OU D-line hoping to take big steps forward

NORMAN, Okla. -- Defensive end Geneo Grissom hopes the Oklahoma defensive line will ignite emotions within opponents this fall.

“I want to make sure when we step on the field, O-linemen are scared,” Grissom said. “I want our D-line to invoke fear in opposing O-lines.”

The Sooners' defensive line took some positive steps in that direction during in the Red-White spring game at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Defensive linemen accounted for four of the five sacks in the game including two from defensive tackle Rashod Favors and one apiece from Grissom and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

“I thought the D-line overall did a really good job,” coach Bob Stoops said. “I thought they got good pressure and for the most part, playing the run, I thought they did a pretty good job.”

The Sooners' quarterbacks spent a good part of the scrimmage on the run, evading pressure, a sign the defensive line is improving. And, in a game which featured 112 total offensive plays, OU’s defensive front limited the big run, with Brennan Clay’s 35-yard scamper ranking as the longest ground-gainer.

“We did what we had to do,” Grissom said. “You always feel you can get better and do better but we were completing our assignments and doing what we’re being taught to do. Overall it was a good day.”

The Sooners' defensive line isn’t quite there yet. While OU’s front was disruptive at times, it struggled to get pressure at other times and got off to a slow start in the first quarter.

“We still need to develop playmakers up front,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “But I thought they got better as the game went along.”

While he wasn’t dominant, Phillips showed the ability to be disruptive in the backfield, finishing with three tackles and one sack. The lone returning rotation player at defensive tackle, Phillips will be counted on to be a disruptive force in the middle for OU. His progression from a player with potential to a disruptive playmaker could make a difference for OU's defense.

“He’s a great player,” said linebacker Corey Nelson, who finished with three tackles. "He played well today, very physical, got after the O-line and made our jobs easier today.”

Grissom was also impressive with his speed and strength on the perimeter, showing the ability to get into the offensive backfield on passing plays. The junior appears to have finally found a permanent home at defensive end after playing some tight end in 2012.

“That’s a key player we need to step up, and he has been,” Nelson said. “He’s probably our best pass-rusher.”

Improving the play of its defensive line is high on the Sooners priority list this offseason. Stoops likes to play man-to-man defensive schemes, so having a disruptive defensive line could be the difference between stopping some of the explosive offenses in the Big 12 and having another disappointing defense this fall.

“We’re starting to show signs of consistency and that’s what we need,” Stoops said. “We need to continue to develop playmakers in our defensive front -- that’s going to be a premium moving forward.”

OU took steps forward this spring but will have to get much better to become a dominating unit in 2013.

“We’ve gotten a lot better but we have a long way to go to get where we need to be,” Grissom said. “We have guys who want to win, and that’s what it takes, so we’re going to get there but we’re not quite there yet.”