OU football: Defensive transfers not a big cause of concern for Sooners
NORMAN — In early January, it seemed like a different Oklahoma defensive player was popping up on the NCAA’s transfer portal nearly every day.
Troy James. Ryan Jones. Levi Draper. Mark Jackson Jr. Jordan Parker.
All announced, in the span of eight days, that they would leave the Sooners’ program. Just a few days after OU’s Peach Bowl loss to LSU, freshman safety Ty DeArman announced his intention to transfer.
Are the departures cause for concern or is this just the normal fallout from the switch in defensive scheme the Sooners made after the 2018 season when Alex Grinch was brought aboard as defensive coordinator?
While the rapid nature of the announcements magnified the losses, the numbers aren’t that much different than what happened on the other side of the ball when Lincoln Riley came aboard as OU’s offensive coordinator after the 2014 season.
Riley was hired to transform an offense that had become stagnant, and to give a boost to the Sooners’ offensive recruiting.
The success has spoken for itself.
In each of his first five seasons with Oklahoma, Riley’s starting quarterback has finished in the top four in Heisman Trophy voting.
The Sooners’ recruiting has gone from solid to excellent on that side of the ball, most notably measured in the 2019 class when OU signed a five-star quarterback and three five-star wide receivers.
But early on, there was a cost to the transition.
Before Riley had coached a game, five players players left the program, including two quarterbacks.
Cody Thomas left to pursue a baseball career while Justice Hansen transferred to junior college after competing with Baker Mayfield and Trevor Knight in the spring of 2015.
Running back David Smith, tight end Taylor McNamara and wide receiver K.J. Young also left that offseason.
After Riley’s first season, the string of changes continued with Knight and running back Keith Ford moving on to Texas A&M and receivers Austin Bennett and Dallis Todd transferring elsewhere also. Offensive lineman Joseph Paul also left the program after 2015.
So there’s been a mild leap but not an astronomical one.
In 2014, the NCAA reported that 3.9 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision players transferred to another four-year institution. In 2018, the most recent year in which data is available, the percentage was 4.1.
Those numbers figure to leap in 2019, as the transfer portal which began in 2019 has streamlined the process of transferring.
This OU defensive exodus started early in the 2019 season, some even before Grinch had coached his first game in crimson and cream.
By the time October ended, linebacker Jonathan Perkins, cornerback Starrland Baldwin and safety Miguel Edwards were all in the portal.
Perkins was a 2019 signee who was only with the team for a couple months before deciding that Grinch’s scheme wasn’t working for him.
Baldwin and Edwards had both signed a year earlier.
There is a cost to the movement, though.
In Riley’s second season, that manifested in just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster — starter Baker Mayfield and backup Austin Kendall, a redshirt freshman.
This offseason, it’s likely to present itself with limited depth at certain positions for spring practice and next season.
With Jones, Draper and Jackson all transferring away, the Sooners have just nine scholarship linebackers for 2020. One of those, freshman Bryden Walker, won’t arrive until the summer while another, Jon-Michael Terry, is coming off a season-ending injury and his availability for spring is unclear.