NORMAN — Oklahoma's overriding question this season: How much can Mike Stoops' return as defensive coordinator impact the defense?
Stoops is filling Brent Venables' former role. Venables left to run Clemson's defense.
Stoops isn't implementing major changes. Simplify has been the buzzword during media interview sessions.
“We're just trying to get our players in the right positions to be more efficient, more effective players,” Stoops said. “How much can we simplify things? That's hard to say. We're going to do what we have to do to be successful.”
Essentially starting at ground zero, Stoops is evaluating personnel and building a foundation during spring practices that will be on display during Saturday afternoon's spring game.
“It's getting everybody to knowing exactly what they're doing, not being confused out there,” said safety Javon Harris. “Knowing what everybody else is doing, that way you don't have to think as much. You can play. Everybody can ball.”
Defensive principles that date back to his first stint as defensive coordinator eight years ago will always be at the core of OU's defense.
But it's a new day. Speedy receivers pose daunting challenges.
“Our base defense hasn't changed from what it was a year ago,” Stoops said. “We'll get into some even fronts and odd fronts, try to keep the offense off balance as much as we can. But we can't give up being efficient with our players. We weren't as efficient as we needed to be a year ago.”
Giving the program a fresh set of eyes, Mike Stoops inherits a defense that was very good on occasion but victimized like no defense before in the Bob Stoops era.
OU's defense was dominant against Florida State, Texas and Kansas State but will be most remembered for three clunkers (Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State).
The Sooners were burned for a school record 616 yards against Baylor. They surrendered 572 to a Texas Tech team that didn't play in a bowl.
The bottom line stat: last year's OU defense ranks lowest in school history (376.2 yards a game).
Minimizing big plays has been an area of emphasis all spring.
“You have to have that mindset and attitude that nobody is getting behind you,” said free safety Tony Jefferson. “That's the mindset I have. It's a pretty simple concept; just don't let anyone get behind you ... deeper than the deepest man. I've been taught that since I was young.”
Players were taught that last year. Head-scratching breakdowns led to three conference losses for only the second time the past dozen years.
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OU SPRING GAME
When: 2 p.m., Saturday
Where: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman
Tickets: $5 Tuesday, $10 Wednesday-Saturday. Tickets can be purchased online at SoonerSports.com or by calling (405) 325-2424. OU students, Sooner Kids Club members and children ages five and under are free.