Coach V's Group's Versatility Solidifies D

NORMAN, Okla. — From the very beginning of the season, there's been something very special about this year's Sooner defense, something very different about this year's Sooner defense, something that doesn't come around every day.

Yes, there are playmakers all over the field, but that's not it.

And they are sound in all areas, hardly with a weakness to be found anywhere, but that's not it either.

Rather, the Sooners have the type of versatility on the defensive side of the ball that not just great defenses possess, but one in which elite defenses have.

And spectators saw it in a nutshell in last weekend's 47-17 victory over Kansas.

For instance, OU rolled out four defensive ends in a set at one point last weekend.

At other points, defensive end Ronnell Lewis shifted to the Sam linebacker position, while defensive back Tony Jefferson mixed between closer up and deeper from the line of scrimmage.

And strong safety Aaron Colvin showed his ability to move between safety and corner with ease.

See, these are just a few examples from a few players, when in reality almost all 11 plus some on the bench can do this for the 2011 defense.

"There's a lot of players that can do a lot of different things meaning we can get in and out of the 50 or the 40 front, you know, real easily," said head coach Bob Stoops. "Our guys understand it. We have the personnel to do it. We can play four D-ends as opposed to two and two inside bigger D-linemen. But those D-ends in there aren't [small]. They've got size to them, too. So, we can--we got different safeties that can come up or play back. So, it is. It is one of the more versatile ones we've had."

Thing is, even great players sometimes don't have the versatility that some of these guys do.

And what's so impressive is the fact that there are so many on this defense that have it, which allows the Sooners to be so multiple scheme wise.

It really comes down to two concepts as laid out by defensive coordinator Brent Venables, mental capacity and instinctive play.

"You just don't do it to do it," Venables said. "You got to have--it's got to make sense to them. And you got to get them to be able to play fast and sure of themselves, so some years you have that guy and others you don't. And when you don't, your hands are a little bit tied, but, you know, you got to play to their strengths."

What's more? These guys can play at the same winning level at different spots on the field.

"So we do have a lot of guys that can do multiple things, and the bottom line is that's not always what's most important," Venables said. "It's what can they do well, and are they doing it well? So, we've been fortunate to have a number of guys that can handle a little bit more than normal situations and try to hope that you can adjust from week to week."

As for the players, they realize the type of stress this versatility can put on opposing offenses.

It makes it very difficult to game plan for all the different looks they could see.

"I think it's great, I mean, when you have versatile guys that can play two to three positions and limit their sets," Colvin said. "I mean, you can play any [different defensive set]. As far as me and Tony, we can both play safety and corner or the Sam, nickel and you have Corey Nelson who can put his hand down there or play linebacker, so it helps a lot."

Back to the four-defensive end scheme, though, which is one of the most unique options OU's defense can throw at its opponents, it really allows them to maximize their quickness up front.

But under one condition: They must run it at the right times.

"I think it's something that we want to continue to use and continue to build on absolutely just from the stand point, again, from a speed factor, putting faster rushers on the field together," said defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright. "And then, you know, we want to kind of massage it and bring along and add to it. It's certainly isn't something that's going to evolve to be our entire package.

"But we do like it for third and long situations where we feel like we can play coverage behind it without having to blitz to get pressure where we got four faster guys on the field that we think are our first best pass rushers at one time."

No doubt, this example of versatility and others show why this defense can be so devastating the rest of the season.

Follow me at or

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories