NORMAN, Okla. — You could call them divided before.
The defensive ends met with position coach Bobby Jack Wright.
The defensive tackles met with position coach Jackie Shipp.
As defensive tackle Torrea Peterson puts it, they just weren't on the same page.
"Before if we missed an assignment in practice, it's like, ‘Oh, the D-end's supposed to do this. Oh, the DT's supposed to do [that],'" Peterson said. "You know, we were on different pages."
Don't put that on the coaches, just the system, but now under new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery that has all changed.
No longer are they split between interior and outside defensive linemen.
The group now comes together at once to share ideas and collaborate.
"The fact that we're all in one room together, that brings us a lot closer," Peterson said. "Now we're on the same level. That works on camaraderie. That works on even our friendships as individuals, so that's huge in the aspect of actually working together and being a cohesive unit instead of being divided."
Defensive end Charles Tapper, now in his second year as a Sooner, concurs.
"I think that's a better step because now like we know what the defensive tackles are thinking, what the defensive ends are thinking," Tapper said. "Like when we're running plays and stuff we don't have any miscommunications at all because we're all in the same room. We all understand what's going on."
Outside of getting them together and building that rapport amongst the front four, the biggest constant this spring for Montgomery has been emphasizing what the players call the "knock ‘em back" mentality with a one-gap technique.
That is to say, the coaching staff is stressing the defensive line to bust things up in the backfield.
"You know, this new scheme that we got, we're just able to play knock ‘em back football as [opposed] to last year," said defensive end Mike Onuoha. "We had to two-gap, but this year we're playing knock ‘em back football, go knock somebody's teeth out and make a play."
Said Tapper: "The knock ‘em back football is gonna be a big step because now we're playing behind there, playing on the offensive side of the territory. So, we should be able to make more plays, defensive line, and make it easier on the secondary."
Admittedly, last season offensive lines were blowing up OU's defense up front, making it tough on the mid level and secondary.
At times, offenses virtually willed their way against the OU defense because of that.
"I mean, last year Tony [Jefferson] was making a lot of plays," said Chuka Ndulue, who has moved from outside to inside in the offseason. "So, this year it's more like we're attacking and just knocking back. If you knock the line of scrimmage back, the running back has a hard time running downhill. He has to go side to side.
"And with that, the way we're playing, when he goes side to side, he slows down and it can help the defensive line make a play. So, basically we're just attacking them."
It's a restored presence up front Sooner Nation will gladly welcome back to the field come fall.
And Montgomery is even doing so in an encouraging manner, not so much by riding them.
"I think any time you're trying to accomplish some sort of goal, you want positivity to be the main focus," Peterson said. "You need tough love. I agree. You need tough love sometimes, but more so positivity is what drives me, positivity to believe I can do this, positivity to believe I can achieve what I want to achieve. And I think that helps a lot."
However he gets it done, there's no question a more dominant defensive line that can control the scrimmage will be vital to OU's success in 2013.
And a tighter bond by being in the same meeting room can only help.