Big 12 spring battle spotlight: OU DTs

A potential first-round pick and one of the Big 12’s top young defensive coaches have left Oklahoma since the end of the 2014 season, leaving the Sooners searching for answers at the defensive tackle position. The quarterback derby will get the headlines, but here’s a look at another key position battle at OU this spring.

Departed: Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was an anchor of the Sooners' defense, which finished among the nation’s leaders in run defense. Phillips decided to leave early for the NFL, leaving a hole in the middle of OU’s defense. In addition, veteran Chuka Ndulue, who could play anywhere along the defensive line, has exhausted his eligibility.

Spring contenders: Redshirt freshman Courtney Garnett, sophomore Matthew Romar, sophomore Charles Walker, junior Jordan Wade.

Summer contenders: Neville Gallimore (No. 165 in ESPN 300), Marquise Overton (No. 175 in ESPN 300)

The skinny: Phillips and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery have departed yet the defensive tackle position in Norman remains in good shape. Romar had a solid redshirt freshman season and should help fill the void left by Phillips. Walker joins Romar to give the Sooners a pair of quality sophomores with terrific upside and brings versatility to the defensive line. He showed flashes, particularly with his five tackles and 0.5 sacks against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Wade is one of the strongest players on the team and has shown he can hold his own after replacing a injured Phillips and starting eight games as a redshirt freshman during the 2013 season. Behind that trio OU has three highly regarded recruits in Gallimore, Overton and Garnett, who have the physical talent to force their way into the rotation. New defensive line coach Diron Reynolds has plenty of young talent to work with as he looks to replace Phillips.

Prediction: Between Walker, Romar and Wade, the Sooners should be able to replace Phillips’ 39 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks. Romar and Walker have the potential to become a pair of disruptive players in the interior while Wade can play the anchor role with his strength and size. If any of the three youngsters steps up and earns a role, OU could end up with the deepest group of interior linemen in the conference.