NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma got a lot of attention with its upset victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
As good as it was for the program, the Sooners are looking forward. The Big 12 favorites begin practice Aug. 5 in preparation for the Aug. 30 opener against Louisiana Tech.
“They’ve been getting stroked for a long time about Alabama,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said Thursday. “That’s ancient history as far as the football world is concerned. It’s time to turn the page and move on and see what this 2014 team can do.”
The challenge for Oklahoma will be keeping a team that has been praised all offseason hungry.
“I told my guys what we did last year is last year,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said. “We haven’t done anything this year. We still have to prove ourselves. We’re going to have guys that didn’t play much last year that are going to play. We’ve got guys that played a bunch of ball last year. We’ve still got to go out and play the man in front of us. We’ve got to work well as a team. I don’t believe in the hype. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
This team appears to be in position to contend for a national title, with significant experience returning and a strong freshman class. The Sooners should be especially strong on defense, where 11 players with at least five career starts return from a unit that led the Big 12 in total defense and pass defense and ranked second in scoring defense and rushing defense.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops says the unit can be even better this year. Last year, the Sooners switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and adjusted on the fly. This year, there is a greater sense of comfort for coaches and players that should allow the team’s improved athletic ability to shine.
“I think we’re a bigger, longer, faster football team than we were at any time last year,” Stoops said. “Our size and our strength has grown.”
Second-team All-Big 12 defensive end Charles Tapper is back. He was second on the team in tackles for loss (9) and sacks (5 1/2) last season.
Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is back after missing nine games last season with a back injury. Stoops said the 6-foot-6, 341-pounder is a difference maker.
“We just want Jordan to play where he was a year ago, and hopefully, he’ll make a huge difference in our defense if we can keep him on the field and keep him healthy,” Stoops said. “He feels great, so that’s a good sign. We instantly get better with him on the field.”
Linebackers Frank Shannon, Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker combined for 222 tackles last year. Jordan Evans, who missed five games last season with an ankle injury, is back. Geneo Grissom, who will move from defensive end to outside linebacker, had two sacks, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl.
Zack Sanchez earned numerous honors as a freshman cornerback last season. Senior Julian Wilson, the team’s starting nickel back last year, also will be considered at cornerback.
Stoops said the Sooners are two-deep across the board.
“Players get complacent and content when they’re not pushed,” he said. “So we’ve got a bunch of guys pushing for playing time, and to me, that’s the best thing we have going for us right now.”
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