MVP: Tony Jefferson
He's made the switch from nickel to free safety and made it with relative ease. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops speaks of Jefferson's instincts, his ability to make big plays and comfortability at safety and he illustrated that in the spring game. Jefferson came up with five tackles, including one for loss and was sound in the secondary. The 5-foot-10, 199-pound DB from Chula Vista, Calif., said the move has allowed him to make more impact plays and use his skills in all the ways he can out there in between the chalk and his ability to do that, plus take a commanding leadership role this spring, earns him the MVP.
Player to watch: Chuka Ndulue
Ndulue has drawn a ton of praise from defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright since last season's conclusion. He demonstrated how warranted that praise was when he came up with one of the nicest plays in the spring game. Ndulue separated from his battle on the line and acrobatically batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot-3, 251-pounder also recorded a tackle in the contest. He could easily break into a big time playmaker at the D-end position along with David King, R.J. Washington and company.
Potential surprise player: Jordan Phillips
One of the biggest beneficiaries of a banged up defensive line this spring was the former Circle (Kan.) HS defensive tackle product. With veterans Casey Walker and Stacy McGee out, Phillips got a ton of reps with the ones, racking up a couple tackles, including one for loss in the Red-White game. Phillips could have contributed last year but got onto the practice fields late due to some complications. This time around, it's a different story. He's through his first spring ball and ready to go. Phillips could be a big force for OU inside up front.
Most secure position: Middle linebacker
It's never a bad thing to have a junior and two-year starter anchoring his group and the entire defense. That's just what the Sooners have with Tom Wort, an honorable mention All-Big 12 coaches' selection in 2011. Jefferson, who Stoops has lauded for his, has raved about Wort's leadership this spring. He's become more of a vocal force and picked up two tackles as part of that in the spring game. No doubt, returning 137 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, including eight sacks, is crucial at the backer position.
The biggest concern: Health of the defensive line
The Sooners needed McGee and Walker to both return full strength to maximize their potential at tackle. It's also crucial that defensive end Geneo Grissom comes back healthy from his foot injury. It's cliche in a lot of situations, but this defense in many ways depends on the big boys up front and their health. The talent is there to be great, but injuries have to be kind to the Sooners and that means healing now.
What we know: The defense is going to be physical
Up front, in the middle, on the back end: OU will be physical on the defensive side of the ball. Stoops brings that personality and the players have already responded to it. Jefferson, a hard-hitting safety, is prime evidence of that. The D-line will get into opposing offenses' backfields and receivers coming over the middle of the field can expect to get blown up by OU's linebackers. Again, that's just the defensive personality the new coaching staff owns. Physicality will not be an issue.
What's still in question: How Stoops will use his secondary
He's already basically said Jefferson and Javon Harris are his two starters at free and strong safety, respectively. Demontre Hurst is the field cornerback, and Lamar Harris has been operating as the starting boundary corner this spring. But will they remain the same once Aaron Colvin comes back? Colvin could become a starting corner but also offers great versatility in the interior secondary. How much will Kass Everett progress? Can Joe Powell, who had a great spring, get into the starting mix along with Lamar? All these questions remain.