Oklahoma spring football is just around the corner. Coming off a disappointing 2014 season, all Sooner fans are looking forward to turning the page to 2015.
Every edition of spring practices bring along questions, but there has arguably never been a more fascinating and uncertain spring than the one OU is about to begin.
Sooners Illustrated is here to help. During these next 15 days, we are going to pose one major question each day regarding OU’s 2015 spring football issues.
The countdown will end March 6, the final day before OU’s first day of practice and coincidentally, OU’s second junior day event and OU basketball’s showdown vs. Kansas in a huge day in OU sports. After spring practice, we will revisit these same 15 questions and see what has been answered and what remains left to be figured out.
Question No. 11: Who starts at defensive tackle?The loss of Jordan Phillips, who decided to enter the NFL Draft, will be massive for Oklahoma – and not just because of Phillips’ 6-foot-6 frame. There might not have been a more prototypical collegiate 3-4 nose tackle. Phillips was disruptive almost immediately at the point of attack, and although his run defense wasn’t stellar, he clearly wasn’t a liability.
Likely to replace him is a group of players who have less than two years of experience. In fact, the two front runners don’t have a single combined start and minimal experience outside of mop-up time. Here’s a look at the four most-likely candidates:
Matt Romar - Obviously the next in line, Romar came off the bench when Phillips needed a spell last season. Despite being just a redshirt freshman, Romar played in 12 games last season. He missed the Russell Athletic Bowl because of injury, but he has shown all the tools to be Phillips’ understudy. At 6-foot and 287 pounds, Romar isn’t the monster in the middle like Phillips had been. He needs to be far more active if he wants to be the Sooners’ next defensive tackle.
Charles Walker - Expected to be a defensive end with Oklahoma, Walker is already listed as a defensive tackle on the Sooners’ roster. He played in eight games last season, missing five because of injury and had 10 tackles in mostly relief duty. He is far more of a physical specimen than Romar and at 6-foot-2 and just shy of 300 pounds, he’s more likely to replace Phillips based on measurements alone. Walker wouldn’t be the same kind of two-gap presence, but his quickness off the ball and ability to create an inside pass rush could be greater than what Phillips created on a down-by-down basis.
Jordan Wade - If the Sooners want to stick with a run-stuffing, two-gap, block-eating defensive tackle then expect to see Wade in the starting lineup. At 6-foot-4, 314 pounds, he’s the most similar to Phillips when it comes to looking in a mirror. He’s the biggest defensive player on the current roster. As a redshirt sophomore, he’s also the most experienced player with a chance of replacing Phillips – with 18 games played to his credit. Wade was called upon two years ago when Phillips missed time with a back injury. He might be called on again to be a more permanent replacement.
Neville Gallimore - This might as well be labeled as – ‘In case of EXTREME emergency.’ Gallimore is more suited to step right in and play defensive tackle than fellow freshman Marquise Overton but that doesn’t mean Oklahoma would want him to do that. Gallimore should be more disruptive as a defensive end. At 6-foot-3, 311 pounds, Gallimore was rated as the ninth-best defensive tackle in the country. His athleticism could make him a scary impact player on the edge. He might play there as a freshman, but things would have to go extremely wrong – or extremely right for Gallimore – if he plays defensive tackle.
The most likely candidate? - Oklahoma will need a player that can make a difference in the middle. Walker might not be the stout run-stopper that Phillips was, but his disruption could be a game-changer for Oklahoma.