The Sooners are set to open up spring football this weekend, and Sooners Illustrated breaks down what things look like on the defensive side of the ball.
Head coach Bob Stoops dropped a bombshell—it was one of three—in the offseason when he fired longtime defensive tackles coach Jackie Shipp. He completed that move by hiring Michigan defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, who takes over the entire defensive line, while Bobby Jack Wright shifts back to help in the defensive backfield alongside defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Montgomery inherits a group that loses three of four starters, including graduated defensive end David King and tackles Jamarkus McFarland and Casey Walker. Senior defensive linemen Stacy McGee and R.J. Washington are also no longer around. Defensive end Chuka Ndulue is the lone returning starter, and there's competition for the other spot between a host of guys such as Rashod Favors, Geneo Grissom, Chaz Nelson, Mike Onuoha and Charles Tapper. Inside, expect to see Jordan Phillips as one starter and Jordan Wade and Jordan Phillips battling it out this spring, with Quincy Russell arriving in the fall and taking the other spot. As evidenced by that, the Sooners are limited depth wise inside and will have to shift some things around this spring. There's been talks of going to an odd front, but OU won't solely use that.
Mid-level production was nonexistent last year defensively. Stoops and the Sooner defense used a lot of one-linebacker and no-linebacker sets, which they plan to avoid this time around. That said, with Tom Wort forgoing his final college season, Corey Nelson and Frank Shannon return as the two starters. The only other two scholarship linebackers OU has heading into the spring are Aaron Franklin and Frank Shannon, so they'll have to play important roles as well. If OU uses the 3-4 set, expect Onuoha to shift back to the mid-level, as could a guy like defensive end P.L. Lindley, who played the same position in high school.
OU loses its most production in the defensive backfield, where leading tackler and free safety Tony Jefferson (119) decided to head to the NFL Draft. Strong safety Javon Harris is also gone, as is cornerback Demontre Hurst. But the Sooners have a good starting point, with elite cornerback Aaron Colvin deciding to come back for his senior year and anchor OU's secondary. Former Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson, who was inactive last year, Kass Everett and Zack Sanchez could be in a heated battle for the other spot this spring. Don't sleep on Ahmad Thomas either, as he could fight at corner. Gabe Lynn is expected to fill Jefferson's spot, while Quentin Hayes will step in at strong safety. Julian Wilson will be the nickel back.