Oklahoma football: Why Zack Sanchez is a symbol of the Sooners' defense

Frankly, as the Sooners conclude spring football on Saturday and point toward the fall, no one better embodies the big-play potential of this defense.
by Jenni Carlson Published: April 11, 2014
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photo -  Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez (15) returns a interception as Alabama's Amari Cooper (9) and Arie Kouandjio (77) chase him down during the NCAA football BCS Sugar Bowl game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide (UA) at the Superdome in New Orleans, La., Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014.  Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez (15) returns a interception as Alabama's Amari Cooper (9) and Arie Kouandjio (77) chase him down during the NCAA football BCS Sugar Bowl game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide (UA) at the Superdome in New Orleans, La., Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

But OU is. Everyone is stoked about the Sooner defense, and I agree that there’s a lot to like. Nine starters returning. Stout defensive line. Speedy secondary. Still, much of the excitement is based on big plays.

Nothing wrong with big plays, especially when they win ballgames, but the real gold lies in consistency.

“That’s what playing really good defense is about,” Sooner defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

“I think all of us can be more consistent. If you look at our defense, at times every guy showed signs of playing great and other signs of not playing technique the way it needed to be plays.”

So, can the Sooners add consistency to their big-play potential next season?

It’s something Sanchez plans to do. Only a redshirt freshman last season, he was learning as he went, and he felt like he improved as the year progressed. But even with all the highlights he produced late in the year, he thinks more about the plays that he didn’t make. There are a couple every game.

“Those are the biggest things — just learning from those things and going into this year and making those plays,” Sanchez said. “Being that guys that makes the big play, not at the end of the game or when we need it but every single play.”

To that end, Sanchez has spent the offseason working on his footwork, which he felt needed to be better last season.

He has also committed to getting bigger, making it easier to fight through plays and blocks. He’s added 12 pounds to his 5-foot-11 frame since the end of last season, and he feels like he can be much more physical with receivers.

“He needs to continue to improve his fundamentals and techniques,” Stoops said. “But he’s a competitor.”

That’s why a picture of his interception against Alabama was as frustrating as the shot of Tyler Lockett about to haul in a wide-open touchdown. Sanchez wants to be the best in every situation, and he’s working to make that a reality next season.

If a bunch of other guys on this defense do likewise, look out. There will be frustration, but the Sooners won’t be feeling it. They’ll be doling it out.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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