Striker finds the ideal role in OU defense

NORMAN, Okla. -- His teammates have consistently raved about his pass rushing skills since he stepped on campus during the summer of 2012.

Oklahoma fans got their first glimpse at Eric Striker’s ability against Louisiana-Monroe. The sophomore linebacker didn’t end the game with exceptional numbers -- he finished with just one tackle but had a team-high two quarterback hurries.

Yet, when he was on the field, he was noticeable. Striker was active, relentless and aggressive. Those traits are the driving force behind defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ plan to continue to put Striker in position to excel.

“He’s a guy that had a great camp,” Stoops said. “He’s a very relentless player, that’s the thing I love about Eric. He plays very hard and he’s very aggressive.”

When OU made the move to a three-man front it was a perfect scenario for Striker. Ever since his freshman season the Sooners running backs had expressed their frustration about trying to block Striker during one-on-one pass blocking drills in practice. The Florida native just had a knack for getting to the quarterback.

In OU’s three-man front against ULM, Striker often lined up as a linebacker on the line of scrimmage and rushed the passer or tried to create havoc in the offensive backfield on running plays. It’s a role he played in high school.

“That’s what got me here,” he said of his instinctive nature around the line of scrimmage.

Yet he saw limited action in last year’s defense, struggling to get comfortable in his role as a linebacker in the Sooners’ defensive system. This season, with the changes to the defense, Striker feels much more comfortable.

“Once you get in the game, get relaxed and know what you have to do, you gain confidence,” he said. “That’s what makes you play well.”

The confidence also allowed him to play fast, without thinking in his first career start.

“I would say that had something to do with it,” Striker said of his ability to play fast during his first game of extensive action on defense. “I felt confident in what I had to do, there was no doubt, I knew what I had to do.”

As the Sooners’ season progresses, Striker could emerge as one of the most important players on defense. His athleticism and quickness makes him difficult to block on the edge and his willingness to play physical allows him to play around the line of scrimmage with relative ease.

“He creates a lot of energy for our defense,” Stoops said. “That’s good, we need guys like that who bring a lot of energy to our defense. We have to keep finding ways to put him in positions where he can be effective.”

Versatility has been the word of choice for Stoops this offseason, so don’t expect Striker to play the same role each week but, as Stoops said, OU will find a way to make sure his aggressiveness and energy will make a impact each week this season.

“Roles can change game to game,” Striker said. “Anything the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do to the fullest. You just have to keep that consistency through the whole year.”