MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

August 16, 2009

Stoops expects defense to be strong

NORMAN (AP) — When Sam Bradford embarked on what would become a record-setting season that netted him the Heisman Trophy, it was with the deck stacked in his favor at Oklahoma.

The Sooners put a veteran offensive line, proven wide receivers and two of the Big 12's top running backs at his disposal.

Not so this year.

As Oklahoma tries to make it one step farther after losing in the BCS championship game to Florida, Bradford will be relying on a new group to protect him and catch his passes in the wide-open Sooners offense that set the NCAA scoring record last season.

"I think a year ago we had a great deal of experience coming back on offense and we were going to be young and inexperienced some on defense and needed to grow. And that kind of happened as we went through the year," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "The offense was really pretty strong through the year and got better at the end and then the defense got a lot better through experience through the year.

"This year, we'll probably start just the reverse."

Gone are four of the Sooners' starting linemen and three senior receivers who combined to catch 21 of Bradford's 50 touchdown passes last season.

The silver lining is that second-team All-America tight end Jermaine Gresham and massive tackle Trent Williams, who'll protect Bradford's blind side, made the same decision as the Heisman winner and opted for another season at Oklahoma. The Sooners' tailback tandem of DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown also returns after both eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing last season.

"Obviously we have some younger guys that are going to come in, but I feel like they made tremendous steps in the offseason," Bradford said. "I feel like they'll be prepared to play.

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