Defensive state of mind for the Sooners

By Michael Kinney

A lot of words seem to pop up into conversions when the name Alex Grinch is mentioned. Oklahoma’s newest defensive coordinator has been associated with pressure, aggressiveness, toughness and intensity.

But no word gets as much attention as competition. As Grinch begins his first season with the Sooners, he has made it known to his players and coaching staff that Oklahoma’s defense will be a unit that competes at all times.

“The magic word is compete. The more bodies that you have, not just competing for starting sports but competing for roles, certainly is an important element of things,” Grinch said. “We do take a lot of stock in what’s taken place in the past – that’s the responsible thing to do. Open minds for those guys, fresh start, just like we expected them to have open minds with our coaching staff, so we took that approach.”

However, because of injuries, the OU defense wasn’t at the competitive level in the spring at Grinch wanted to see when he took over. But now as fall camp has begun, he’s expecting to see more from his squad.

“I think number one would be competition. With more guys, there’s that element of – you eliminate the survival element of practice. It’s OK to just survive a given practice, a given drill, a 7-on-7 period, an 11-on-11 period. And why can’t you survive it? It’s because they’re not performing to a certain level. There’s another guy we can bring in for you. There’s a legitimate guy we can bring in for you. There’s shot fakes in basketball, but there’s head fakes in football, too, where you take a guy out and put someone in that he knows and you know is not capable of executing at the given level, then it’s not true competition that way. I think that’s good. I think as we move forward into camp, having a full slate of guys from a health standpoint and obviously given the young guys coming in will be advantageous for us.”

Oklahoma kicked off its season Friday afternoon meeting with the media then taking part in the annual Meet the Sooners Day event with the fans. Practices officially began Saturday morning.

One of the biggest questions the Sooners had, as they rolled into camp, surrounds the defense. It has been labeled the weak link to Oklahoma’s title hopes every year under Lincoln Riley and the players know it.

“Last year the defense was getting attacked from everybody,” sophomore defensive end Ronnie Perkins said. “You watch how the offense gets all that love. I want to get that same type of love. I want people to feel that same type a way about us to.  Everybody spoke highly of the offense and coach Riley. Then it was like ‘but the defense…’  It was a weird feeling, but a feeling I think will be gone soon.”

However, Grinch didn’t want his defenders to forget about that feeling too quick. During the offseason he had reminders built into workouts that they were the 129th ranked defense in the nation in 2018.

“I think at this point, as you go in the fall starting out, what’s done is done. We can’t have any impact on that,” Grinch said. “I think we did workouts with coach (Bennie) Wylie in the weight room and did good workouts that from a rep standpoint added up to 129 as a reminder. I think as we flip the page and the calendar goes on to August, it’s on 2019 so that’s no longer the emphasis. I think that serves as a reminder that it’s difficult to play defense in 2019. You’re one play away from being average.”

The returning Sooners who had to deal with the constant criticism do not want to have to go through another season like that again.

“I am sure we all got chips on their shoulder and want to send a message this is a new defense, it’s a new team,” Perkins said. “I feel like we’re a way better and more complete team.”

Junior linebacker Kenneth Murray agrees Oklahoma looks like it has found the missing ingredients that will take them from a borderline horrendous defensive unit to one that can win games for the Sooners.

“Just the way that we attack things, the way we’re doing things, we’ve done things this offseason a lot differently than we’ve done in the past. Just a lot more team defense, a lot more things we do together as a defense, player-led things, just to make sure that we’re better,” Murray said. “I think all that work and all that preparation is going to add up. Going into fall camp I think we are in a better position than we were last year.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

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