NORMAN — Oklahoma football coaches still have high expectations and big plans for sophomore Mike Onuoha.
Onuoha, a raw but developing defender from Edmond Santa Fe, will move from defensive end to outside linebacker for the 2013 season, a source close to Onuoha told The Oklahoman.
Oklahoma, which begins spring football practices Saturday, is expected to shift to a 3-4 defensive scheme, which features bigger defensive linemen and often backs traditional ends off the line of scrimmage as pass rushing linebackers.
“I think he's gonna be good in space, coming off the edge and doing some things out in the flats,” said Edmond Santa Fe coach Lance Manning. “I know some of the things they're gonna do with him will work to his strengths.
“The big cat can move and run, and he's got a big wingspan. He's gonna be imposing out there.”
Onuoha missed most of his junior high-school season with a separated shoulder, but he had a breakout performance at Oklahoma's summer camp before his senior year. Before that, he'd been considered more as a basketball prospect.
Onuoha's senior season was Manning's first at Edmond Santa Fe.
“He was really raw for us,” Manning said of Onuoha, who weighed around 230 pounds throughout his only full season of high school football.
Onuoha picked up his first scholarship offer from Missouri, and Oklahoma offered about a month before 2012's national signing day. As a senior at Edmond Santa Fe, he recorded 87 tackles and six sacks.
Edmond Santa Fe coaches also dropped Onuoha back into pass coverage in some instances, which is why Manning believes his former player could handle some of the pass-coverage responsibilities he might he assigned at linebacker.
Onuoha saw some early season action as a true freshman at Oklahoma, but he didn't develop quickly enough to contribute late in the season. He's still listed at 235 pounds on Oklahoma's official roster, but Manning said he believes Onuoha is up to 255 or 260 pounds.
“The thing about Mike is, he doesn't bring a lot of baggage day to day,” Manning said. “He's got a smile on his face, and he knows how to work. You don't have to be a psychiatrist every day to get him motivated to practice.
“I think he's gonna end up being a player for them, and I think they expect that. They need him to be.”