State of the Defense with Brent Venables

OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables breaks down the Sooner defense after three games.

With the off-day coming up this weekend, we had a chance to catch up with OU Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables to get his thoughts on the play of the Sooner defense through their 1 and 2 start.

JH: What were your impressions of how you played against UCLA?

BV: "We didn't tackle well. We gave up 150 yards after the catch, and they were easy tackles to make. We need to be better at that than that. The effort was good, but again in the fourth quarter we gave up three drives and that was very disappointing.

"Our run defense was a good thing and we had a lot of young guys who showed they can play. Reggie Smith and Demarrio Pleasant came in and played well. The two defensive ends (C.J.) Ah You and (Calvin) Thibodeaux played without a whole lot of rest. They more than held their own. They played well for us."

JH: Can we expect any position changes this week?

BV: "We are still looking in the secondary. It is still a work in progress. If you saw the game you noticed that there were a number of guys who saw playing time in particular at the cornerback position. It was kind of a revolving door there for a while as Marcus Walker and Eric Bassey got in, but both got injured after they got in. So, it was hit and miss at the cornerback position. We need to be better and more consistent there.

However, up to that game we felt good about that position. Sometimes that happens where you don't play particularly well, so you have to have a short memory at that position. The guys that are playing those two positions have shown us that we have reason to be optimistic. We just need to have a little more assuredness and awareness. Tackling is a big part of it as well.

"We are a zone defense primarily and people are going to make some completions against us, so what we have to do is limit yards after the catch. Then we need to be in position where we can step in front of some balls as well."

JH: How big was the third and 13, because up until that time they were 1-for-9 on third downs?

BV: "It was obviously very pivotal because it was part of a 13-play drive where they went on and scored a touchdown going into the fourth quarter. It was a big play in the game — no question about it.

"You go back and look at it and Lewis Baker was supposed to have some help on that play. That player was as good working on that same route all week and intercepted the pass all week in the same coverage. This time he just missed it, so it was pivotal.

"There were a number of other plays as well that you go back and point to, but that was one of the few critical ones."

JH: How did Reggie Smith play and what kind of effect did he have on the safety position?

BV: "He played well, but he can be better. All things considered, he played well and he came in and graded better than any other player for us in the secondary. That was encouraging. It was an improvement from play and positioning from the week before."

JH: How disappointing was it when the officials called the penalties that negated the turnovers? And how big of a factor were they in the end results of the game?

BV: "Iit is hard to put a percentage on it, but it was a factor. Those were plays that they didn't give us, so you can't sit and dwell on it. The emotions of the game are what football is all about. You are going to go through high and lows. You have to hold the course. We had many other opportunities though to make a difference, so it is part of the game and it is going to happen."

JH: How well did Demarrio Pleasant play for you in place of the injured Clint Ingram?

BV: "He played well. We were proud of his effort, despite the fact that sometimes his execution, and things that maybe weren't apparent to the naked eye, need to be better. His awareness needs to be better, and that comes from not playing much.

"A few of his mistakes were critical, but again I don't want to downplay his positives. There were a lot of them and he was very active. I am very proud of how he prepared himself and went out there and competed in his first start."

JH: Is Demarrio still the back-up at all three positions or have your young linebackers come on and earned back-up spots at the other the MIKE and WILL backer spots?

BV: "In all likelihood, I would put in one of the freshman at the other positions. He is very comfortable where he is (SLB) and not as comfortable at the other two because of practice reps.

"The MIKE (Curtis Lofton) and the WILL (Ryan Reynolds) are much different than the SAM in regards to technique, fundamentals, run game, pass game and all of the above. I think he would be pretty average right now at those without a couple of weeks of preparation.

"He is more than capable of playing it, but I think the other guys would be ahead in that regard."

JH: I know this question is a little off beat, but what kind of impact do you feel Paul Thompson can have at wide receiver?

BV: "The first day he was out there we saw one pass that he just ripped out of the sky. It was pretty incredible with good tight coverage on him. It doesn't surprise you because you know he will be a big, strong competitor.

"He is a tremendous athlete who has great leaping ability. I would think that he would be precise in the things that he does as a receiver, because of his knowledge that he knows as a quarterback and his understanding of schemes defensively. He probably understands better than most receivers in that regard, and he is a sharp guy.

"Paul has been a receiver before. It is funny in that when Rhett went to the University of Texas camp in high school Paul was his receiver in the camp. Now Paul was there as a quarterback, but they put him at receiver some and Rhett threw to him many years back. How ironic is that?"

JH: Bob has talked about you getting better as a team this week and not concentrating on future opponents. Can you expound on that a little bit?

BV: "We need to create more awareness from the secondary and linebackers. In particular, our positioning needs to be better as it is very evident that needs work.

"We gave up roughly 150 yards because of missed tackles. That comes from poor positioning on the ball and not enough awareness, anticipating routes, trusting your coverage, trusting the guy in the next zone to you. And again, if you are going to be a good zone defense you have to have good awareness. You have to be a good tackling team, and again positioning is everything.

"I think this week, by trying to put them in as many difficult positions as we can and in the same type of situations that we saw, we will try to improve their confidence and assuredness on the field. If a guy is a little bit uncertain from not seeing it or a lack of experience. it is going to show. They are not going to be as aggressive and they are going to be on their heels. Against good skilled people that is what is going to happen, and that's what happened last Saturday.

"We are not going to be as sharp as we need to be. There were many, many good things in that game, but we have to make sure what we do is not hurt ourselves. Not run ourselves out of position, not give a 10-yard cushion when we are supposed to have a five yard cushion or no cushion at all. Jump routes when their keys tell them to and they are supposed to, and trusting their keys and not freelancing.

"There are a lot of little things that we are a little bit rough at right now at a few different spots. We do have many positives and the attitude has been wonderful. The front seven was very solid in terms of run defense. Reggie Smith came in and played really well, probably better than all the other DBs, which speaks volumes for his maturity. And he still has many things he can improve on as well.

"Demarrio Pleasant came in and started his first college game and did some really good things. The defensive ends were very limited in relief and those guys played outstanding. Dusty Dvoracek was our defensive MVP. He was just outstanding. I don't know if a defensive lineman was on the ground the whole day, and against that team that is huge. That was a real key to stopping them in the run game.

"Jackie Shipp and Chris Wilson just did a wonderful job in preparation for those guys. They really trusted the gameplan, and that is what you can teach the other guys — that is to trust the plan, trust your technique, trust the guy next to you and things will happen.

"When we went back and watched it as a defense we saw that when we do it right, it is a pretty good defense. When we do it right it is pretty dang good. However, if one guy who is out of position here or there is a busted assignment leaves his guy open and they are going to find you and you are going to get exposed.

"We have a good young group that is capable of learning. They want to be better and it is a prideful group. All things considered, they have had a positive demeanor about them. Without question, we are going to continue to fight."

JH: Would you say that confidence is an issue right now?

BV: "I wouldn't say confidence as much as I would say playing experience. When you say confidence you can look at it a couple of different ways. Is it confidence of, "Oh no we are 1-2. We are not any good.' Nom I don't believe that is a problem at all.

"The guys don't believe that. I think the guys believe in themselves, they know the system works. Again, it is gaining the confidence in making a play that works. It is not across the board, but it is within a few guys who have started one, two or three games who are still learning to trust their technique and trust their keys and everything of that nature.

"As that comes along they get more and more aggressive in their positioning and they get better at making more plays. They start laying it out there better nd they start making plays and start making those spectacular plays that we all like to see.

JH: What do you think about your pass rush through the first three games?

BV: "We have been OK. When we have pressured (blitz) we have been pretty good. When we haven't pressured it has been just OK. It can be better. Dusty has constantly drawn the double team. I think at times Calvin (Thibadeaux) has been good and C.J (Ah You) has been good.

"We need to get a little more help inside and those guys outside are gassed. By the end of the third quarter, they are gassed. Alan Davis has come in and done a solid job, but the pass rush from a four-man standpoint has not been spectacular by any stretch.

JH: Are you still considering moving Zach Latimer to defensive end in pass rush situations?

BV: "Yeah, we are. But we are trying to decide do we go with a four-man rush and put him out there or where do we pressure? However, he is gassed as a linebacker and that is something that you don't get a good feel on what he is capable of and how much.

"He is still a work in progress at linebacker and he is doing some pretty good things, but he still has some things that he can improve on. In practice, how many reps can we give him at defensive end if any at all? That is hard to manage at this time of year, because now that we lost two guys now that the season has started how do you manage that time. That is what we are still working on right now. "

JH: How do you work with your team that you were really disappointed in their fourth quarter effort. Is it similar to the disappointment you had in the second half effort in the Orange Bowl?

BV: "It wasn't an overall meltdown by any stretch. It is a guy here and a guy there. Guys were playing hard in this game.

"For an example, on the 38-yard run it was one guy that is out of position. You try to be smart in how you evaluate it and you look at it for what it is, although you certainly don't accept giving up 21 points in the fourth quarter. You have to find out what was the root of the problem.

"Again, it is a guy here and a guy there. And the guys weren't giving up attitude or melting down or calling it quits by any stretch of the imagination. That is ridiculous to insinuate that. We need to improve where the mistakes were made and making sure it doesn't happen again. That is the biggest thing that we need to do this week."

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