With practice set to get underway this Thursday, OU Head Coach Bob Stoops and the Sooner coaches will be looking to their veterans to provide leadership through the tough two-a-days ahead.
This season will finally be the year for junior defensive end Larry Birdine to be a star. For the past two seasons, Birdine has been the third wheel behind four-year starter Jonathan Jackson and All-American Dan Cody. However, it was Cody who said following the season that Birdine was the most talented defensive end on the team.
There has never been any question about Birdine's talent, but his judgment has been called into question. However, there has never been any question about his passion for the game of football or for the Sooners. Recently, Birdine sat down and talked to OUInsider about state of OU Football.
JH: Summer workouts are just about over and two-a-days will begin shortly. Was it a good summer for the team?
LB: "This summer has been very tough and Coach Schmidt's workouts have been very strenuous. A lot of guys had trouble adapting, but they got through it and we are getting stronger and getting better. Hopefully, we can all make the transition from the summer to the fall."
JH: You have been around the program for a while and you are saying that his summer was tougher than any other summer that you have gone through at OU?
LB: "Yeah, for me it was very tough. The heat adds to that, but Coach Schmidt raised his program to another level. We are doing a lot more running, but it is all for the good of the team. If we can all make it through the summer workouts and then make the transition to the season, we can all be great."
JH: Coach Schmidt has told us that he likes to use resistance training during the summer. How do those types drills helped you as a defensive end?
LB: "It basically helps me with my body control. It also helps with your explosiveness, because you are pulling against yourself then go up and wrestle somebody that is even heavier than you. At the line of scrimmage, I find out my resistance training made me stronger. It also allows me to open up and be very explosive at the line of scrimmage."
JH: How do you feel about the complement from your former teammate Dan Cody, who said to me recently that you were the most talented defensive end on the team last year?
LB: "Dan, JJ and me bonded really well while we all played together. I guess you could say that we were the 'Three Musketeers' this past year. I have all the love for Dan Cody and JJ and I hope they have great NFL careers. I am just going to take it one game at a time this season. We have a lot of big names on this defense with Rufus (Alexander) and Dusty Dvoracek coming back, so hopefully we can just be as good as we have been in the past."
JH: You are the only Musketeer left, so who steps up to join the new group of defensive ends with you?
LB: "We are pretty deep at defensive end, our coaches have done a good job of recruiting. Juco transfer C.J. Ah You came in this summer and big John Williams and Alonzo Dotson have been here two years, so they received some tutelage from Dan and JJ also. It is a tight race and it can go any way. Even (Calvin) Thibodeaux is back from injury, so everything is pretty much up in the air. We will just have to see what happens in two-a-days."
JH: You have a new defensive end coach as Bobby Jack Wright is now coaching the secondary. What are your first impressions of Chris Wilson?
LB: "He is a great coach and I like the way he talks to us. He is never talking down to us, he is always trying to build us up. He is a very positive guy. I think when the season comes, because of the way he talks to us we, are going to go all out for him the best that we can."
JH: How has the loss in the Orange Bowl pushed you and the team this summer?
LB: "We never want to be remembered for the crushing defeat that we were dealt in the National Championship. We are definitely motivated. Everybody has a little chip on their shoulder because last year's theme was to finish and we did everything but that. This year, we are just trying to work hard and correct the mistakes that we made in the games that we surrended a lot of yards and a lot of points. Like I said, we have a lot of veterans coming back and a lot of role players, so hopefully we can capitalize on that ability and play great this year."
JH: You think this defense is going to be good, don't you? Do you think there are some very talented guys on this defense?
LB: "I have already talked about Rufus and Dusty. At linebacker, everybody thinks we are going to miss a beat because we lost Lance. Zach Latimer proved himself on special teams where he played most of the time last year. At linebacker, he made a couple of nice plays in the Big 12 Championship. He is going to do a good job. We are deep at corner where we have Eric Bassey, Chijioke Onyenegecha and Marcus Walker. We have a lot of guys who have played corner, but they may not have been as big a name as some of the other guys that have left the program and made the league so far. The new players are young and they are learning. You can't teach being hungry, and everybody is hungry. I know everybody (media and some fans) have us in the doghouse this year, but we are going to prove them wrong."
JH: This year the defensive spotlight will be on you a great deal, but you have always been good with the media and willing to talk to the media. Of course, what you said about USC didn't sit well with your own coaches, but nobody can say you don't speak your mind. Are you ready to be a leader on defense this year?
LB: "I am ready for it. The coaches are always telling me to be careful what I say to the media. Last year, I don't want to say that I was trapped, but I was more or less excited to actually be speaking before such a big game. I had a lot of pinned-up aggression because I felt that USC was getting all the headlines, and here we were both undefeated and we both played for a National Championship the year prior. Now it is going to be almost a year later and you can say that I am a veteran with the media. You can be sure that I won't be giving any of our teams any locker room material."
LB: What do you think of yourself as a player? Are you a better pass rusher or run stopper?
LB: "I think I am basically a run stopper. You make basically all your money on Saturday as pass rushers, but being a run stopper is how you make tackles. Being physical is how pass rushing will come to you, but you have to be able to stop the run and shut down one side of the field. I think that is what I do."
JH: People always brag on you onhow hard you work in the off-season. Who has impressed you this off-season?
LB: "I work out with D-ends and D-tackles, so I know those guys more than any others. I believe that John Williams has made major strides this summer. I think he is going to be a very good player this year. He is very strong and very fast, and he just stood out to me. When he came in as a freshman you could tell that he was young and confused a little bit, but you can tell he has his head on his shoulders and he is excited about the season. Once John gets a time to shine, I don't think he is going to disappoint us."
JH: How big are you going into the season?
LB: "Right now I am 265 to 268 on a regular basis. I want to try to play at that weight because I played at 250 to 255 and towards the end of the season my body wore down. I feel at 265 I can be even more productive."
Birdine ready to take leadership role
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