Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables hit the road recruiting Friday during the Sooners off weekend, but he was able to take a few minutes out of his busy day to come on OUInsider.com's Two-Minute Drill.
JH: How do you feel your defense has played through four games?
BV: "Very good, but we still are not where we want to be or where we can be as far as a total unit. Don't get me wrong, we have played pretty good defense against some pretty good football teams, but we haven't shut out every opponent and we have given up a few big plays. So, we have been far from perfect and we are always working towards perfection, or at least playing up to our top level of competitive ability."
JH: It must be good to know your defense has played pretty well, despite the fact you feel their ceiling is still way up there?"
BV: "No doubt. That is something that we are happy with. We have some very good football players on our defense — some of the very best in the country at their respective positions — and those individuals are playing well. However, as a unit we can play so much better. There is no reason why we can't be the very best defense in the country. We know that we are one of them, but we have the talent, intelligence and the history to be the best in the country. Our goal each and every day is to improve and get better. And as long as our players, and we as coaches, continue to march towards that goal then we will continue to improve and get better."
JH: Were you impressed with your special teams' effort against UCLA?
BV: "Yes, in some ways it was incredible. Our punt return unit with Antonio Perkins setting two NCAA records was as good as you can get. Then, just when you get real high on our special teams, and as soon as you get one area fixed, they pull a kickoff return out the gate for a touchdown. It is a never ending battle, and that is part of the season and coaching, but that is an area that we continue to look at. We have to continue to try to get better in our kick coverage."
JH: I know that it was tough on you to lose Lance Mitchell, but it wasn't just because he was a good player was it?
BV: "For everything that Lance has had to go through in his life — with all the hurdles and obstacles that is out there for him right now and as well as he was playing, he had put himself into a position of earning All-American honors and getting drafted in the next NFL draft. Considering all that he has been through, your heart goes out to a guy like that. It became apparent rather quickly that he was a lot stronger about it than I was. It was an eye-opener as well in regards to how really truly strong a young guy like Lance is mentally and emotionally. He immediately looked at the positives of it and didn't feel bad for himself. He looked to the future and wanted to know in what roles he could help his teammates win this year."
JH: Did everything go well in his surgery?
BV: "Oh yeah, it was clean. With all things considered with a ligament tear, the surgery was really good. Once they got inside they had a great surgery, and I would imagine by the end of the week he will be off of crutches and ready to start his rehab."
JH: I know that Wayne Chambers played well, but didn't Teddy Lehman play really well in earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors against UCLA?
BV: "Teddy had a real strong game, but that first touchdown Teddy missed the tackle on the goal line block, and that is the first thing that Teddy said that he didn't feel he was deserving of the recognition. I have tremendous respect for Teddy because of that. He immediately found the area that he could have been a lot better at as apposed to listening to everybody telling him how good he was. He knows that he needs to play a lot better and that he is capable of playing better. Again, there were two or three tackles in there that were more attitude than anything. He takes a great deal of pride in how he plays so I am happier about his reaction to the award than the award itself."
JH: What has been the key to your improved pass rush this year?
BV: "I just think more than anything that being healthy up front across the board has been the biggest difference. Jonathan (Jackson), Tommie (Harris), Dusty (Dvoracek) and Dan (Cody) are healthy this year. It is also the third year for Jonathan, Dan and the third year for Tommie and Dusty, and those guys have another year of experience and another year of emphasizing the areas that we need to improve in. They have another year to work on a variety of things that Jackie (Shipp) and Bobby Jack (Wright) want improved in the off-season and then improving their strength and speed in Coach (Jerry) Schmidt's off-season program."
JH: The Big 12 has taken some licks during the non-conference portion of the schedule. Do you think the conference is as strong as it has been in the past?
BV: "Oh, no doubt, but there is just tremendous parity and that is what some of these early upsets tell us. Those teams are still very, very quality teams. They are strong teams, but it just goes to show and I think we proved that to ourselves last year, that again you better come every week with your ‘A' game and play with intensity on the edge. You better play with great focus and toughness or you are going to get your fanny whipped. Again, those other teams are getting as college football is becoming more and more of a level playing field. It is allowing teams like the Marshall's of the world to catch up."
JH: Do you think conferences like the MAC are stealing some publicity from the Big 12 or the other BCS conferences?
BV: "Probably, but we as coaches are not surprised by the success of those teams in the MAC. You just look right across the board at the San Diego State's going to the home of Ohio State, the defending national champ, and playing them to within the last drive with a chance to win the game is that not big of a surprise. Bowling Green was in the same type of situation. Northern Illinois going in and beating Alabama and beating Maryland early this season is not that big of a surprise. Getting the right coaches at the right situation can work. They get 85 total scholarships and the major powers now can't get all the great players. There are enough good players to go around and again, it makes for a level playing field. It creates for an exciting brand of football and it makes it easy to get your players excited to play."
JH: How are your young linebackers playing?
BV: "They are progressing well, but have so far to go. We can tell they have good talent, but they still have so much to learn about our system and what it takes to play linebacker at OU. We are already playing Lewis Baker and he is an outstanding talent, but he isn't anywhere close where he will be in the future. We certainly aren't unhappy with any of them, but they aren't ready to play either."
(Note: Venables spent Friday recruiting Keith Rivers of Lake Mary, Fla. Rivers is the top linebacker prospect in the country, and says that OU is among his top three with Florida and USC the Sooners top competition.)
Venables sees room for improvement
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