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Middle man key for defense in OU football

By John Helsley Modified: August 9, 2008 at 1:29 am •  Published: August 9, 2008

/> A first career start came in 2007, along with 60 tackles, yet Reynolds started just seven of 13 games and was somewhat of a situational player against most of the league's spread offenses

All the missed time had taken a toll.

"Just think about it,” Venables said, "he took two years off from the weight room from the (pectoral muscles) down. To expect you to be as fast or as explosive or as athletic, you're very naïve.

"He'll be better. And he is better than he was a year ago. He's got to stay healthy.”

Just making it to this point healthy has re-energized Reynolds.

"The last two summers, I couldn't even run,” he said. "I'd just have to start up at fall camp. But I've been able to do 7-on-7 and build chemistry with the guys. Those two things are huge.

"Being able to do that three times a week with the guys is a big advantage.”

As much as the physical difference, Venables said there's a mental barrier that must be broken, too.

So far, so good.

"I think he feels great,” Venables said. "He's got a little edge to him. He's talking noise to me.

"I love it. I really admire him as a man. What he's gone through, how he's handled that, the leadership he's been able to give all our players all the while.”

Now the Sooners are looking for Reynolds to provide on-the-field leadership.

The loss of linebacker Curtis Lofton to the NFL left a major void for the Sooners. The underrated Lewis Baker is gone, too. Deeper in the defense, new starters are also needed at both cornerback spots.

If there's one potential hangup in OU's quest for an eighth national championship, it revolves around the defense developing front to back, inside out.

That puts focus on Reynolds. And he knows it.

"There's definitely a lot of pressure,” Reynolds said. "I definitely sense that. I sensed it in the spring.

"After Curtis left, he was an All-American. I have to take over for him and fill his shoes. And those are big shoes to fill.”