If OU runs a 3-4, it's possible that traditional defensive ends play more as pass rushing outside linebackers.
“When we kick into a (three-man front), some of it will be some of those guys standing up once in a while,” Bob Stoops said, adding that those players will work mostly with defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery in practice.
BUILDING UP LINEBACKERS
When high-powered, spread offenses began torching Oklahoma's defense late last season, coaches experimented with one — and sometimes zero — linebackers on the field.
Tom Wort admitted being discouraged last year, and opted to declare for the 2013 NFL Draft rather than return for his senior season.
Senior Corey Nelson, who was once considered among the best players on the team, returns along with sophomore Frank Shannon. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said linebackers will be more included this season, and even admitted the unit was done an “injustice” in 2012.
REPLACING SEVERAL KEY DEFENDERS
Oklahoma isn't just changing up its defensive philosophy. The Sooners are doing it with an almost entirely new cast of characters.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin, defensive end Chuka Ndulue, Nelson and Shannon are Oklahoma's most experienced returnees on defense.
Versatile safety Tony Jefferson, who left early for the NFL, will be difficult to replace, Mike Stoops said.
“The productivity of Tony Jefferson will be dearly missed,” Mike Stoops said. “Tony was a playmaker for us.
“We'll move Gabe Lynn, who has great flexibility in his game, over to the free safety and Julian will step in at nickel.
“Quentin Hayes will go to strong safety. ... Who plays that other corner position will be our biggest challenge.”
The quarterback battle might get most of the attention, but Oklahoma has another longtime, reliable player to replace in 2013: Punter Tress Way.
Newcomer Jed Barnett, who is with the team for spring football, averaged 41.3 yards per punt last season at Laney College in Oakland, Calif.
“No one gets really excited about Jed, until next year when you're punting the ball,” Bob Stoops said on signing day. “He's got a big leg, and I really believe he's going to be a key ingredient for us when we're on the field next fall.”
TEACHING FUNDAMENTALS TO YOUNG PLAYERS
Bob Stoops said spring is a “fun time for coaches” because they can focus on fundamentals.
“You get to work with everybody,” Stoops said. “During the season, you're working with everybody, but you're focused a little more on first- and second-team guys that are getting the most snaps. This way, you're bringing everybody along.
“It's really about building depth at every position, getting more players ready to play not only on offense and defense, but also even on special teams.”
ADJUSTING TO NEW COACHES
For defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and tight ends/special teams coach Jay Boulware, this spring will be about becoming acquainted with their new players.
“I'm a teacher first,” Montgomery said. “I'm a high-energy guy. I'm not into dog-cussing kids. If you do something right, I'm gonna rah-rah. If you do something wrong, I'm gonna teach you how to do it better.
“That's my style. That's who I am. And that's what you guys will see on the football field.”