NORMAN, Okla. — Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables is just about through his first spring practice as the head man of the Sooner defense. His linebacker core is undergoing some change from a year ago, but a number of young linebackers certainly have his attention. As the Sooners get ready for the spring game on Saturday, Coach Venables had a few moment for OUInsider.com and the Two Minute Drill.
JH: How has the fact that Lance Mitchell has been able to participate this spring help your linebacker core and your defense?
BV: "That fact gives us so much stability, so many options, leadership and toughness. He has such a physical and mental presence, but he gives you as a coach and a calmness that he will hold that ship where it needs to be. He just gives you a lot of stability in the middle. Last year Gayron (Allen) getting the experience that he was able to get was invaluable. It has allowed him to be a much better player right now and a player that is going to keep making plays for us."
JH: Is that going to be at the weakside linebacker position?
BV: "Right, but he (Allen) is still playing in a backup capacity at the MIKE (middle linebacker). Their experience just gives us a lot more options, flexibility and depth."
JH: So, they basically give you two starters returning this year instead of just one?
BV: "Yes, they sure do."
JH: What are the young linebackers still trying to accomplish?
BV: "The biggest thing we are working on now is working on consistency. We have shown that a lot of guys can play at a really high level and now it is focusing on the little things so that we can be consistent on every player. We need to be consistent with technique, fundamentals, executing the defense, consistency with lining up the right way, consistency of not thinking and playing hard and reckless. We have had our good and bad's. Everybody has taken their turns, so the last couple of days will be to refine the little things."
JH: Who would be the SAM (strongside linebacker) if you had to play today?
BV: "Clint Ingram has been the most consistent. Demarrio Pleasant and Russell Dennison are still fighting over the backup job. If Gayron stays at the WILL then your No. 2 MIKE backer is Zac Latimer. He has really been a surprise and Clint has been a real surprise this spring. Those two guys have shown they have great playmaking ability. Their comfort zone has improved as moving to SAM has been a great move for Clint. I can't say how good of a move it has been for Zach. Again, what you find out about Zac is that he is an extremely instinctive player. He can find the football and the ones that can, you can get them coached up on the fundamentals and the understanding of the defense. Those kind of guys are a rare breed. Rocky was that way, Lance is that way as both were just a natural instinctive football player."
JH: Who is the backup at the WILL?
BV: "Rufus Alexander and Lewis Baker are still fighting it out. I can't say right now who is the better of the two, it is that close."
JH: Is Wayne Chambers out of the picture in the middle?
BV: No, but he has been banged up this spring, so he is right after Zac right now. For the little amount that Zac has played, and that is being considered, he has played a little more consistently than Wayne. He has practiced more, because Wayne has been banged up a couple of days."
JH: With Clint at the SAM are you going for more a traditional look of three linebackers on defense more so than in the past when you went with a big safety, who acted like a linebacker?
BV: "We are looking at both and just trying to find out who are the football players out of that group. In all honesty, they haven't been put into a position to learn how to play the game. That is just being fair to them. However, all of those guys are on scholarship. If they are over on the sideline 70 percent of the time then maybe we need to re-check and re-think some things on how we are recruiting. We really believe now that we have a little more flexibility in the things that we can do. That is what we went into the spring wanting to accomplish."
JH: So you want to present a little more athletic look in your linebackers?
BV: Well, a more athletic look, ability to play the game, understanding the defense and give us more depth and flexibility between the linebackers and secondary. We want to have the ability to do a lot of things out of both packages, as opposed to be limited to just one package. We don't want to have our hand forced based on what the offense does, without compromising what athletic ability we can present with the match-ups of our defense."
JH: I know you concentrate on linebacker, but you have to feel very good about lining up behind big Dusty Dvoracek?
BV: "I am just thinking that nobody has played at a higher level all spring. He has been physical, a great leader for us, and at times he has been unblockable. Dusty has had a great attitude and he seems to be a guy that is on a mission to make sure that margin for error between winning and losing to achieve our goals works in our favor next year. You love guys like that. He is committed to this football team, committed to this defense and committed to his teammates on defense. That is invaluable to us as coaches. He is a great player and easily one of the best D-tackles in the country, without question."
OU's defense taking shape under Venables
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