OU football: Will Jalen Redmond be the key to keeping Sooners' DL improving?
NORMAN — When Alex Grinch arrived as OU’s defensive coordinator, defensive line was one of the biggest issues.
While the secondary problems were easy to see, the Sooners’ inability to get consistent pressure up front on quarterbacks made life more difficult for OU’s defensive backs.
The Sooners took a big leap forward on defense in 2020 and the defensive line was a major reason why, both with the starting group and the depth behind them.
The Oklahoman’s series of position looks at the Sooners continues with a look at OU’s defensive line in 2021:
Season rewind: The defensive front was the strength of OU’s defense from the start of the season, even with Ronnie Perkins out while suspended. A big part of that was the emergence of Isaiah Thomas from a role player into being a star. When Perkins returned, the line made a big jump forward as Perkins was the most disruptive defender in the Big 12 over the last half of the season. Thomas didn’t fade into the background, though. Moving around to several different spots — especially filling in for LaRon Stokes during Stokes’ injury — Thomas remained impactful. In addition to Perkins’ return, junior college transfer Perrion Winfrey became a force in the middle of the defensive line, adding stability there. The Sooners also built depth on the defensive line, with Marcus Stripling, Jordan Kelley, Stokes, Kori Roberson and Reggie Grimes making plays when they were called on as well.
Who’s in: Isaiah Coe, Ethan Downs, Kelvin Gilliam Jr., Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, *-Jalen Redmond (*-opted out of the 2020 season)
Who’s out: Ronnie Perkins
The take: The Sooners lose Perkins, who opted to enter the NFL Draft after a dominant last half of the season. While a loss such as that would’ve been devastating in the past, this group seems uniquely prepared to fill in the considerable hole left by Perkins’ absence. Thomas is a key, because of his ability to play both inside and outside. Jalen Redmond’s return also adds a punch. Redmond has played both inside and outside as well, though he was primarily on the inside in 2019 when he led the Sooners with 6.5 sacks and was third on the team with 11 tackles for loss. Newcomers Nathan Rawlins-Kibonge, Kelvin Gilliams Jr. and Isaiah Coe could make their way into the rotation as well.
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Projected depth chart
Isaiah Thomas, RJr., 6-5, 267
Marcus Stripling, So., 6-3, 250
Reggie Grimes, Fr., 6-4, 266
Perrion Winfrey, Jr., 6-3, 297
Jordan Kelley, RSo., 6-3, 292
Kori Robertson, RFr., 6-4, 288
Jalen Redmond, RSo., 6-3, 266
LaRon Stokes, Sr., 6-4, 278
Josh Ellison, So., 6-2, 291