By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN — If Oklahoma’s defenders’ shoulder pads look a little bigger this season, it’s the giant chip each set is carrying. Clearly, it’s a unit that understands the value of perception.
Based on the way OU looked in its last game, the esteem OU’s defense once carried itself with has plummeted.
The lasting image came after Texas A&M rolled up four straight touchdown drives to begin the second half of the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners gave up more than 420 yards of total offense for the fourth time in a five-game stretch to close last season.
“We have something to prove after last year and especially the last game,” OU linebacker Corey Nelson said. “We have a lot to prove.”
The validation process begins with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops making adjustments going into the second season of his second stint on the staff. Changes have come in the form of new position coaches and a new look at defensive schemes.
Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery was brought in to handle the entire group. Bobby Jack Wright moved to coaching the corner backs.
On the field, Stoops has vowed to make the linebackers an essential element in the defense after keeping them on the sidelines against four- and five-receiver alignments last season.
The secondary is being reassembled around cornerback Aaron Colvin after losing three starters from last season.
The defensive line only returns one starter — Chuka Ndulue — but he has moved from defensive end to tackle.
It’s a rebuilding project in every sense, however, rebuilding the Sooners’ mindsets is where the construction begins.
“I just want to see us get back to that mindset of having that chip on our shoulder and going out and dominating that offense,” Colvin said. “I know as a leader, that’s what I’ll take. I’ll definitely take that into my game every game and I’ll just make sure that the guys are out there competing their hardest.”
That’s the easy part. The talent part will come down to new players settling into roles. Can Jordan Phillips and juco transfer Quincy Russell become havoc creating defensive tackles. Can Gabe Lynn and Quinton Hayes become ball-hawking safeties?
Those questions will be answered over the course of the season. Another issue is how well OU and its second-year coordinator has adjusted to the conference and schedule loaded with explosive offenses.
Stoops believes last season was an adjustment period for him, but he’s better prepared for what OU’s about to face.
“I think it makes it a lot easier. I learned a lot about each team throughout the course of the year. Situational football, what they like. If you take this away, what will they do? I think that’s all stuff you catalogue, you understand situational football better.
“You look at it, you’re on the field, you start thinking about each situation, what they did to you and what hurt you. That’s what coaching is, trying to make adjustments and being sound in how we attack those situations.”
Getting back to playing an attacking defense is the ultimate goal. The Sooners weren’t in that position often in the second half of last season.
OU wants to show last season was an aberration. The motivation is clearly there.
“We have to get back to that swagger. We have to have that chip on our shoulder this year,” Colvin said. “Our tradition is being the best in the Big 12 and in the country and we have to get back to that.”