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Friday, February 22, 2013
Position breakdown: Defensive end

By Jake Trotter

NORMAN, Okla. -- Nowhere have the Sooners done a better job compiling young talent defensively than at defensive end.

But two questions loom going into the spring. Will that young talent be ready to contribute to a defense in need of impact performers? And how will the Sooners use their defensive ends?

Chuka Ndulue
Junior Chuka Ndulue will likely hold down one of the starting spots at defensive end.
The latter question figures to be resolved this spring. The former might take a little longer. Oklahoma will go into spring ball with an open mind defensively. Hints have been dropped that the Sooners might swing from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment, which would affect how the ends are utilized. That will play out through March and April as the Sooners experiment with different alignments.

Whatever scheme OU goes with, the defensive end position will have to be more productive than it was last season. The Sooners ranked just 69th nationally in sacks and 104th in tackles for loss. Gone, too, is OU’s most consistent performer in David King, whose eligibility expired.

The Sooners, however, have promising prospects at the position. Sophomores Charles Tapper and Mike Onuoha were as impressive as any defensive freshman last fall, and instantly drew attention of the coaching staff. Tapper, physically, could have played last season. Onuoha reminds his coaches of a young Frank Alexander, who won Big 12 defensive player of the year honors in 2011.

Joining Tapper and Onuoha are a pair of incoming blue-chippers in D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon. Ward is already enrolled in school, and while he’s waiting to be cleared by the NCAA clearinghouse to play, he’s expected to be a go for practices. Dimon, meanwhile, was an extremely productive high school player in Houston.

Whether any of the four -- or a third incoming upside end in Ogbonnia Okoronkwo -- contributes this season remains to be seen. The Sooners have a trio of veterans that will open the year leading the rotation. Chuka Ndulue started nine games in 2012, and led the Sooners with five sacks. Geneo Grissom, who tried out tight end last year before moving back to end, made his first career start the AT&T Cotton Bowl opposite Ndulue. Converted linebacker Rashod Favors also had moments during the year at end as a pass-rush specialist.

Ndulue, Grissom and Favors will comprise the end rotation to start the spring. But watch out for the youngsters, all of whom have the potential of either joining or unseating the veterans in the rotation.