NORMAN, Okla. -- It's a question that many NFL scouts and executives will ponder in the months leading up to April's draft: What exactly is Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal?
Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables thinks there could be a lot of different answers. He could see Beal, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 267 pounds, as a 4-3 defensive end, a 3-4 outside linebacker or an inside linebacker.
Then again, Venables wasn't quite sure what position Beal would play at Oklahoma while he was recruiting him from Carrollton Creekview. Beal started his college career as a linebacker, but he's started the past 33 games at defensive end.
"We knew he was something," Venables said. "He's explosive. He's disruptive. He's instinctive. He's all over the place. Incredible, impeccable character. He's exactly the guy we recruited out of high school. He's just a bigger, faster, smarter version."
Beal is on a short list of Oklahoma's biggest impact players from Dallas-Fort Worth that includes another No. 44, Brian Bosworth. That's pretty impressive for a player Texas didn't even try to recruit until late in the process, long after Beal had committed to the Sooners.
In fact, it can be argued that Beal has been among the Sooners' best defensive players in the past 25 years despite the long list of first-round picks the program has produced. Beal, ranked by ESPN's Mel Kiper as the No. 5 senior defensive end, projects to be a mid-round pick.
Beal is already tied for second in OU history with 25 sacks, 6.5 behind Cedric Jones' school record. The school record for tackles for loss might also be within Beal's reach. He ranks fifth with 46.5, 12.5 shy of Rocky Calmus' record.
"Part of being a player is you want to leave a legacy," Beal said. "You want to bring your children back and show them, 'This is what I've done.' I want to make it a good one."
Beal understands that individual legacies at programs such as Oklahoma are largely determined by team success.
He doesn't want to make too big a deal about Saturday's Red River Rivalry matchup -- "one game doesn't define a whole legacy" -- but getting a win over Texas as a starter sure would be sweet. More importantly, it would make the Sooners the Big 12 South front-runners and keep their national championship hopes alive.
But OU's defense, which has allowed at least 400 yards in three games during its 4-0 start, will have to be much better for the Sooners to reach their championship goals. Beal accepts that the onus is on him and OU's other defensive leaders to get that unit playing to the Sooners' lofty standards.
"He's like the rock of this defense. He's everything," safety Jonathan Nelson said. "Everybody has the utmost respect for Jeremy. He's a guy that shoots it straight with you. Whatever comes out of his mouth is always correct."
Beal's performance certainly hasn't been a problem. He leads the Sooners in tackles for loss (7.0), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (two) and has a fumble recovery despite facing frequent double-teams. But he accepts that the burden is on him and OU's other defensive stalwarts.
"He really epitomizes everything we want," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "He's tough, he's physical, plays hard, he's smart. He's everything you want."