Dallas Colleges: Matt Dimon
The true freshman has come a long way since preseason camp opened in August.
"I'm playing faster since my first start; I'm seeing things," Alexander said. "My coaches said my vision has gotten a lot better, seeing the whole play. I can see things a lot better with the more games I've played. I have a lot more confidence since my first game."
Alexander has been one of the most productive players on the Sooners' defense since Corey Nelson was injured against TCU. He has stepped into Nelson's role and recorded double-digit tackles in two of the four games, including an 11-tackle effort against Baylor last Thursday. He ranks third on the squad with 51 tackles.
"For a guy who has not been in the system at all until this summer he has shown great maturity on and off the field," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "He's a guy we can lean on and will be a strong player in this system."
Alexander has been a shining light during some cloudy days for the Sooners, who have lost two of their last four contests. And he isn't the only reason for hope for the future on the defensive side of the football.
OU entered the season with an inexperienced defensive unit, yet thanks in part to strong contributions from young, inexperienced players like Alexander, the defense has emerged as the strongest unit on the team. Alexander, linebacker Eric Striker, cornerback Zack Sanchez, defensive tackle Jordan Wade and defensive end Charles Tapper are among several freshmen and sophomores who have shown they can be the foundation of the Sooners defense in the future.
"All those guys show signs of building for the future," Stoops said. "I'm excited about all of our young players."
Striker is the Sooners' top pass rusher and has been terrorizing quarterbacks throughout the season. He has proven very difficult to block with one blocker in passing situations, and the sophomore is tied for the team lead with seven quarterback hurries to go with his 2.5 sacks.
Tapper has looked like one of the best defenders on the team at various times during his sophomore season. His strength, athleticism, quickness and speed could make him the nest great defensive end in Norman. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss along with his seven hurries to tie Striker.
Sanchez has had ups-and-downs during his redshirt freshman campaign but has displayed the competitive nature that many stellar cornerbacks possess. He went from afterthought to starting every game of his first season on the field and should be a key contributor for years to come. He has been picked on throughout the season and has responded with a team-high 10 pass breakups.
Wade has stepped in for Jordan Phillips, who was lost for the season with a back injury. The redshirt freshman hasn't been the anchor or disruptive force that Phillips was becoming, but he has shown signs he could be a quality defensive tackle for the Sooners during his career. He has blocked two kicks and recorded one sack this season.
Several other youngsters, including cornerback Stanvon Taylor, defensive end Matt Dimon and linebacker Jordan Evans have had their moments, as well, during their true freshmen seasons and look like they could become the foundation of what the Sooners hope can be a championship defense in the future.
"I couldn't be more excited about what we are doing with a lot of these guys," Stoops said. "They show a strong desire to want to be good. They show a very competitive element. There's a lot to build on."
Yet his Oklahoma teammates already had a feeling the young defensive lineman could help them during his first season in crimson and cream.
One person who wasn’t convinced? Dimon himself.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen in fall camp,” Dimon said. “But I knew if I played with great effort, good things would happen for me.”
Things didn’t change immediately once preseason camp began, and one play in particular left Dimon with the feeling he had a ways to go before he could be an contributor in OU's defense.
“The second day, Dionte Savage put me on my behind,” he said. "That was kind of an eye opener -- it’s not high school.”
But the Katy, Texas, native kept working to improve, and his teammates’ belief in him has helped push him to greater heights.
“I’ve had really good days where I felt like I belonged out there and I’ve had days I didn’t feel like I belonged out there,” Dimon said. “The main thing is I’ve had teammates that have said, ‘Hey, you belong out here,’ Honestly that’s been the biggest eye-opener that I can do this.”
Now, seven games into his true freshman season, not only is Dimon confident he can make an impact, the Sooners need him to make an impact with defensive tackle Jordan Phillips set to miss the remainder of the season. The freshman, who has the versatility and strength to play defensive tackle or defensive end in OU’s system, will provide quality depth down the home stretch of Big 12 play.
“I thought Matt Dimon really came on and gives us another guy that is reliable and can play physical for a true freshman,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “So he just adds depth to our interior defensive line.”
Dimon has emerged as a rotation player on the Sooners' defense and is coming off one of his best games to date with two tackles and a blocked punt in spot duty against Kansas. He's impressed teammates with his ability to impact games thus far.
“[He has the] ability to make plays as a freshman,” safety Quentin Hayes said. “Most freshmen they get in there and they don’t play like he’s been playing. [He has] strength and the ability to find the ball.”
He hasn't been a dominant force but he hasn't been overmatched either, as Dimon has recorded five tackles while seeing action in all seven games for the Sooners. His strength has been his No. 1 asset and is an uncommon asset for a freshman who was in high school just a few months earlier.
“He’s so stout, he just doesn’t move,” Grissom said. “Once he puts his hands on you, good luck, especially for a freshman.”
Dimon has improved during the first half of the season and his increased playing time is a sign he continues to improve, which has been his goal since preseason camp began.
“As a player you want to be better than that last game,” Dimon said. “I feel like I’ve done that every game so far. I’ve had great encouragement from the coaching staff and my teammates. Everybody has their bad days, and they’ve always been there to pick me up on those bad days.”
Needs filled: Prerogative No. 1 for Baylor is fixing its defense, and the Bears are getting some help at linebacker in prep transfer Brian Nance, Raaquan Davis (No. 28 outside linebacker) and Travon Blanchard (No. 37 OLB). Future defensive tackle Andrew Billings was a home-grown talent who should compliment Javonte Magee well up front in the years to come. The Bears also need to keep the offensive machine humming. They seem to have done that with their two top signees, Robbie Rhodes, the nation's No. 3 receiver, and Chris Johnson, the nation's No. 5 dual-threat passer who coach Art Briles raved about in his signing day presser.
Holes remaining: Debate their quality all you'd like, but the Bears lost players in the secondary like Chance Casey and Mike Hicks, and cornerback Joe Williams will be a senior. There's not a lot of strength at defensive back in this class, unless Taion Sells (No. 46 safety) and Alfred Pullom (No. 67 safety) can blossom in Waco.
Needs filled: Rodney Coe comes to Ames via junior college and will try and replace some losses along the defensive line, but the biggest need for the Cyclones has been offensive playmakers. Aaron Wimberly checks in via the juco ranks at running back, but can ISU develop Texas receivers Brandon Harris and Bryan Ajumobi into major weapons at the Big 12 level?
Holes remaining: The Cyclones lost a pair of starters at linebacker and signed just one linebacker in this class, Florida native Brian Mills. Besides that, Iowa State did a nice job of bringing in big bodies along the defensive line and filling some offensive line holes, too, headlined by in-state prospect Jake Campos, who Iowa State swiped from Mizzou.
Needs filled: I'll be honest here, KU could use a big talent upgrade at pretty much every position on the field, other than running back. It's all about the jucos for the Jayhawks. Marquel Combs could be a major player up front to help KU stop the run and collapse pockets, but KU got a pair of big-time playmakers at receiver, too, in Ishmael Hyman and Rodriguez Coleman. Chris Martin offers another solid option as a pass-rusher. The Jayhawks also added a pair of quarterbacks in Montell Cozart and Jordan Darling.
Holes remaining: Did KU get enough high-quality linemen to replace its three lost starters? Ahongalu Fusimalohi is a juco transfer and Joey Bloomfield is the nation's No. 118 offensive tackle, but replacing solid starters like Tanner Hawkinson and Trevor Marrongelli is no easy task.
Needs filled: K-State basically lost its entire defense from last year, so any defenders will be greatly appreciated. Four of the classes' top five signees are defenders, highlighted by inside linebacker Nick Ramirez and juco corner Nate Jackson. Inside linebacker Tanner Wood and juco defensive end Devon Nash will also help fill the Wildcats' big losses defensively.
Holes remaining: The Wildcats are solid at running back this year, but it could be looking a bit thin in the future. John Hubert will be a senior this year and Bryce Brown didn't pan out, so K-State might have used a running back in this class. It didn't happen. K-State was shut out at the position.
Needs filled: Defensive line was the biggest one, and the Sooners grabbed two pass-rushers in the ESPN 300, D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon. Those two should pay off big, and Ward has enrolled early. Hatari Byrd also gives the Sooners an answer in the secondary while the nation's No. 3 running back, Keith Ford, helps provide solid depth at running back.
Holes remaining: Oklahoma lost Tom Wort to the NFL draft and Corey Nelson will be a senior next year, but Oklahoma didn't stock this class with a single linebacker. The Sooners don't put many traditional linebackers on the field and has converted a lot of safeties into outside linebackers, but still.
Oklahoma's top commits have all signed their letters of intent and are locked in to becoming future Sooners. Here's who Oklahoma's bringing in from our ESPN 300, the list of the nation's top 300 prospects:
- No. 27: Keith Ford, RB, Cypress, Texas
- No. 137: D.J. Ward, DE, Moore, Okla. (signed in December, early enrollee)
- No. 178: Cody Thomas, QB-PP, Colleyville, Texas
- No. 199: Stanvon Taylor, ATH, Tulsa, Okla.
- No. 240: Dannon Cavil, WR, San Antonio, Texas (signed in December, early enrollee)
- No. 284: Matt Dimon, DE, Katy, Texas
- No. 293: Hatari Byrd, S, Fresno, Calif.
Not many surprises for the Sooners, though Dimon had some power issues at his high school and couldn't get his letter of intent to the Oklahoma coaches until 8:48 a.m. Oklahoma's class is at No. 20 in the ESPN class rankings, the same spot it began the day. Byrd also made headlines last month when word surfaced that coaches had told him he's likely going to be able to start at safety from the moment he gets on campus. Very interesting stuff. Oklahoma signed a lot of high-quality defensive talent in this class, as you can see, and Taylor is likely to play cornerback for the Sooners.
Mostly a drama-free day across the Big 12 on the recruiting trail.
Recruiting season got started in earnest on Tuesday with the release of the ESPN 150, so it's time to offer our first real check-in on where the Big 12 recruiting classes sit with a little less than 10 months before players can officially sign.
Remember, this card is in pencil. Players are free to switch commitments until they sign a letter of intent with a school.
1. Texas Longhorns
Total commits: 13
ESPNU 150 commits: 7
Key commits: QB Tyrone Swoopes, WR Ricky Seals-Jones, C Darius James, OT Jake Raulerson
Class notes: Texas' top three commits are all the best at their positions, and 10 of the class' 13 commitments are four stars or higher. That's nothing new in Austin, but Swoopes looks like the quarterback of the future in Austin, though he hails from a smaller school in Whitewright, Texas. Seals-Jones is a physical presence at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds.
2. Oklahoma Sooners
Total commits: 4
ESPNU 150 commits: 3
Key commits: RB Greg Bryant, RB Keith Ford, DE D.J. Ward
Class notes: Oklahoma's class is still pretty small for now, but the Sooners are getting some much needed help at running back, where numbers are suddenly thin following a rash of transfers after the season. Ward joins fellow DE Matt Dimon in the class, too.
3. Baylor Bears
Total commits: 6
ESPNU 150 commits: 1
Key commits: QB Chris Johnson, RB Johnny Jefferson, WR Quan Jones
Class notes: No surprise here: Baylor's new class is loaded with skill position talent. Johnson is the nation's No. 2 dual-threat passer and Jefferson is the nation's No. 36 running back. It seems like almost every year, Baylor reels in a huge prospect. For now, 2013 is no different, and coach Art Briles looks like he can continue his QB lineage. Johnson is a four-star, and Jefferson and Jones are three-star recruits.
4. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Total commits: 5
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ATH Devin Lauderdale, WR Dylan Cantrell, CB Will Barrow
Class notes: Texas Tech has landed top-25 recruiting classes in each of Tommy Tuberville's first full seasons in Lubbock, and the Red Raiders are off to another nice start in 2013. Super recruiter Robert Prunty's developed a penchant for reeling in ESPN 150 talent, so keep an eye on the newest major player on the recruiting scene. Lauderdale is a four-star recruit.
5. Kansas State Wildcats
Total commits: 3
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: ILB Tanner Wood, DE Jordan Willis, WR LeAndrew Gordon
Class notes: Two of Kansas State's three commits are three-star recruits. The Wildcats won 10 games in 2011, but another solid year in 2012 could help spur recruiting efforts even further.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Total commits: 1
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: WR Fred Ross Jr.
Class notes: Ross is a four-star and the nation's No. 21 receiver, but OSU could climb this list quickly, riding the success from its first Big 12 title in 2011. It's a slower start than you'd envision for OSU, but we'll see if the Cowboys can win some battles with Texas Tech, TCU and others.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
Total commits: 2
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: OLB Sammy Douglas, OG Patrick Morris
Class notes: Douglas is a three-star recruit and the nation's No. 36 outside linebacker. That's a big position of need for TCU, but the Big 12 entrance and recent campus drug sting that resulted in four players being arrested will be battling for positive and negative pushes on the recruiting trail. We'll see which one wins out in 2012.
8. Kansas Jayhawks
Total commits: 3
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: QB Montell Cozart, TE Ben Johnson, LB Kellen Ash
Class notes: Kansas doesn't have a nationally ranked recruit, but Weis sounds like he's high on Cozart, a highly recruited QB from the Kansas City area who had offers from West Virginia and Minnesota.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers
Total commits: 0
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: None
Class notes: WVU is one of two teams without a commit yet in the 2013 class. We'll see if that picks up if WVU can validate its membership in the Big 12 with a strong debut season.
10. Iowa State Cyclones
Total commits: 0
ESPNU 150 commits: 0
Key commits: None
Class notes: Iowa State has started slow, too. Another bowl appearance would help, but it has to be a bit frustrating for the Cyclones to be behind the eight-ball for now. That's especially true considering what Kansas has done thus far.
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