Monday, April 30, 2012
Stoops simplifies Sooners' besieged D
By David Ubben
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma linebacker Joseph Ibiloye kept hearing his coach scream his name.
He turned around, heard his coach's demands and applied them to the next play. The problem? At least a few times, it would put him out of position or ruin a defensive rep.
That's what happens when he takes direction meant for cornerback Joe Powell.
Mike Stoops is back coordinating Oklahoma's defense, a job he held in 2000 during Oklahoma's last national title run, and there are bound to be a few mixups as he gets used to his new surroundings.
"He’s calling me Ibi now, so we’ve got everything squared away," Ibiloye said.
Stoops' arrival, after eight seasons as Arizona's head coach, was cause for Sooner-fan celebrations. Last year's defense had high-profile struggles in the secondary in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
The return of Mike Stoops, bending, as coordinator has brought Oklahoma's defense a simplified scheme.
Stoops' specialty? Defensive backs.
Safety Javon Harris didn't know much about Stoops when he met his new position coach and coordinator, but he knew that much.
"The one thing I knew is when he was here, he put out a lot of All-American DBs and guys who went on to the next level," said Harris, who endured the toughest struggle of anyone in the loss to Baylor, but re-earned a starting position this spring. "I was really excited to know he was coming in here."
The word of the spring for Stoops' new troops was simplification. Brent Venables fielded a whole lot of good defenses before leaving for Clemson this offseason, but the change was welcomed, especially by the Sooners' most scrutinized unit of 2011.
"In talking to some of my other teammates, I think everybody is liking the new defense and knowing exactly what they need to do. One of the things we were lacking last year was just not knowing exactly what’s going on," Harris said. "Now we’re learning those things and we feel one step ahead."
Step one in fixing what ailed the Sooners in 2011? Prevent the big play.
"We’re just trying to get our players in the right positions to be more efficient and more effective players. That’s the consensus of what we saw a year ago. How much we can simplify things, that’s hard to say," Stoops said. "We’re going to do what we need to do to be successful."
Stoops installed most of his defense this spring; the fall will be dedicated to perfecting it. The spring was about finding what the defense did well, establishing an identity, and putting everyone where he needs to be.
"The way he approaches things is easier to learn," Ibiloye said.
The biggest position move? Tony Jefferson is headed to traditional safety after holding down Oklahoma's nickel-back spot the past two seasons, including 2010, when he shared Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors.
"We’re going to have flexibility. Our linebackers give us a lot of flexibility to do some things, and I think we have some secondary guys that give us some flexibility to get our best players on the field," Stoops said. "That’s ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do, is find the best 11, 12, 13 players and then take it from there."
Said Harris: "He wants to get players to know the defense and know their position and be able to play loose and not think as much."
That'll come with time, but Stoops made one thing clear when he met each of his new defenders.
"I’m not going to put you in those positions where, if I’m not sure you can do something, I’m not going to make you do them," Harris said Stoops told him. "That’s one thing I appreciated from him, that I’ll have that chance to come out here and do what I do best."
Players, particularly experienced seniors, had their doubts about the new coordinator, but the comfort level is high as doubts have receded. One place there's no lack of confidence? The top, where Stoops' brother, Bob Stoops, holds down the head job.
"I’ve got great confidence in him of course and what he sees. It’s been great to have him back," Stoops said. "It gives me a strong sense of security that we’re doing things the best way we can."