The Oklahoma defense is expected to be one of the nation's best this season and the main reason why the Sooners will start the season No. 10 in the AP Preseason College Football poll.
OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables was available to the media following Wednesday's workout and talked with OUInsider.com for the Two Minute Drill.
JH: How have things been going in camp defensively?
BV: Through fall camp, things have been going good. We have had some good moments and a few bad ones in some of the scrimmages and live work. I really like how we have progressed though and I feel very good about where our depth is, our Plan A and Plan B, and where our rotations will be.
I like the development of some of our younger players that are in our two-deep right now, but we are still trying to figure out who can do what in some cases. We just need to play now. There will be a lot of improvement after Game 1, I am sure. That is typical of this time of the year, but I like our attitude and, again, some of the development of some of the younger guys. Keenan Clayton, at strong safety, has been really good. He has solidified that position and he gives us what we need there.
At our ends, we have the depth that we felt we would have going into fall camp. They haven't let us down. At this point, nobody is head-and-shoulders above one another in regards to our inside play at defensive tackle, but we are really solid though. We really like those guys.
JH: Do you know what the rotation is going to be at defensive tackle?
BV: I am not sure. Jackie (Shipp) will make a decision sometime next week. We will talk about it, but we will use four to five guys. Four for sure. And if a fifth is deserving, it depends on the flow of the game and how it is going, we might use a possible fifth guy.
We are still working through that right now, but Carl (Pendleton), Cory (Bennett), Steve Coleman and DeMarcus Granger have really played well. Then that fifth guy, you have Billy Blackard and Gerald McCoy. We are looking at those guys right now and we are giving them a chance to continue to compete going into next week.
JH: So Gerald is going to play this season and not redshirt?
BV: We are still looking at that. He has played well, but he is still learning the nuances of playing with technique and that type of thing. He has really had an outstanding fall camp, but we have some experience there that we feel good about too.
JH: Will you use a four-man rotation at defensive end?
BV: Four or five, but you can count on four for sure. We have told that fifth guy that if he wants to be the fourth he needs to fight for it and make us put him out there. The three seniors (C.J. Ah You, Calvin Thibodeaux and Larry Birdine) are obviously part of that group, but it remains to be seen who is going to be that fourth and maybe fifth guy.
JH: Oklahoma has played great defense since you and coach Stoops have been at Oklahoma, and often it is said attitude is one of the main reasons why. So does this defense have the right attitude that you are need to win the Cotton Bowl or a National Championship?
BV: We haven't been challenged in tough and difficult situations to see whether or not we can respond. We will see. We are saying and doing the right things the right way right now, but until you are really faced with adversity — that is the real test and the real judge. We will see what kind of toughness, physicalness, character and leadership and those kinds of intangibles that we either have or don't.
We have preached it and demanded it, and we have talked about it and our players recognize that we haven't had it like we need to have it. Hopefully, they have taken ownership into that line of thinking and will respond the right way. Inevitably, you are going to be faced with a critical third down or fourth down situation, or you have to find a way to get off the field in a two-minute situation. We are excited as much as anybody, because we don't know yet. Again, the test of time will tell.
JH: Curtis Lofton has created great competition at both the MIKE and SAM linebacker positions. What are your thoughts of him at those spots right now?
BV: Who is going to start is still up in the air, and what combination. I am looking for the best three linebackers. We have been fortunate enough to give the right reps with the right guys at different positions to put ourselves into position to see who the best three linebackers are.
Rufus has solidified himself and I have seen a lot of good things with the other guys. Again, I am trying to be fair to everybody and fair to our football team and our defense. My responsibility is to put the best three players out there, whoever that may be. That doesn't mean that there has to be great separation between four or five though either. We can have flexibility if a guy can play two positions equally well and he can play them as equal to the people that he is competing with. Then why not have some kind of rotation?
It's something that we haven't done a great deal of only because of a trust factor and playing ability. We are going to put guys out there that deserve to be out there, because I am not trying to rest a guy to save it for when it really counts. Our guys should be able to play 80 to 90 snaps, where as a defensive tackle would be gassed after 65 snaps tops. He wouldn't be worth a dang.
It is different with a linebacker and a DB in that regard. I do feel we have five good quality linebackers that can play at a lot of places, and who will have an opportunity to see significant time.
JH: Is Demarrio Pleasant back at 100 percent in practice?
BV: He is really close. I would say 88 percent or 90 or something. He has been out there and he hasn't been limited at all. I am trying to watch him as I pull him out and rotate him, which allows me to get guys' experience, because I have to count on a worse-case scenario.
I am still trying to evaluate that and trying to find out who is going to be consistent over the next week. I do have faith in everybody. It is not like I have had to turn in a different direction or come to a fork in the road. That is far from the truth. I have just been that excited about the development of players like Lewis Baker, Nic Harris and Curtis Lofton in addition to where Demarrio, Rufus and Zach were coming into camp.
JH: You mentioned Nic in your comments. Is working some at linebacker now?
BV: Well, it is the nickel back, which is really an outside linebacker. He comes in for that guy and Nic can do a lot of things. He has good range, he can play man, he can play zone and we have overdosed him on reps there. We feel really good about him playing in that position.
Our back-up nickel right now is Lendy Holmes. He has played really well there, so we like what we have in our options there. We have some flexibility that we didn't have before. In the past, we didn't know who our starting four would be much less who was going to be a fifth or sixth DB.
So we like what we have in that regard. Nic has really progressed well, as well as the others. He also has taken a number of snaps in the box as a SAM linebacker. He is 228 pounds so he has all the size you would want. All he has to do is learn all the nuances of playing in the box like block protections and reads and that kind of thing.
Venables wants defense to be tougher
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