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Sports

February 7, 2013

Front line, secondary get attention at OU

NORMAN  — Attempting to stiffen up a defense that faded late for a second straight season, Oklahoma loaded up along the front line and in the secondary Wednesday on national signing day.

Coach Bob Stoops and his staff received letters of intent from seven defensive linemen and four defensive backs, making up nearly half of a 23-player recruiting class. Junior college transfer Quincy Russell is among four defensive tackles in the class, with in-state products D.J. Ward at defensive end and Stanvon Taylor at cornerback highlighting those position groups that Stoops called “major needs.”

“Toward the end of the year, we gave up just way too many points, way too many yards,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Even as good as those teams were, we need to be better equipped to handle those styles of offenses. Certainly, I think this group of players will help us move forward with our defense.”

Two more homegrown products, Dominique Alexander from Tulsa and Jordan Evans from Norman, were the only linebackers in the defense-heavy class aimed at offering better resistance against the Big 12’s increasingly potent offenses. Seven of the league’s 10 teams ranked in the top 25 in scoring last season.

“We have to adjust to what we see in this league, and we feel like we addressed a lot of those issues with our defensive line and certainly our secondary guys,” Mike Stoops said. “It’s one of our strongest groups of secondary players. And the two linebackers give us a lot of flexibility — two big, fast, physical guys that can play in space.”

The Sooners have received increasing scrutiny on their defensive line since the departure of Gerald McCoy, the No. 3 pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Elite-level, NFL-bound tackles such as McCoy, Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek have played key roles in Oklahoma’s best teams contending for national championships.

Without one, the Sooners have given up yards at a record-setting rate the past two seasons. Bob Stoops expressed hope that the new crop will shore up the defensive line.

“On the defensive line, you have to be able to run — to be any good anyway. That’s the only way you’re going to get penetration, get to the quarterback, those kinds of things and be able to chase a ball down to the sidelines,” he said.

“They’re hard to find. There’s just not a lot of them, but we love these four guys.”

Oklahoma also added running back Keith Ford and quarterback Cody Thomas, a major-league baseball prospect who Stoops says is committed to playing football for the Sooners.

“Talking with Cody and his family through this whole recruiting process, he is adamant that he truly wants to play football unless he was picked so high that couldn’t turn away from it,” Bob Stoops said. “Most indications are that football is important enough to him that he’s going to want to pursue that. ... We wouldn’t have pursued this and gone down this road if we didn’t feel there was a great chance that Cody would be with us.”

The Sooners added just three offensive linemen in what has been a thin position recently because of injuries. However, two of the three are junior college transfers — Josiah St. John from Trinity Valley (Texas) and Dionte Savage from Arizona Western, the same school that provided starting running back Damien Williams in last year’s recruiting class.

There’s also an influx of four high-school receivers — a position that went from a big question mark during training camp to a strength last season when Justin Brown from Penn State and Jalen Saunders from Fresno State were allowed to transfer in without sitting out a year. There will be openings, though, because Brown was a senior and Kenny Stills left early to enter the NFL draft.

Austin Bennett, Dannon Cavil, Jordan Smallwood and K.J. Young make up the incoming receiver class. The other addition is Jed Barnett, a punter from Laney College who could step in immediately for departing senior Tress Way.

The class was rated 15th in the country by recruiting website Rivals.com and 16th by ESPN, and Bob Stoops said he considered it comparable to many in his 14 seasons as head coach.

Only time will tell how it really stacks up on the field.

“Who knows how all these kids are going to react once they get here, to the disciplines and the structure and all that it takes to be a great player at this level?” Mike Stoops said. “But our hope when we went into this recruiting season for me personally was to recruit good, strong kids of character and toughness that it takes to compete at the very highest level and can take the rigors that come with the pressures of playing at Oklahoma. And we feel like we did that.”

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