If the Oklahoma Sooners’ defense is going to make the improvements necessary to be a great defense, it’s going to take everyone being invested in that improvement.
“I need to be completely involved defensively,” Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables said earlier this week. “Not that they need my help. But that’s what I know. That’s how I got to this position. And I think a year ago I was certainly involved, but not to the depth that I think that I felt like I needed to be after evaluating all of it.”
His lack of full involvement probably impacted the Sooners’ defense and why they ranked so low in every defensive category. The only way the Sooners can go on defense is up.
There’s plenty of optimism that the Sooners will improve significantly on defense. More talent, positive development from young and returning players, and most importantly, more input from the man whose defense it is.
Saturday’s opener in Norman against Arkansas State is the first chance the nation will get to see the 2023 Oklahoma defense.
They’ll take on a Red Wolves team that struggled on offense at times last year but have some veterans in key spots who won’t be afraid of the moment come Saturday.
An outstanding performance against the Red Wolves is the type of confidence boost this defense needs. Who may spark that? Take a look at the three players we’ll be watching.
Up Next: 3 Sooners Defenders to Watch
Jaren Kanak, Linebacker
Oklahoma’s defense was in desperate need of better linebacker play last year. Junior Danny Stutsman led the Big 12 in tackles and in Pro Football Focus’ stops metric, which considers where the tackle was made in relation to the down and distance. He even had more stops than anyone in the Big 12. But he needed to be better, and he needed better from his other linebackers.
Enter physical specimen, Jaren Kanak. The sophomore played sparingly last year, and now, just a year later, he won the starting middle linebacker spot alongside Stutsman. How he handles the responsibilities that come with that will be interesting to follow throughout the season. He has all the physical tools but needs game action to continue developing. We’ll see how far he’s come this offseason.
Up Next: A Breakout Defensive Back
Gentry Williams, Cornerback
Like Jaren Kanak, Gentry Williams is another sophomore with a great set of physical gifts but is now looking to put those on display and ball out. During his recruitment, Gentry Williams was teetering on the edge of heading to USC instead of staying and playing for his hometown Sooners. This staff ensured he didn’t leave the state, and now he has an opportunity to try and become a star. He has the athleticism and the size. Can he capitalize on that, take this starting spot, and run with it? Arkansas State has a receiver named Corey Rucker, who will be the focal point of their passing attack. Look for Gentry to get tested, considering he’s the younger and more inexperienced corner out of him and senior Woodi Washington.
A Breakout Transfer
Dasan McCullough, Cheetah
Oklahoma’s most heralded transfer portal addition, Dasan McCullough, will make his Oklahoma debut on Saturday. McCullough transferred from Indiana this past winter after having a freshman All-American season where he appeared in all 12 games and made four starts. He then landed freshman All-America honors from ESPN, The Athletic (second team), and College Football News (second team). He ranked seventh on that team with 49 tackles, second on the squad with 6.5 tackles for loss, and tied for the team lead with 4.0 sacks. He registered three pass breakups and tied for second on the team with three QB hurries. He is a playmaker and could be a dynamic weapon at Cheetah, taking this defense to new heights.
Coverage is something that he’s likely a liability in as of right now, so look for senior Justin Harrington to be on the field covering guys downfield. But playing McCullough in and around the box and having him go and play downhill could reap plenty of benefits for this defense. He’s certainly someone we’re looking to check out.