texas Tech.

The 6-3, 223-pound sophomore is the best bet at middle linebacker behind Shannon.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK