, Muskogee, OK

April 10, 2014

Bulk at outside linebacker primary goal for OU

By John Shinn

NORMAN — The next evolution for Oklahoma’s defense is under way. It’s spent two seasons tinkering to get as much speed on the field as possible.

The ability to run remains at a premium. But adding bulk — especially at outside linebacker — has been an emphasis this spring.

The Sooners inked junior college outside linebacker Devante Bond in January and seem satisfied with the results. Another interesting move has been moving Geneo Grissom from defensive end to outside linebacker.

The hope is Grissom, who was the Sugar Bowl’s defensive most valuable player as down a lineman, can make the move to a standup defender.

“Geneo is very athletic,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Heck, if you put him on a basketball team he’d be playing for somebody. He’s very athletic. It really fits him well. He’s done a very good job with it.”

Grissom’s potential is something the coaching staff has tried to unlock for several seasons. He moved back and forth between defensive end and tight end during the 2012 season and didn’t really settle into the defensive end spot until the end of last season.

The Sugar Bowl was Grissom’s breakout performance with 2 1/2 sacks and two fumble recoveries, including the 8-yard return for a touchdown that sealed the victory over Alabama.

But at 257 pounds, Grissom’s professional future is likely as a linebacker. It was one reason he fully embraced the move. The other is getting to go nose-to-nose with tight ends instead of offensive tackles on most downs.

“I’ll be mostly lined up against tight ends. Those guys definitely don’t weigh 300 pounds so I think I’ll have the advantage there,” he said.

Besides, Grissom has never been one against learning new things. He embraced the linebacker role with his typical enthusiasm.

“It’s every defensive end’s dream to pick his hand up and stand on the edge and come off the line in a two-point stance,” he said.

The experiment is part of OU’s on-going quest to build a defense that fits against all comers. The primary reason for switching to the 3-4 defense last season was removing a defensive tackle and replacing with a linebacker or defensive back puts more speed on the field. It worked well against spread teams. Traditional offenses that used tight ends experienced success.

The 2014 schedule includes several teams built in that mold. The Sept. 13 game against Tennessee and the Red River Showdown against Texas on Oct. 11 are games where defensive bulk will be at a premium.

Defending the Sooners’ offense at 2 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field in the Red-White Game will be a good barometer. OU, which was one of the pioneers when it came to spread offenses in the Big 12, is gradually moving back toward using more tight ends and bigger running backs.

But it means Grissom has to run with them in pass coverage, too. There’s always a give-and-take with every personnel group.

The goal for the spring has been becoming a bigger, more physical defense for when the occasion arises. Finding a way to do that and keep Grissom on the field is something the Sooners are trying to figure out.

“It’s been a great experience,” Grissom said. “It’s a lot of fun and hopefully I can win the job but I’ll play anywhere the coaches want me to play.”