The defensive tackle position has become a pillar of strength for the Oklahoma football program under the direction of Jackie Shipp. The Sooners always seem to be very strong at this position and always have a player or two that grabs attention on a national basis.
Thanks to graduation, gone is two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection Dusty Dvoracek, who terrorized opponents and the OU offense during his colorful five-year career, and Remi Ayodele, who started five games a year ago. However, the cupboard is not bare as the Sooners return junior Carl Pendleton (6-5, 277), sophomore Cory Bennett (6-2, 275) and junior Steven Coleman (6-4, 291), all of which saw action a year ago.
Pendleton started seven out of the 12 games and finished with eight total tackles, Bennett started once and made 16 total tackles, and Coleman played in 11 games and made six tackles.
Those three may have an edge for a spot in the rotation, but they will be hard-pressed to hold off the challenge of redshirt freshman DeMarcus Granger (6-3, 305), who finished strong on the scout team the second half of the season and shined during the Sooners' bowl preparation. The most heralded of the redshirt freshmen, Granger has dropped 50 pounds since arriving at OU and appears to be in the best shape of his life heading into spring.
Brian Simmons (6-5, 290), Billy Blackard (6-3, 292) and Cordero Moore (6-3, 320) are talented redshirt freshmen who will also get a good look this spring.
"We have to get these young guys ready to play," said Shipp. "DeMarcus, Brian, Billy and Cordero all have to start making strides and contributing to our football team next year. They were all redshirted, so it is now time for them to knock off the dust and knock off that redshirt year. They need to start performing and proving they can play so that they can start to compete for playing time. Hopefully, all of them will be playing for us next year.
"They all made great progress from two-a-days to the bowl practice. They all made great improvement, but Billy is a little behind because he didn't really get to practice at all this year because he had ankle surgery. He has a lot of ground to make up, so this spring is going to be really important to him because he hasn't practiced since two-a-days.
"Cordero is another guy that had injuries during the redshirt year — to his hands and to his sternum — and missed a lot of time. Brian got a lot of work through the year on the scout team and got a chance to practice more and greatly improved. For those two, Cordero and Billy, spring is very important to them because they have not had very much practice time.
"Simmons and Granger have had practice time, but spring is important for them to improve on where they left off during our bowl practice. They have all made improvements, but to say that they are ready to go out here on gameday and dominate, I can't say that at all. Lets see where they get in spring ball, then in two-a-days, but it is very important they make big strides this spring."
There is great hope for the redshirt freshman, but in the three veterans Shipp knows and likes what he has. He also has certain goals for them this spring as well.
"I expect those guys to even get better and expect them to become more leaders for us, especially with these young guys," said Shipp. "I want Carl to work on having more of a sense or urgency and to get better at finishing the play. Cory and Steven, the same thing. I want them to play with a sense or urgency. I want them to work and play more on finishing the play. They need to work on improving from making plays for a 1-yard loss to a 3-yard loss."
Shipp will establish some kind of rotation coming out of the spring, but true freshman Gerald McCoy will get a big look during two-a-days. If he lives up to his prep Defensive Player of the Year press clippings, he could figure into the rotation in the fall.
"Lets realize he is a freshman, but Gerald McCoy is going to be thrown into the fire from Day 1," said Shipp. "He will get an opportunity to compete for playing time and he will get his chance."
So this spring will be a prelude for more fireworks in August, and with the talent on hand at the defensive tackle position, it will be some kind of show.
Key to spring: DeMarcus Granger, slowed by a blood clot last year, had a great offseason and the Sooners expect great things out of him. He has a chance to be the Sooners' next star in the defensive line, and this spring is his golden opportunity to get there fast. Pendleton had minor knee surgery and will not go through spring, giving Granger more much-needed reps. Bennett will also get more reps and the OU coaches like him a lot. But the player that could benefit the most is Coleman, who has just completed his best offseason at OU. Blackard is healthy and the coaches are very interested in how he plays this fall. He has a good motor and plays hard. The OU coaches will look for Moore to play with more of a sense of urgency. They'd better be ready, because super star Gerald McCoy (6-4, 295) may challenge them all come fall.
Prelude to Spring: Defensive Tackles
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