By Michael Kinney
NORMAN – No coach on the Oklahoma coaching staff has taken more heat the last few seasons than defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Whether it was watching his defense give up 700 yards in a game or seemingly fall apart in big games, he has had to take the brunt of the criticism.
Despite that, Stoops was able to put together one of the best defensive recruiting classes in the nation for 2018. And those same players are starting to show why that is in the first few weeks of spring football camp.
“We have a ways to go. I like all the pieces. The group that I notice the most is the defensive line,” Stoops said. “They are the most improved players by far. You can tell the experience from just a year ago. Neville (Gallimore) is so much further ahead than he was a year ago. We just need him to be the player that he can be. We need better play across the board. Calls are calls. It’s how you play them and how you coach them. We certainly need to get better in all phases. And I like our young pieces. Jalen Redmond, Ronnie Perkins, these are very talented and explosive players.”
However, even though it is a talented group, they are still freshman that must learn the ways of playing big time college football. And that will take more time than just a few days in the spring.
“They don’t know what they don’t know until they get on the field at this level,” Stoops said. “They really don’t. Any of them. They will tell you that. This is like a foreign test to them. They keep pushing themselves every day. They just have to figure it out. They are going to be so much better when they come back in the fall.”
Yet, while the freshman are learning the system, players such as Gallimore are reestablishing themselves as someone the defense can rely on.
“Neville was kind of in and out all year. He had to sit I think, what, three weeks? He’s battled injuries on and off, and he hasn’t been on the field consistently. Just these five days, you could just see he’s just a much more confident. You’re starting to see his skills show up,” Stoops said. “Every down, he’s starting to play more consistently. He’s been probably our most improved player, I would say that I’ve seen this far, and now he’s showing the player that we thought he would be.”
Gallimore isn’t the only defensive lineman who has come into the spring looking like they are ready to take the next step. According to defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux, the emergence of defensive tackle Marquise Overton has been huge for the defense.
“It’s a real big deal. Like I said, he’s another guy that has had experience, he’s been in wars,” Thibodeaux said. “But like I said, the guys are playing their butt off right now, so he got to give back, because we’ve got some guys playing well right now.”
Fans will get a chance to see the defense in action April 14 at the spring football game at Memorial Stadium.
Game time is set for 1:15 p.m. Tickets are $5.
Before the game, Oklahoma fans will be treated to seeing the unveiling and dedication of the Bob Stoops statue at 10 a.m. It will take place on the lawn directly south of the Switzer Center.