Ronnell Lewis likely to remain at defensive end

Oklahoma has essentially switched its base defense from the 4-3 to the nickel, meaning Ronnell Lewis probably won't return to strongside linebacker.
By Jake Trotter Modified: September 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm •  Published: September 12, 2010

NORMAN — The Air Force Academy will enter Saturday's game at Oklahoma leading the nation in rushing.

But that doesn't mean Ronnell Lewis will return to strongside linebacker this week.

Instead, it appears "The Hammer" will remain a defensive end for this game, this season and probably the rest of his Sooner career.

Thanks to the influx of pass-first offenses on OU's schedule, the Sooners' base defense essentially has gone from the 4-3 to the nickel. In other words, the strongside linebacker (Lewis) has been replaced with a third safety, in OU's case, true freshman Tony Jefferson.

OU figures to remain in the nickel the majority of the time this season, including against a run-first offense like Air Force, which operates its triple-option attack out of spread formations.

Lewis is still making an impact, despite being relegated to kick coverage guru and spot defensive end.

Against Florida State, he had five tackles, including one for loss. On one kick return, The Hammer leveled Lamarcus Joyner from the right side, a hit that took Joyner several seconds to get up from.

The week before against Utah State, Lewis had three tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.

But because the Sooners have been almost exclusively in the nickel, Lewis has had to make those plays on special teams and at defensive end, not linebacker.

Don't count on that changing.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables indicated over the weekend that against offensive sets with three or more wide receivers, Jefferson would continue to be on the field. And against formations with only two receivers, backup nickelback Joe Ibiloye would continue to come in for Jefferson.

Meaning, the only time OU won't be in the nickel this season will be against teams that use multiple tight ends and run the ball between the tackles.

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Breaking down Air Force

Campus location: Air Force Academy, Colo.

Enrollment: 4,417

Nickname: Falcons

Conference: Mountain West

Record: 2-0

Last game: Mikel Hunter scored twice and the Falcons' defense forced three turnovers, helping Air Force snap a six-game slide against BYU with a 35-14 win.

Last meeting with OU: On Sept. 1, 2001, the Falcon offense fooled no one, as OU romped to a 44-3 win at Air Force.

Best player: Cornerback Anthony Wright leads a stingy Falcon defense that shut down BYU's pass offense.

Why they could win: The Falcons have the No. 1 ground game in college football averaging 423 yards through two games. If Air Force can sustain that kind of production on the ground in Norman, the Falcons could hang around.

Why they could lose: One thing the Sooners have always done in the Bob Stoops era is shut down the run. The Falcons could find it hard to find running lanes against a Sooner front that was impressive in OU's win over Florida State.

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