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Sooners Illustrated looks back and grades out Oklahoma, position-by-position

Tapper's resurgence and Walker's emergence helped Oklahoma boast one of the elite defensive lines

During the next two weeks, Sooners Illustrated will look back on the 2015 Oklahoma football season: Evaluating each possession group, recapping key moments, reliving the biggest surprises and assigning an overall grade for the year.

We’ll start with quarterback play and end with the kicking game.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Summary: Coming into this year, the line was unproven but many thought it would be a big strength for Oklahoma. Replacing two starters along with a stumbling Charles Tapper, it looked like changes were going to be in the mix. Tapper made the biggest change, resurrecting his career in a sense and giving himself a chance in the NFL Draft. Alongside Tapper, Charles Walker emerged as an elite player – and one that could leave Oklahoma after next year. The Sooners lost almost nothing in the middle in the absence of NFL-bound Jordan Phillips. Some might even consider Matt DimonMatthew Romar and Jordan Wade as an upgrade from a consistency standpoint. Ultimately, Oklahoma’s strength of depth was unmatched by most teams and gave it one of the best units in the country.

Best player: Tapper had a great sack surge in the middle of the conference season, but it was Walker who was clearly the best defensive lineman this season. That was made clear with his absence against Clemson. After the defensive line alone averaged almost three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks per game during the regular season, it didn’t have a single mark in either category against Clemson. Walker’s absence was a killer because he was so dominant this season. Walker finished tied for second on the team with 10 tackles for loss and had six sacks this season.

Biggest surprise: Partially written off, Tapper proved that anyone who thought that had made a mistake. He had the best season of his career (10 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 6 pass deflections, 4 forced fumbles). It gave Oklahoma a top-end pass rusher to draw attention away from other players, allowing the Sooners’ depth on the defensive line to make a bigger impact because of one-on-one matchups. Without Tapper’s jump, Oklahoma’s defensive line might not have ultimately had the impact it did.

Best moment: Staying within the same idea, the best moment of the season was Tapper’s sack-bonanza in middle of the conference season. Tapper had at least one sack in five of Oklahoma’s final six games of the season. Tapper actually had five sacks in four quarters of play against Kansas and Texas Tech . The best moment specifically was the look of relief on his face after finally notching his first sack of the season against Kansas. He hadn’t had a sack in 12 games and just two in the previous 19 games. It had been weighing on him, and his smile was priceless.

Biggest weakness: There aren’t many. The unit was sound. It had a star. It had a budding understudy. It had its role players. It had a great pass rush out of a usual three-man front. If there was any weakness in the group, it was the run-stopping aspect. But even that is far more of a gap-fitting, team-oriented scheme because of the three-man front. It was a really great season for the front line, which will lose only one rotation player next season.

Final grade: A-


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