OU football: Mike Stoops brings small schematic changes to defense
After spending eight seasons as Arizona’s head coach, Mike Stoops is back at Oklahoma, and he’s bringing a new defensive scheme with him.
Despite all the hoopla, the transition from former defensive coordinator Brent Venables to Stoops shouldn’t be too drastic.
Keep in my mind both Stoops and Venables come from the same coaching tree, so schematically, the two defenses are very similar. Both coaches run a 4-3 Cover 2 base defense, with Stoops preferring to bring pressure via zone blitzes and Venables preferring to stick with a four-man rush.
As far as coaching philosophies go, the biggest difference between Stoops and former defensive coordinator Brent Venables isn’t so much the Xs and Os, as it is the personnel they utilize to make their defenses run.
For the most part, Stoops employs bigger, stronger guys to be more physical in run support, especially in the secondary.
As a result, expect junior defensive back Tony Jefferson to takeover a true safety position this fall instead of the strong side linebacker/safety hybrid he’s played during his first two seasons, and junior defensive back Aaron Colvin to return to his natural cornerback position, freeing up the other safety spot for senior Javon Harris.
The linebacker and defensive line positions shouldn’t see much change outside of the year-to-year turnover from graduation and the draft.
Juniors Tom Wort and Corey Nelson return, but the Sooners will need to replace four-year starter Travis Lewis at the third linebacker position. The most likely candidate to fill Lewis’ shoes is senior Joseph Ibiloye followed by sophomores Aaron Franklin and Rashod Favors.
On the defensive line, the Sooners’ interior of seniors Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Stacey McGee has as much as depth and talent as any other position on the roster, and the emergence of redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips during spring practices only strengthens an already stellar group.
At defensive end, OU lost a pair of studs — Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis — but brings back two players who received solid playing last season with seniors David King and R.J. Washington.
Another change to expect this season is how the Sooners will defend receiver-heavy spread formations.
Last season, Oklahoma typically stayed in its base defense even when opposing offenses tried to spread the Sooners out. As seen in the spring game, Stoops likes to match speed with speed, often swapping a defensive back for a linebacker in a 4-2-5 Nickel package whenever the offense uses 10 personnel — a four receiver, one running back set. This is a set the Sooners often went to in Stoops’ original stint at OU with Brandon Shelby specializing as the nickel back — a role that could be filled by junior Gabe Lynn or sophomore Julian Wilson.
Expect the Sooners to go to a five-defensive back package frequently this season when playing West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and other teams that like to air it out.
If these changes seem minor, it’s because they are; but little changes to little things make big differences in the long run.