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Injuries prompt questions about Oklahoma's D

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
1:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
 All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English is just one of several Sooners on the mend.

Coaches try to get through training camp without many distractions, hoping to prepare their teams with a relatively stable roster heading into the upcoming season.

But it's not always easy. Ask Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team has been dinged a couple of times in recent weeks to create a few questions about the Sooners' defense.

The misfortune started before training camp when returning All-Big 12 defensive end Auston English was idled after his appendix was removed. Although he's expected to return before the season begins, his conditioning will suffer because of the injury. It's anybody's guess how long it will take him to return to peak shape as the Sooners' top pass-rushing threat.

The Sooners suffered another hit when weakside linebacker Austin Box suffered a knee injury in practice and underwent arthroscopic surgery that will keep him out of action for at least the first game and perhaps longer.

His departure has opened a position for 25-year-old Mike Balogun, a converted construction worker who spent his junior and senior seasons in high school working to help his family make ends meet. After blossoming at junior college, he's now running as the Sooners' first-string linebacker with Box out of the lineup.

Balogun's story is a good one. But it doesn't necessarily promise better production for a Sooner linebacking corps that already was disappointing Sooner defensive coordinator Brent Venables before Box's injury.

How much you might ask? When asked what he thought about his linebackers' development, Venables had a graphic answer: "I'm not ready to puke yet."

If Venables was sick about that, you can imagine how he feels about the decline of defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, who once was thought to be one of the most talented Oklahoma players.

Granger was caught shoplifting at last year's Fiesta Bowl, suspended and then sent home on a bus before the game. Scouts have raved about his talent, but griped about his conditioning and lack of consistency.

Granger got in the Sooner coaches' doghouse at the start of training camp when he reported overweight. He's been stuck on the second team ever since.

The loss or decline of any of these players wouldn't be catastrophic. But collectively, they might start triggering some questions about an Oklahoma defense that already lost key playmakers such as Reggie Smith and Curtis Lofton from last year.

Is it enough to let a team like Missouri, Texas Tech or Texas come closer to challenging the Sooners' hopes for a record-breaking three-peat of Big 12 titles?

We don't know yet. But it isn't a good sign for Bob Stoops during the dog days of August.

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