Oklahoma Football
Defensive Coordinator Mike Stoops
March 27, 2014

On the group at linebacker:
“It is good. I like our depth outside, I think we have to continue to gain some depth inside, but the new additions, Devante Bond has been good and Obo (Ogbonnia Okoronkwo), it has been good to have him back out there. He has a lot to learn, but they are very athletic and very fast. Again, I think the important part of this whole deal is gaining quality depth and I think we are starting to do that.”

On the returning linebackers:
“They are just playing faster and better. Dominique (Alexander) has made a lot of great strides and Frank (Shannon), as well. The experience is so valuable. As good as those guys are just playing the whole year in the system they understand it so much better. We have seen a lot of different schemes and hopefully we can react to plays better. I thought it games we were a little slow in adjusting and reacting to things just because we hadn’t experienced them before. Now we have a year under our belt to really dissect the good and the bad of it all and adjusting our personnel to match. I like the direction we continue to head with this defense.”

On what Devante Bond brings the defense that it did not have last season:
“Just another guy that can run fast and rush the quarterback and you can’t have enough of those guys. He is very fast and he is a physical player and he is learning. We have not seen his best yet but that is what the spring is for.”

On DT Charles Walker:
“I think, again, it is a learning progression for Charles. We are not seeing his full ability yet and I don’t anticipate we will until next fall or he gets some more repetitions in this system. It is hard for your skill set to really show up, and I know this may be hard to explain, when you are thinking all the time it is very difficult and learning how to take on blocks until you get enough quality reps that you can really just go out there and play. I think he is a guy that continues to improve and hopefully by next fall he will be part of the rotation but we have got all of those other guys back, so he is going to have to work his way, but he has shown great promise up until this point.

“He has got some ability. Anyone that big and strong and fast, I think he will be a dynamic player. Again, you are talking about a guy that has not even been here a year, so, you are asking a lot. Eric Striker was not Eric Striker until this year, if you remember right. Maybe that was our fault not playing him more the year before but it takes a while and hopefully with Charles that light will turn on and you will see him start to make more plays.”

On the progression of DE Charles Tapper:
“(Tapper) was out there being his old self today chasing the quarterback so that is a good sign. He is a great kid, great demeanor and he continues to have a great upside.”

On how much the defense has grown after playing a year with the current scheme:
“I think you learn a lot and you can add. We are so good at some things now that we can continue to tinker with different calls in how we want to do it. We continue to expand in little ways. We are not going to change a whole bunch. I think we will add more to our package as we go along.”

On breaking in two new players at safety:
“It is going good. It is different not having Julian (Wilson) out there, so, it gives us a different way to play things and get our best 11 on the field when he is not there. We just continue to move our personnel around to get our best 11 on the field and that is what we continue to do. We got 11 guys really working hard to get on the field. We have a lot of different ways we can go with our personnel to fit the style of offense and I think that is what is different about our team this year is learning how to personnel groupings differently than a year ago.”

On if safety is a position that can use the freshman class to come in and add depth:
“We are playing a walk-on as our backup number two safety, so there is going to be opportunities and hopefully those guys will come in and produce for us. They are going to have to.”

On why the defense is more versatile:
“More personnel, different personnel and we have all learned a great deal throughout the season. I think at times we weren’t as physical as we needed to be and to learn how to become more physical is really what we needed to do in games we didn’t play well against the run. There is some schematics but I think a lot of it is just being more physical at the point of attack and learning how to play tight end sets. We never saw them two years ago, as you remember. It was all four and three wides, we never saw a tight end. Last year we probably saw a tight end 80 percent of the time and the year before 80 percent we did not see a tight end. So, it was a new evolution, learning how to play some of the power run game in this defense.”

On DE Geneo Grissom:
“I think the light turned on for Geneo. He has made a lot of improvements and he is one of our most improved players since we have been here. You think about him playing tight end two years ago to coming over to defense and doing what he did against Alabama. But, again, it just takes time for you to be comfortable and to be able to make those plays and feel that confidence and that is what some of the younger guys are struggling with right now. We saw the athletic ability that Geneo can possess. He can do a lot of different things. He is a very athletic guy.”

On what the defense has that it didn’t have when he first got here:
“I think we have a very cohesive group of coaches and players. They all think alike and play alike and expect the same things as a group. That is the best thing. It is a great group to coach. I think our attitude and our effort has been pretty positive. Throughout the first three years it gets better and better and I think there is a comfortability level with everything, with the players, the system and the scheme. All of that leads to a more cohesive group of players and coaches.”

On how much it has helped the defensive line being coached by Jerry Montgomery:
“The defensive line is where the game is played. They are very disruptive and that is what you need to have. He is very good with technique and he has a great relationship with the players and that has all been very positive. They play hard and they play with technique and that is where it all starts up front. They have been a catalyst for us. It wasn’t supposed to be a very strong group for us a year ago, but they really flipped it and now it is one of the best groups in the country. Again, hopefully we can get Jordan (Phillips) back and make this group even stronger. It can be a dominating group if we can get him back healthy and playing at the level he was playing at a year ago.”  

On what DT Jordan Phillips is getting out of the spring:
“He is getting healthy. We need to get him to September and we want to make sure that our players are all healthy. Him and Julian (Wilson), those are two players that we really count on in big ways who will be ready to go come the beginning of summer.”

On why the defense saw more offensive units with a tight end last season:
“That is a good question. I think it is protecting the edges or along the edges and trying to know where you are coming from. This defense gives you versatility and angles different in the ways that you can bring pressure. So, they were trying to widen the edges maybe too. Eric (Striker) is such a good rusher and if you give him a small edge, as you saw in the bowl game, even against great players, he can create havoc for players. Now they try to push him out and make a little longer edges. That would be a thing that I would anticipate more of. I don’t know but I think a lot of football is evolving back to the tight ends. I may be wrong and I haven’t studied it, but we just try to defend what we get, but It seems like the tight end is coming back.”

On the program becoming more physical on both lines of scrimmage:
“I have had the ability to work with (offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh) for four years at Arizona and he is an outstanding, tough, hard-nosed guy that is a very good offensive line coach. We have some very athletic players, so, we are utilizing our best players sometimes, too. We try to emphasize what we are good at and I think that is what coaching is all about. It shows the versatility, we threw for 4,000 the year before and ran for 3,000, so I think that shows great coaching by our offensive coaches in being able to utilize the personnel that they have.

“It helps us become more physical and that is what I like about it, too. We are getting a lot more of it now than we ever got and I think that makes us a more physical team all the way around, just being able to practice against it.”

On whether or not this defensive line group has the potential to be one of the deepest he has ever coached:
“Yeah, no question. You get Jordan Phillips back and we can go two deep and not really slide much. (Charles Tapper) and Geneo (Grissom) are difference makers and the other guys will be difference makers as they continue to grow too. Chuka (Ndulue) is the old, reliable horse in there that holds down the fort. He really does. He pushes things to the other guy. They all work together extremely well. We have a unique group and they play hard.”

On having the potential to play three Jordans on the field at the same time:
“I just hope that they are all out there, Jordan Phillips mainly.”

On the group at cornerback:
“They are getting better. All three of them have improvement to make, but they are getting better. They are working at it and just need to be more consistent. There is too much up and down, one good play and one bad play. Even Zack (Sanchez), we have to get more consistent play out of him, even as good as he was at making big plays, he just has to be a more consistent player. He has to focus on what he looks at and training his eyes. His eyes get him in trouble a lot. He just has to continue to improve. They are a young group.”

Linebacker Eric Striker
March 27, 2013

On where the defensive attitude came from down the stretch last season:
“We were trying to get better every game. That was the motto; if you don’t get better every game, there is no progress. So, that was our progress, to get better every game. You get a little more swagger the better you do and a little more confidence, so, that is where that came from.”

On working in the nickel spot:
“It is coming along good. I feel like I fit right in. It is nothing too hard and nothing I cannot do, I can do it all. Repetition is the best part of anything, so, if I keep getting reps, the better I get.”

On how good the unit can be when it has its 11 best:
“I think we can be the top defense in the nation. When we all put it together our best 11 is pretty dang good. If we get our defense right and our players get to know the scheme we will be pretty good.”

On if the transition to covering the pass is a tough one:
“I have dropped in zone in high school, so that is basically what it is, a lot of zone coverage and some man coverage here and there, but I am getting pretty good at that. That is the only new part about it, is me playing a little bit more man, but I have always played zone coverage.”

Safety Hatari Byrd
March 27, 2014

On how he has progressed since last spring:
“I’ve come a long way. I’m just getting better each day and trying to keep competing. I feel like I’m doing pretty good.”

On how he’s doing so far this spring:
“It’s been pretty good. It’s taking a whole bunch of hard work, a whole bunch of staying focused, reading things out, but everything has been pretty good.”

On how receiver/corner/safety matchups are going in practice:
“The matchups are going good. Everybody is out there competing, trying to get better. That’s all we have to do is compete every day.”

On his physical presence:
“I’m getting better each day. I feel like I’m more comfortable than I was last year. I feel like I’m doing pretty well.”

Linebacker Jordan Evans
March 27, 2014 

On how he has progressed from last season:
“We went through offseason, so that really helped me a lot. I weigh more, feel faster and stronger.”

On his playing time last year and if that surprised him:
“When I got here, Coach said he was never really scared to play young guys as long as they could play. I knew that I was backing up Frank [Shannon] and Frank’s a great player. I knew that if I had the opportunity to play, and he said he was going to give it to me, to take advantage of it. The Texas Tech game was surprising because I didn’t expect Frank to get hurt, but I had playing time and he told me he was going to throw me in there, so I was prepared.”

On being able to come back from injury and play on special teams in the Sugar Bowl:
“It was really important. The injury sucked, but the fact I was able to come back, you saw that win and how fun it was. I was glad I was able to be a part of it.”

On his transition from freshman to sophomore year:
“It’s coming along really well. You got your first year in there, your feet are wet. I feel more mature in the system. It’s going really good for me.”

Cornerback Cortez Johnson
March 27, 2014 

On how things are going for him this spring:
“I’m just trying to bounce back from last year. I didn’t do so well and I’m just trying to be more consistent.”

On competition at the cornerback position:
“We are very competitive. Coach will make the call on who’s going to start, so I’m just going to keep being competitive.”

On how he’s better this year:
“Oh yeah, I’m way better. I’ve been working on my footwork, getting my hips looser, taking more coaching and less talking.”

On what receivers stand out to him:
“That kid, Jordan Smallwood. He’s a very great receiver, young receiver, but he’s real physical off the line and I feel that he’s going to be a really great one when it’s all said and done.”