Q&A: Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops

NORMAN, Okla. — Sooners Illustrated presents a Q&A with new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who got on the field for the first time this week with his players since returning from Arizona.

Q. How have the first couple days been like feeling guys out? I know you've done a lot of film stuff.

A. Well, I think, you know, watching guys over the last--watching guys last season and then watching them work out, I think we have a pretty good feel for what our players can do and getting to feel each other out and what we expect from each other, so it's been good. I'm very pleased with our first couple days. I think the players have really responded well and it's a good group to work with. I think we've got a lot of talent and we just got to improve on a lot of the little things. I think, you know, at times it really cost us dearly in big games a year ago and certainly we have a lot to correct. But I think the players are willing and anxious to gain some redemption.

Q. How about your thoughts on two guys in particular, Gabe Lynn and Javon Harris, guys that got criticized a little bit towards late in the season when things were kinda put on them as the reason why [the secondary struggled]. But how have they responded, how do you feel about working with those guys?

A. Well, I think we're playing with our personnel at this point, trying to get them in more favorable positions. And that's what you always try to do with your players, get them to do things that they can do well. You know, there's certain things each player does well and they can't do other things well. So, you just try to play to their strengths and if they have weaknesses, you try to cover them up with different defenses and certainly we all need help at times. There's some very strong quarterback and receiver play in this league last year and, you know, hopefully we can get better at our coverage and be more sound in some elements of what we're doing and get the right players in the right situations.

Q. Personnel wise, has everything been kind of what you expected watching the team from afar last year or have there been surprises out there?

A. I like the way our players move. I think we got the right elements to be a very effective secondary and a very well-rounded defense. I don't see anything where we lack ability. That's for sure. I think, you know, Aaron [Colvin], once we get Aaron back, he gives us even greater flexibility within our secondary. But I've been impressed with our athleticism and speed as a secondary.

Q. You have three starters out for cleanups this spring. Does that make it more difficult for you kind of gauging where everybody needs to be and who needs to be out there?

A. Well, we're moving a lot of personnel around, so we'll adjust with the thought that, you know, Aaron certainly gives us a lot of [flexibility]. You know, we know what we got inside with those guys. Tom Wort practiced today, so and then Aaron Colvin's the only other player that we're without in the secondary at this point without the freshmen. And Aaron, like I said, I watched Aaron [last year]. I was very impressed with his play at a variety of positions a year ago. Again, there's nothing he can't do athletically from a position of safety, nickel or corner. So, he'll even strengthen our core of DBs.

Q. Roy Williams was such an effective player for you at that nickelback, outside linebacker. Ideally, would you like to play Tony Jefferson there or are you just trying to get your best 11 on the field and however that works?

A. I think that's always the case, trying to get your best 11. And sometimes, you know, you got to look at match-ups, and that's what this game is about, match-ups now anymore. I think, and people have ways to expose match-ups and that's what we have to be conscious of, what kind of match-ups we're getting with our players and trying to put them in favorable positions. So, we're always going to be conscious of that as we structure our defense and as we look to, you know, game planning down the road.

Q. Do you see Tony as kind of not a clone but have similar traits that Roy did that enabled him to play that role, which he did for the first couple of years?

A. Tony's very instinctive. They're similar in some ways in that they both understand football very well. When you teach them, they pick up things very well. You know, Tony's not as big as Roy, but you know, has a lot of the same components, has a knack for making big plays.

Q. Mike, is it just getting guys to understand your terminology that you guys have developed over the years away now or is it restructuring things? Is it changing the system a little bit?

A. No, we're going to do a lot of the same stuff we did a year ago. You know, we'll simplify some things where it's a mix of terminology. Their terminology was not very far removed from our terminology because we kinda come from the same family of defenses. And they have evolved some over the last eight years. So, it's some of--we have to adapt, me and Tim [Kish] or Ryan [Walters], as coaches. And certainly they have to adapt some. So, it's we're both, I think, adapting to each other.

Q. Is part of the ease of it been that you and Bob have kind of stayed in communications, like you and Mark and Bob kind of get together during the offseason and talk a lot of football?

A. Well, probably as much with Brent [Venables], too. I mean, you know, we're all kind of friends and talk a lot and you're familiar from watching what they're doing. So, you know, I would watch very intently, probably more so watching Oklahoma over the last several years. But it's finding out--we have to identify who we are and we're working on that as we go through the spring. And, you know, we're gonna go in with a pretty diverse package.

Q. Coach, you mentioned Tom Wort coming back today. How did he look in practice?

A. Tom's a very explosive player. He makes a difference on the field, and he's an impact type of guy. You can feel his presence on the football field. I certainly did.

Q. Did it look like the injury was slowing him down at all today?

A. Not really. His ankle looked pretty good. So, you know, hopefully he can rebound and get healthy. The kid is a great player. You know, for his sake, I just hope he gets healthy. We could see the real player that he is.

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