We continue our look at the 2014 Oklahoma football team by breaking down the OU defense and special teams. For a look at the Sooners' offense by position, click here.
Returning: Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Wade, Jordan Phillips, Torrea Peterson, Charles Tapper, Matt Dimon, Rashod Favors
Losing: Geneo Grissom (to linebacker), Chaz Nelson
Gaining: Courtney Garnett, Dwayne Orso
The defensive line a year ago was a pleasant surprise for the Sooners. Well, it supposedly wasn't a surprise to anyone inside the locker room, but for everyone else, it was quite the surprise. Now, the Sooners could be even better, thanks in large part to the return of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. Phillips played in just four games a year ago but had a massive impact. The Sooners were vulnerable against the run without him plugging the middle, so they welcome him back with open arms. Charles Tapper should be a force after a breakout 2013 season. Geneo Grissom's move to outside linebacker opens up an opportunity for others to fill the void at defensive end. Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward are two players that could step up, along with senior Chuka Ndulue, who can play end or tackle.
Returning: Dominique Alexander, Frank Shannon, Eric Striker, P.L. Lindley, Jordan Evans, Aaron Franklin
Losing: Corey Nelson
Gaining: Tay Evans, Curtis Bolton, Devante Bond, Geneo Grissom
Like at running back, there is uncertainty surrounding one of the key members of this unit. Last year's leading tackler, Frank Shannon, is still involved in a case of sexual assault that he was accused of in the spring. Charges were not filed, but the university's investigation resulted in a one-year suspension that Shannon is currently appealing. Either way, Shannon may not be a part of the team this year. Thankfully for the Sooners, sophomore Jordan Evans got some good experience last season filling in for Shannon on multiple occasions, but the drop off would still be sever. Sophomore Dominique Alexander was forced into action last year with the injury to Corey Nelson and played extremely well for a true freshman. Now a year older and more experienced, Alexander could be the leader of the group, along with pass-rushing specialist Eric Striker. The addition of Geneo Grissom on the outside, plus junior college transfer Devante Bond gives the Sooners much-needed depth at the position.
Returning: Zach Sanchez, Julian Wilson, Stanvon Taylor, Dakota Austin, Cortez Johnson
Losing: Aaron Colvin, Kass Everett
Gaining: Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green
The Sooners are losing a great cornerback in Aaron Colvin, but it appears the next great one in a long line of great defensive backs under Mike Stoops is sophomore Zach Sanchez. Sanchez was a surprise starter a year ago, but now comes into 2014 as one of the best cornerbacks in the Big 12. The big question will be who starts on the other side of him and takes over for Colvin. Senior Julian Wilson, who played nickel back last year has been impressive at corner in practice, but Stanvon Taylor, Dakota Austin and Cortez Johnson are all very talented and won't give that spot to Wilson easily. If Wilson does win the job, it's likely safety Quentin Hayes will become the nickel back, leading to an interesting battle at the safety position.
Returning: Hatari Byrd, Quentin Hayes, Ahmad Thomas
Losing: Gabe Lynn
Gaining: Steven Parker
Quentin Hayes started at safety a year ago and should be the starter again this year if anyone but Julian Wilson wins the starting cornerback spot. If Wilson does win it, Hayes will slide down to nickel back, opening the door for two talented sophomores—Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas—and a talented freshman—Steven Parker—to battle for two safety spots. There's a lot to like about all three players—all three have good size and speed. The only downside is all three are very inexperienced. It would be ideal for the Sooners to pair one of them with Hayes for that reason, but if Wilson at corner and Hayes at nickel back is best for the defense, you can bet Mike Stoops will do just that.
Returning: Michael Hunnicutt, Jed Barnett, Nick Hodgson, Eric Hosek, Jack Steed
Losing: Austin Woods (long snapper)
Gaining: Wesley Horky (long snapper)
This group is as strong as they come on the Sooners' roster. Michael Hunnicutt has proven himself to be one of the best kickers in the country, hitting 24-of-27 field goals last year and missing just a single PAT. Jed Barnett's season started slow, but he got better and better as the year went on. Losing long snapper Austin Woods could have been a big blow, but the Sooners snagged Wesley Horky in the offseason to replace him. Horky has already drawn rave reviews from Bob Stoops, who called him a “magnificent long snapper” at the team's media day. It's important for the small things to not lead to defeats and it appears unlikely the Sooners will be losing games because of special teams in 2014.Coming up next week:
-Five questions the Sooners need to answer
-Five new stars to keep an eye one in 2014