Sooners see tight battle for DE

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- Extreme competition at defensive end is keeping Oklahoma players on their toes throughout practice.

Senior Auston English, junior Jeremy Beal, redshirt freshman R.J. Washington and sophomore Frank Alexander all are involved in a close battle for playing time that has raged since the Sooners' first fall preseason practice.

Oklahoma defensive ends coach Jackie Shipp said that Beal is the only player who assured himself of a starting position after the first week of preseason practice.

"It's still really a battle for the first three guys," Shipp said. "Frank is coming on and playing well and R.J. is stepping out. But Jeremy Beal is standing out well."

English was an All-Big 12 defensive end in 2007 before he was hampered with injuries last season. Beal played well on the other side in 2008, leading the team with 8½ sacks.

"Austin and Frank are still competing for the starting job," Shipp said. "The competition is really stiff for us."

The Sooners racked up 42 sacks last season to tie for third among FBS teams last season. The additional depth should give Oklahoma an edge against offensive lines that will have to match perhaps the nation's deepest rotation of potential pass-rushing treats.

"It's good for us because we keep each other going every day,"Alexander said. "We know if we don't compete, we won't play. That makes us approach every play like we have something to prove."

The deep collection of defensive ends might be one of the Sooners' biggest strengths. And it's also making for some spirited work throughout the drudgery of two-a-day practices.

"All of us know we're capable of playing," Alexander said. "We've got to approach every practice and do what we can do because we know that anybody can take our spot if we don't come out and play hard."