NORMAN — Oklahoma lost two all-conference defensive ends from its 2011 pass rush, which was good enough to finish eighth nationally in quarterback sacks.
After Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis were drafted by NFL teams, coaches were often asked if the Sooners could maintain the same strength at defensive end in 2012.
The coaches spoke with confidence, saying many at the position, including newcomers and converted linebackers, had potential to earn playing time.
Then Friday, coach Bob Stoops announced senior defensive tackle Stacy McGee's indefinite suspension for violating university policy.
In the same session with reporters, Stoops said senior David King and sophomore Geneo Grissom, each defensive ends for the better part of their careers, will be relied upon in new roles.
King, a senior who was set to start opposite R.J. Washington at defensive end, will move inside and join seniors JaMarkus McFarland and Casey Walker in the defensive tackle rotation.
Grissom, who asked for a switch to offense before the summer, will start at tight end after impressing coaches throughout fall camp.
How's that for confidence in the new ends?
“The young freshmen are really doing great,” Stoops said of Charles Tapper and Michael Onuoha, who, along with junior-college transfer Chaz Nelson, are in their first OU seasons.
Replacing King as a defensive end starter will probably be sophomore Chuka Ndulue.
“Chuka Ndulue has been really good,” Stoops said. “I have said that, even in the spring. He is ready to play. He has been doing really well.”
Sophomore Rashod Favors and redshirt freshman P.L. Lindley were each converted from linebacker in the offseason, and each, Favors especially, might now be called upon to contribute.
“Rashod Favors has really been impressive,” Stoops said. “We have really been excited about that move over there. ... He is really strong and powerful, so that has been really positive, too, at the defensive end spot.”
McGee's indefinite suspension is the fifth Stoops has issued since May, when receivers Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson — along with defensive back Quentin Hayes — were booted for violating team rules. Jackson was eventually dismissed and transferred to Louisiana-Monroe. Reynolds, Franks and Hayes have returned to team practices but remain barred from games.
McGee was suspended for the last year's season opener after being cited for marijuana possession months earlier. He appeared in all of OU's remaining 12 games, recorded 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 299-pound Muskogee native has started 14 games since his sophomore season.
“It's like when you're a kid and your mom tells you not to touch the stove, and you do it anyway and got burned,” Walker said of McGee's suspension.
In the meantime, talented-but-untested redshirt freshman tackle Jordan Phillips will likely shoulder more responsibility in addition to King's move.
OU had actually been planning to shift the versatile King inside on occasion; in fact, King spoke just last week about how much he enjoyed rushing from the interior.
“I like rushing from the 3 (technique),” King said then, speaking in football jargon to describe a defensive lineman who lines up on an opposing guard's outside shoulder.
“I might liking rushing from the 3 more than I like from the end, but don't tell Coach (Bobby Jack) Wright that.”
For at least the early part of this season, King's opportunities there will be abundant. He said coaches, including Wright, talked to him after practice, informed him of McGee's suspension, and said that for “the first couple games of the season,” he'd move to tackle.
“David has consistently weighed about 275-280 pounds,” Stoops said. “He could treat himself to a few more cheeseburgers, and he could be 285 pounds in no time. He has got the strength to play in there and the times he has played in there, he has done well.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Grissom found out his position change was worth it. The former four-star prospect from Hutchinson, Kan., was a third-stringer as a redshirt freshman last season, seeing action in six games and recording five tackles.
Grissom has battled injuries throughout his OU career so far; he redshirted as a true freshman because of a foot stress fracture, and then missed most of spring football because of the same injury in his other foot.
He told OU's official website Friday he asked for the switch because he thought that provided him the best shot at playing.
OU brings back no experience at tight end; James Hanna and Trent Ratterree were both lost to graduation, and the once-promising Austin Haywood transferred.
“Honestly, it's been the most fun change ever,” Grissom told SoonerSports.com. “It's relearning the game from a new position.
“Who doesn't like to catch the ball and score touchdowns?”
Junior college transfer Brannon Green was listed first on the spring depth chart, with true freshman Taylor McNamara as his backup. Both are still expected to contribute this season, Stoops said.
“(Grissom) has been awesome; we have really been pleased with him,” Stoops said. “Every day it has gotten better and better. He is catching the ball well, so it has been a real positive.”