Oklahoma’s defensive line holds the keys to Sooners’ present and future

It’s been about two-and-a-half years since Brent Venables became the head football coach for the Oklahoma Sooners. In that time, he and his staff have diligently worked to build the program the right way after stripping it down to the studs in 2022.

A focus on toughness, discipline and complimentary football arrived in Norman on Dec. 5, 2021. Though there were growing pains in a 6-7 first year, the Sooners bounced back with a 10-3 mark in 2023. As the program enters the SEC, the challenge grows.

All of the preview magazines and national pundits will agree that one of the biggest keys to OU’s success in 2024 is the development of the offensive line. While that is absolutely the case in Year 1 in the SEC, it’s the guys on the other side of the ball that hold the keys to the future in Norman.

The Sooners have added some bona fide talent to the defensive line since the conclusion of last season via high school recruiting and the transfer portal. These are the players who will develop under Venables, Todd Bates and Miguel Chavis to form the future core of the Oklahoma Sooners defense.

Let’s start with high school recruiting and focus on the five defensive linemen that Venables and Co. brought in. The 2024 recruiting class on the D-line is quite simply the future of football in Norman, with five-star defensive tackle David Stone leading the way.

Stone hails from IMG Academy in Florida and was the linchpin of the ’24 class. His recruitment was a wild one, but the Sooners won in the end for the interior force. He was the highest ranked defensive tackle to sign with OU in the “star era,” and is maybe the best indication that Lincoln Riley and Alex Grinch no longer reside in the state of Oklahoma.

Nigel Smith is a four-star player from Melissa, Texas, who committed to the Sooners in September. He figures to play inside and on the edge, filling multiple roles on the defensive line. North Texas high school football is filled with all kinds of talent all over the field, and Smith more than held his own against excellent competition.

Also slotting in the interior defensive line will be Jayden Jackson, Stone’s teammate at IMG Academy. He has been locked in with OU since July and was perhaps the most impressive of the five in spring football, according to reports. Jackson took reps with the starters in the spring game.

Moving outside, Wyatt Gilmore hails from Minnesota and was the first piece of the puzzle to fall into place with his June commitment. The four-star is still adding weight to his frame, but he plays with a high motor and intensity that will make him a favorite of Chavis.

More: Damonic Williams, Defense makes OU a contender

The final piece of that puzzle came in the form of four-star edge Danny Okoye from Tulsa. The edge-rusher committed a couple of weeks after Smith and should pair nicely with players such as Adepoju Adebawore when it comes to pinning their ears back and rushing the passer.

While high school recruiting forms the base, the portal plugs holes. The staff was active in both the winter and spring windows.

Jermayne Lole comes in after transferring from Louisville to help on the interior of the defensive line. At 6-foot-3, 310, Lole already has the measurables of an SEC lineman, which the Sooners have to have present. He had elite production at Arizona State before injuries limited Lole over the previous few seasons. As a true sophomore in 2019, Lole recorded 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. If he can regain that form that put him on NFL draft radars, the Sooners have an elite presence in the middle of their defensive line.

Edge rusher Caiden Woullard arrives in Norman after a stint at Miami (Ohio), and was 247Sports’ fourth-ranked edge in the portal class. Last season for the Red Hawks, Woullard recorded 12 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

But perhaps the best indication that the Sooners are gaining traction is the transfer portal win that will bring Damonic Williams to Owen Field this fall.

Even with the Venables’ arrival, the Sooners had been left at the altar by some notable defensive line names like David Hicks and Williams Nwaneri. But, Oklahoma simply refused to be bullied by SEC dollars this go-around in the early May saga that was Williams’ recruitment. The Sooners wanted him, and the tandem of Venables and Bates did whatever it took to get that “all-in” poker chip.

This development speaks volumes. The Sooners are beginning to play with the big boys in the NIL world of college football. Additionally, the reputations of Venables, Bates, Chavis, and the rest of the staff will certainly help sway players to be developed in Norman.

If Oklahoma wants to play ball with programs like Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State, and Michigan (all teams with CFP championships), then the Sooners will need to continue this philosophy all over the roster. Along the defensive line is where it will be the most pivotal.

Defense win championships in college football, and that is doubly true in the SEC, where the trenches quite literally win or lose football games. Complimentary football is a must, as a great offense and subpar defense can only get you so far. A complete roster is the only way to capture a championship in this sport. The offense has to be lethal. The defense has to be suffocating.

Luckily, Oklahoma seems to have the right man at the wheel. If this new aggressive name, image and likeness licensing philosophy continues to emerge, Venables could be bringing all kinds of talented players to the Sooner State.

His 2024 defensive line acquisitions are a great way to start.

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Story originally appeared on Sooners Wire