NORMAN — Four years ago during a Fiesta Bowl week practice, redshirting defensive end Frank Alexander was fielding punts with the agility of a wide receiver.
After Alexander sprinted back to flag down another punt along the sideline, one Sooner insider gushed Alexander would be “the next big thing” at Oklahoma.
Yet for all Alexander's natural gifts, that is yet to happen. After a promising sophomore campaign as a part-time starter, Alexander regressed in 2010 as a junior. A preseason ankle sprain caused him to miss the opener; however, even after returning, Alexander was almost a non-factor the first half of the season.
But there's still reason to believe Alexander may be on the verge of finally busting out into an all-conference caliber end.
After re-emerging in the starting lineup when OU installed the three-end, 50-front scheme the final week of the regular season, Alexander was a terror. In the Sooners' final three games, Alexander quietly racked up eight tackles for loss, three sacks and one forced fumble.
So far this spring, Alexander has continued to surge.
“Frank has had a good spring. Been a good leader and been really consistent,” said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “He did come on at the end of the year, and started playing like he's capable of playing.
“Really, the sky is the limit for him. He's capable of another place, and we're hoping he can get there.”
With fellow starting end Ronnell Lewis still soaking in the intricacies of the position, and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Beal gone, the Sooners need Alexander to get there.
Talent has never been the issue. But small things like playing with too high a pad level have held Alexander back, ends coach Bobby Jack Wright points out.
“Frank's continuing to improve,” Wright said. “He's finally starting to kind of get the idea of how he's got to play.”
Replacing a player as prolific as Beal is impossible. But if Alexander can continue to ascend, the Sooners figure to be stout at end once again.
“I think he's looking forward to playing at a higher level than he did last year,” Venables said, “and I think that's going to help us a lot if he does.”