NORMAN — Oklahoma junior defensive tackle Torrea Peterson admitted nearly leaving the team after the 2011 season.
Coach Bob Stoops and former defensive line coach Jackie Shipp talked Peterson out of it, but he said his maturity is something that continues to evolve.
A fresh start under new position coach Jerry Montgomery might've been just the boost Peterson needed.
“I was a little bit young minded my earlier years here,” Peterson said. “It's not an overnight transformation, but certainly that helped me reestablish myself as the young man I came in as through high school and everything. I think that benefitted me a little bit.”
Montgomery, 33, arrived in early March, becoming the youngest member of Oklahoma's coaching staff. He was a four-year starting defensive tackle at Iowa under position coach Ron Aiken in the early 2000s, and said that experience shaped what has become his positive, encouraging coaching style.
“(Aiken) never cursed,” Montgomery said. “He never really raised his voice; he coached us hard and taught us technique and fundamentals, but he'd give us a look where you'd just know you'd better pick it up.
“People can do it 100 different ways, but it's just the way I do it. I believe in a guy making a play and patting him on the back when he does something right. I believe when he does it wrong, you teach him how to do it better. I think that's what a great teacher does and I was lucky enough to have one of those guys.”
Montgomery spent the past two seasons as Michigan's defensive line coach. At Oklahoma, he inherits a unit decimated by graduation; most of the Sooners' 2012 defensive linemen were seniors. Junior Chuka Ndulue is the unit's only returning member who saw significant action last season.
Even though the group was senior-dominated, it still struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which contributed heavily to the Sooners' overall defensive struggles over the final five games.
The defensive tackles were hit especially hard by graduation, plus the late-February dismissals of tackles Marquis Anderson and Damon Williams.
Ndulue moved to tackle from defensive end, but the group is still very raw and inexperienced. Peterson, sophomore Jordan Phillips and redshirt freshman Jordan Wade were the only three tackles on the roster before Ndulue's shift inside.
At defensive end, the Sooners have lots of talented young players, but nearly all of them lack vital game experience.
“They're responding, but we have to be more consistent every day,” Montgomery said. “We need to get better every practice and I can't say we've done that every practice. There are days when we took a step forward and there are days when we took a step back.”
Through it all, though, Montgomery has tried to remain positive with his new players, and they seem to be responding to his style.
“He's fired up,” Ndulue said. “He's always energetic when he's in there. When you knock back the offensive lineman or do something good, he's jumping around smacking you in the back of the head. I like that a lot.”