The Oklahoma Sooners open their 2005 season Saturday in Norman against the TCU Horned Frogs. OU expects to be very talented again on defense this season, but they know they will receive a formidable challenge from the TCU offense.
To find out more about the Sooner defense and the TCU offense, OU Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables agreed to the OUInsider Two Minute Drill.
JH: What is your take on the secondary going into the TCU game?
BV: "We feel we can be good in the secondary if we stay assignment-sound and players take care of their responsibilities. The fact that Marcus Walker has been able to get well has really solidified us at the corner position. Marcus has already proven to us that he is capable of playing at a high level. Arguably, without the shoulder being banged up he would have been in a position to start.
"We feel we have four good corners with D.J. Wolfe, Chijioke (Onyenegecha), Marcus, and we feel that Eric Bassey is going to be better for the same reasons that Chijioke will be. Both gained some experience playing last year, both are better prepared this year, both are playing roles in our defense that fits their talents better and both are talented.
"It is hard to find four good corners and we are playing in scheme that fits what we do best. I don't know if it will be noticeable, except now you will be looking for it, but Chijioke will be the boundary corner where Derrick Strait played so well, and D.J. will be the field corner where Perk (Antonio Perkins) and Wolf (Andre Woolfork) played so well. What we did last year still fit, but there was just a lot more to learn. Now we have a smaller learning curve for each player because his role is much more defined."
JH: You must feel good about the fact that you have recruited all these great safeties into the program? Are the freshmen as good as advertised or even better than you thought they might be?
BV: "They are better than what we had hoped. Many times we can pretty close to on the money with our talent evaluation. However, how quickly they pick things up from a mental capacity, what hey are able to contain and then get out on the field and actually execute is what we can't know for us. All of them are different monsters in that you have Reggie (Smith) and Nic (Harris) and all those freshmen who have done a great job. Those two are a little further ahead.
"I think being here over the course of the summer really gave them the opportunity to get comfortable, and timing is everything and we really needed those guys to come through in that regard. Sometimes you have to play young people before they are capable or before they are ready, because of your needs. We had needs, but we feel good about where they are at.
"There will still be a learning curve, but hopefully the older guys coming back, who are older guys who haven't started like Lewis Baker and Darien Williams, can be where we need them to play, at the level we need them to play. That would allow these young guys to come along and still be heavy contributors from our two-deep."
JH: What about your linebackers? You also have a couple of young guys playing key roles as back-ups?
BV: "Obviously, it has been well documented that we are not real deep at linebacker. We have three guys that we feel real good about and a fourth in Demarrio Pleasant, prior to these freshmen who have come in. Clint (Ingram) got banged up last year and in the National Championship game. Rufus (Alexander) went down in the Kansas State game and Zach (Latimer) has never been a full-time starter. He has never started at all for that matter. Zach has been banged up from time to time, so it is scary from that standpoint.
"However, the comfortable thing is that these guys — Ryan (Reynolds) and Curtis (Lofton) — have shown more ability to play physically, but their mental capacity for freshmen is really unheard of. All the things that they have to learn from a safety to linebacker standpoint — their run fits, zone defense, man defense, and their pass drops — it is pretty remarkable how quickly they have been able to pick things up and retain it on the field, yet still have a presence on the field.
"A lot of time they can answer it on the board, but they get on the field and they are a little bit lost. They lose some of their aggression because they are not quit sure or confident. They are not polished by any stretch, but up to this point, where they are right now, they give us a lot of comfort if we are in a pinch. We can get these guys ready to play, and play a lot."
JH: You do a good job of calling game plans and using a multiple defense, so do you have the personnel you need to be as multiple as you want to be?
BV: "We feel we have a lot of flexibility. Some of that remains to be seen, because they have to get out on the field and do it. We like where we are at right now going into the season."
JH: So Curtis and Ryan are two young guys that you would have no problem putting in there early in the game.
BV: "I know what I got in Rufus. Rufus is a fabulous player. Curtis and Ryan have more than proven that when given the opportunity they can play winning football, the kind of football that we need them to play.
"I don't have it in my mind right now for those young guys to come in on the third series, but that being said I think we would be just fine. Will we be at the same level in time? No question. We will see. Hopefully, we won't have to address it,and hopefully our hand isn't forced in that regard."
JH: What are your thoughts on TCU?
BV: "They are very multiple and we have a great deal of respect for their staff. TCU has fabulous coaches and they all have tremendous pedigrees. We remember Coach Winder from his days with coach (Spike) Dykes at Texas Tech.
"Obviously, Mike Scholtz has done a wonderful job there with Head Coach Gary Patterson, a former Kansas State Wildcat. They do a great job of getting their team ready to play, of evaluating talent and getting their players to play at a very high level.
"They are very talented at what they do. They are very talented at the skill positions, especially at quarterback with Tye Gunn. When he has been healthy he has been a very good quarterback. He has a big arm, and he is big, strong and athletic. He runs the option well and he avoids pressure well.
"Receiver Cory Rodgers was the team MVP last year. He has great speed and they find a variety of ways of getting him the ball. He caught 61 passes last year, and he is a big-time return guy as well.
"Both running backs (Lonta Hobbs, Robert Merrell) could start for a number of Big 12 teams. We recruited Robert, but again both are very good players. They utilize their tight ends well and their fullbacks well. They run a great deal of option and they try to neutralize you defensively. They get a lot of big plays off of their play-action passes, stressing out your secondary in run support trying to defend the option.
"There have been reports that they are a little bit concerned with their offensive line, but I think it is kind of like our offensive line in that there are a number of guys returning and returning with experience. Those players are just waiting for their time to be starters. I think they feel pretty good as a staff about their offensive line.
"We need to be ready to play. They will be excited to play and, again, knowing their staff they won't be intimidated as they play a lot of big programs. We will need to play well to win."
JH: If any place has suffered the most due to injury it is at defensive end. What are your thoughts on the front wall that you will put on the field on Saturday?
BV: "We are better with Bird (Larry Birdine), and not as good without him (bicep injury/out for season). The issue now is that we have to have three guys who can play, and play at a high level. It is what it is and nothing is going to change that. We think we still have some guys who are definitely capable of playing at a high level. Whether they can create the havoc that Bird did, I don't know. We may not need that to happen.
"What does need to happen is that our other guys who are capable of making plays have to do that. Guys like Dusty (Dvoracek), guys like Clint and Rufus, Chijioke and D.J, who we feel good about. Our safeties have to play sound. Some of the other guys inside have to step up. The Cory Bennett's, Carl Pendleton's and Remi Ayodele's have to step up and play for us.
"C.J (Ah you) needs experience, but he is big, strong and athletic, and he is almost 270 pounds. He has great range and has a high motor. John Williams has just been waiting for his time and we will see what happens when he gets out there. What we have seen is a guy who plays with a lot of energy, emotion and he has a big motor.
"Obviously, Calvin Thibodeaux has game experience and we are fortunate to have him coming back. Hopefully, our starting two defensive ends, coming off of knee injuries in their careers, stay healthy. If they do, I feel we will be in fine shape."
Q&A with Brent Venables
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