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Oklahoma Football: Thinned-out defensive line looking for answers

Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Sooners counting on Stokes, Winfrey and Stripling to step up on DL.

With the recent news that defensive tackle Jalen Redmond is sitting out, the defensive line of the Oklahoma Sooners will have a much different look in 2020.

In addition to Redmond, who led the Sooners with 6.5 sacks a year ago, defensive end Ronnie Perkins will miss the first half of the season while serving an NCAA-mandated suspension. Meanwhile, OU lost its rotation at nose tackle with the graduations of Neville Gallimore , Marquise Overton and Dillon Faamatau. Between Redmond, Perkins and Gallimore, we’re talking about the most effective player at each of the three positions on the line.

On the positive side, OU has a stable of players up front who showed signs last season of being more than adequate replacements. They’ve also added some promising new candidates in the offseason to compete for snaps. That gives the Sooners a unit that probably won’t surpass their immediate predecessors, but also won’t suffer much drop-off this fall.

Here’s a look at players who will occupy the three positions on the DL for the Sooners, along with guesses as to how snaps will be distributed throughout the year.

Nose Tackle

Perrion Winfrey , Jr. – Winfrey arrived in the spring with high expectations. By all accounts, he is meeting them so far. That’s good news for the Sooners, who don’t need a disruptive presence over the middle of the line of scrimmage.

Jordan Kelley , R-So. – Kelley positioned himself to be a contributor on the interior last year before a leg injury forced him out for the majority of the schedule. How much can he offer this fall? Those types of injuries can have a more pronounced effect on players who live in the trenches. So long as OU can count on Kelley to give the D around 20 snaps per game, that may be enough.

Josh Ellison , So. – There were questions about the best position for Ellison, another JUCO addition like Winfrey. Currently tipping the scales at 291 pounds, Ellison is headed for NT. He can’t match Winfrey’s ceiling, but that doesn’t mean Ellison can’t become a useful rotation player this season.

Three-tech DT

LaRon Stokes , Sr. – Stokes transitioned from a defensive end in junior college to a defensive tackle in ‘19, and the move paid immediate dividends. Even though he only logged 4.5 tackles for loss all year, Stokes held up well at the point of attack and showed a strong grasp of his assignments. With Redmond out of action, Stokes needs to go a step further this season and become more disruptive. The NFL draft is looming, so look for an inspired season from the Big 12’s reigning defensive newcomer of the year.

Kori Roberson , R-Fr. – Roberson came to Norman as a raw project. Under normal circumstances, one more year of maturity would serve him well. He doesn’t have that luxury, so the Sooners have to hope he can capitalize on his exceptional potential now. Fortunately, he has enough size (6-4, 288 pounds) to handle the physical demands of three-tech.

Zaccheus McKinney, R-Jr. – McKinney has outlasted plenty of defensive players who joined the OU program in his class – guys like Tyreece Lott and Addison Gumbs and Levi Draper. Even so, his impact on the field to this point has been minimal. Perhaps his dedication will pay off in a season in which going three deep across the DL feels like a must.

Five-tech DE

Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Ronnie Perkins , Jr. – Of the three NCAA-mandated suspensions to players on the OU roster, Perkins’ hiatus hurts the worst. He gives the Sooners an all-around presence on the edge of the strong side – a player who is adept and stopping the run and getting after the quarterback. A fresh version of the junior DE in the back half of the year could develop into the Big 12’s best defender.

Marcus Stripling , So. – Stripling proved too good to keep off the field during his freshman year. The stats only show four tackles on the season, but Stripling flashed enough to suggest he has a bright future ahead of him. Perkins’ suspension will put him under the microscope early in the year.

Reggie Grimes , Fr. – Once again, the Sooners lured away one of the top recruits in Tennessee. The freshman has enough bulk at 266 pounds to handle the physicality of the college game in his first season. Most likely, though, he won’t see much action outside of garbage time.

Noah Arinze , Fr. – OU’s coaches are hoping they found an under-the-radar stud in Arinze. A long athlete out of Missouri, Arinze will probably take this season to get his bearings.

Isaiah Thomas , R-Jr. – Once considered a likely transfer candidate, Thomas worked his way up the depth chart last year. By the end of the season, he was in the lineup in important spots versus Baylor in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners will rely heavily on Thomas during Perkins’ suspension.

Projected Distribution of DL Snaps

NT

Winfrey – 50%

Kelley – 35%

Ellison – 15%

DT

Stokes – 60%

Roberson – 30%

McKinney – 10%

DE

Stripling – 40%

Thomas – 30%

Perkins – 25%

Grimes – 5%

*Probably not an optimal workload for Stokes. However, it seems necessary, given the state of things at three-tech.

*Keep an eye out for Thomas possibly moonlighting at three-tech early in the season. Maybe Ellison too?

*Perkins will get a plurality of reps at DE once he returns to action, but buy stock in Stripling now.

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