Dousing Out the Doubters

NORMAN, Okla. — For the big guys on the interior of the defensive line, the biggest enemy for their opponents might be exactly what has taken place throughout all of fall camp: They have been doubted and labeled as the weak link of the team.

That has fueled their motivation heading into the season.

"It's a much bigger chip," said starting defensive tackle Casey Walker. "It's like a boulder, so yeah, we got to prove a lot of people wrong. Even ourselves. You know, so it's more of stepping outside of the box, you know, showing everybody what we're capable of doing and what we're going to do."

Fellow starting defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said it has caught his attention, too, and lit a fire in all of them.

"We're very aware of that," McFarland said. "It does, of course [motivate you]. You still have to go out there and compete and play your game. You can't let it rattle you. But it does help you go through practice and compete."

Still, it's not an issue they consciously discuss at practice.

"We don't really bring it up, but we know we have to be a big force in the middle," McFarland said. "That's just the defensive tackle position anywhere, not just at Oklahoma. You have to be strong in the middle or you're going to be weak."

The group lost Adrian Taylor to graduation, and it seems they're still under the shadow of Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 player overall selected in the 2010 NFL Draft.

"I think it's like that because, you know, everybody's not used to seeing our faces," Walker said. "They're used to the Gerald McCoy, Adrian Taylor, [DeMarcus] Granger, so, you know, we're kind of like the new kids on the block."

Stacy McGee, who started 11 of 14 games last year at defensive tackle as a sophomore, seconded that.

"I guess, I mean, like he said, we're not the big names like that," McGee said.

That is a conversation they have, how to model their games and play like those excellent defensive tackles before them.

"I mean, obviously the success that D-tackles and defensive linemen have had before us is, you know, a weight to put on our shoulders," said redshirt freshman defensive tackle Torrea Peterson. "And we talk about that as a unit all the time how we want to strive to improve and strive to live up to Oklahoma defense's name, and we're taking strides and progressive steps at a time to correct it and get us where we need to be. And I think we're coming to that point."

Indeed, they are a very talented group, and perhaps overlooked.

The three-man rotation of McFarland, McGee and Walker has combined for 18 career starts, including 65 tackles, 11.5 of which were for loss and four sacks.

All are heading into their junior year, and as everyone knows, it is very difficult to get extensive playing time as an underclassman, so the numbers aren't bad.

Throw in Peterson, who's had an exceptional camp, and this corps could be very legit.

"I like that we have a variety of guys and a lot of different specialties," McFarland said. "We've got a pass rusher. We've got a run stoppers. We've got just mixtures they can put out there and do it in very different styles."

Speaking of style, the Sooners have switched up just that at the defensive tackle position.

"Okay, the technique we have now is more we're allowed to go make plays rather than last year, it was just one gap," McGee said. "Now, we're two-gap players, so our defense is set up for us to go make plays like linebackers. We don't have to just take up men anymore."

And they're all pumped about that.

After all, who wouldn't want to make more plays?

"Yeah, yeah, I mean, like I said, everybody's always excited about making a play," McGee said. "Shoot, I am. I'll be excited to boost my stats, so, I mean, like I said, everybody's going to be out there moving around a lot more, making more plays all across the D-line."

This shows confidence in these players from the coaching staff, among other things.

That, in turn, has instilled confidence internally throughout the group.

"I feel like I'd say confidence and helping each other and not just going out there and going through the motions to whereas now we're trying to actually fix things for each other, watch each other during plays, key some of the things on the offense, see little things, maybe a foot up or maybe heavy on the hand or anything just looking at different things other than just getting off the ball [is the biggest difference this year]," McFarland said.

Peterson has also realized the elevation in confidence level.

"Like last year, you could sense that a lot of us weren't sure of ourselves," Peterson said. "And the older guys were sure of what they were doing, but a lot of us weren't sure of, you know, ourselves and our abilities. And this year, that is completely different. We have, you know, taken it and run with it. We're very confident, very sure of ourselves."

And they're very sure those question marks will be no more once the season starts Sept. 3 against Tulsa.

"I have no doubt, no question marks whatsoever on our defensive line or defensive tackle," Peterson said. "Like I said, we made huge strides since last year, a year ago, so I feel like we're going to come out ready to prove ourselves. We're not really worried about what everybody else has to say about, you know, defensive tackle group and are they weak? Are they this? Are they that? We're just focused on playing to the best of our ability."

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