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Przybylo: OU 17-for-2017's biggest question mark surrounds the changed defensive line

As voted by Sooners Illustrated readers, OU's defensive line move is the biggest question for Sooners this upcoming season.

It’s about that time again. Expectations are high. Questions abound. Yep, it’s time for Oklahoma spring football.

The Sooners, coming off an 11-2 season where they won the Big 12 championship and the Sugar Bowl, will no doubt be expected to be in the national championship and playoff hunt once again.

The calendar turns to March. The page officially turns to 2017, and although things look rosy for OU, there are still plenty of unanswered questions going forward.

What are those? That’s where Sooners Illustrated comes in. We’ll take a look at one pressing question each day leading up to OU starting spring practice March 21. The spring game is April 8.

Sooners Illustrated’s 17 questions for spring 2017

Bob Przybylo/Scout

What will OU’s four-man front look like and how will it be used?

As voted by readers of Sooners Illustrated, this is the No. 1 question for the Sooners in the spring and heading forward into the 2017 season.

The move to a 4-3 front from a 3-4 defensive front paid off in a major way for defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux in the final month before national signing day. Now in a system he’s incredibly comfortable coaching, should see even better things with his group.

The question being posed isn’t whether this is the right move, but how is it going to be utilized? Will OU be in a 4-3 more than 3-4? Will be interchangeable? Will it be situational?

Then going beyond that, looking at the 4-3 front, where will some of these guys land? If asked to predict what a four-man front would look like today, it seems like you would D.J. Ward and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo at defensive ends and Neville Gallimore and Matt Romar as your tackles.

Ward, a 4-3 defensive end until he arrived in Norman, finally gets to play his natural position. Okoronkwo gets to wreak terror on opponents coming off the edge. Perfect fit.

Gallimore is someone quick enough to play either spot and strong enough to be a presence in the middle, while Romar’s prowess speaks for itself as someone who has been able to max out his abilities.

A starting four seems easy. Going beyond is where you start to wonder. Are guys like Mark Jackson, Addison Gumbs edge rushers in a 4-3 front or part of three-man linebacker group?

Jackson has always felt like the next edition of Okoronkwo, and Obo talked a lot about trying to mentor Jackson through what could have easily been a disappointing freshman campaign.

Gumbs had been known as one of the best pass rushers on the west coast the last two years so you would think he’d be the ideal guy for that spot.

A healthy Marquise Overton provides a lot of help in the middle and then you sort of play the waiting game with incoming freshmen Tyreece Lott, Troy James and Zack McKinney.

The transition should absolutely help the Sooners in the grand scheme of things, provided the coaches can figure out a way to make all the pieces fit.

It won’t be easy. You look at Kenneth Murray. You look at K’Jakyre Daley. You look at some of these guys and wonder where their place is going to be when it’s all said and done.

Head coach Bob Stoops explained the move at the signing day press conference last month.

“Because of all the spread we get, we just feel we’re gonna base out of a four-man front and jump into the odd occasionally, as opposed to being in an odd and jumping into a four-man front,” Stoops said. “That’s something we’ll concentrate on in the spring. With the amount of passing that we get, we feel that will allow us to get more pressure just from a four-man rush.”

This is a change that should bolster OU’s defensive line on the field and in recruiting. Now it’s going to be up to Thibodeaux to make it work.

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