NORMAN – When Oklahoma Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops was reassigned to outside linebackers as his position group, he smiled and laughed about how easy it was going to be. Coaching veterans like Eric Striker and Devante Bond wasn’t exactly rocket science last year, and he knew it.
This year is going to be a little bit different.
There wasn’t much to do with Striker and Bond. But breaking in a two-deep with extremely minimal game experience is an entirely different challenge.
“It’s been a rough three days, but it’s been fun,” Stoops said with a big laugh. “When you work with good players, to me, that’s exciting. To develop a great young player, I don’t think there’s anything that coaches love (more). If they stay with it and focus on each day, they’re going to become good players.”
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has played in 20 games over two years but hasn’t made a start and has just 17 total tackles to his name.
Ricky DeBerry redshirted last year, and Mark Jackson and Caleb Kelly are true freshmen breaking into the rotation. Kapri Doucet @and Emmanuel Beal - the Looney Tunes - have junior college experience but are fresh faces at Oklahoma.
“That’s a great group of ’backers right now,” Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. “They have get more experience, but that’s what practice is for. I think it can still be a really good group.”
That’s how Mike Stoops’ job has changed.
He was able to focus on the entire defense last season, and it paid off, as the Sooners were the best defense in the Big 12 Conference. The first week of camp has been more about teaching for Mike Stoops than last year, when all he had to do was implement his defense.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at their development and conceptually dissect what we’re trying to do with each defense,” Mike Stoops said. “Trying to whittle down who we’re going to give priority repetitions to. They’re all kind of fighting for their place, and that’s good. You want competition, and that’s what we have at the outside linebacker positions – great competition across the board.”
Okoronkwo is the key piece at linebacker.
He’s in his third year at Oklahoma and finally getting a chance to start. Mike Stoops can’t afford the time to teach everyone, so Okoronkwo has to be ready to start and teach – at least a little bit – as well as have little need for instruction himself.
“It’s our job as coaches to make him understand concepts,” Mike Stoops said. “He’s maturing, like the other guys. Starting your third year, you start to really grasp what to do and become not just a player, but become a productive player.”