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A lot can change in a couple of years, and a lot certainly has in terms of the perception and reality of how well the Oklahoma defensive line is playing.

It wasn’t that long ago where the defense was a tough subject for OU fans to approach, but that’s not the case anymore.

There have been reports all spring about the defense usually getting the best of the offense. And if there’s a reason why, nationally, the Sooners are getting a lot of love as a national championship contender, it’s actually more because of the defense than anything else.

The key? Continue to keep that even keel mindset.

“It’s always about the message inside of these walls,” defensive tackles coach Calvin Thibodeaux said. “When it was bad, we had to tone it out, and now we’re getting people telling us how good we are. We still have to block it out.

“I think the message comes from our head coach. It comes from our defensive coordinator and we trust that message, and we know we have a lot of work to do, but we know we can really be a great group if everything goes the way we want it to.”

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Despite the NFL Draft entry of Ronnie Perkins, there’s a strong feeling that the overall group for 2021 will be even deeper for the Sooners compared to last year’s productive bunch.

The days of playing 70-90 snaps are long gone. Players are being asked to simply give it their all for the 30-40 snaps they’re in, and then let their teammates have their back and do their part.

“So it’s our job to get the right guys out there, but man, I really feel like we’ve got a deep room,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s not just having bodies. It’s guys that can go in there and make plays. Expecting big things out of the whole group.”

It’s a juco thing

No question it was one big gamble by OU and Thibodeaux to load up at defensive tackle with junior college kids. There’s no grace period, no time to develop. Those guys have to be good right from the jump, or it’s a miss.

The Sooners have brought in three in the last two recruiting cycles in Perrion Winfrey, Josh Ellison for 2020 and Isaiah Coe for 2021.

Winfrey was expected to be the star. What he did in 2020 was nice, but it’s nothing compared to what everybody believes will happen this season.

“We’re expecting out of Perrion to be a dominant player,” Thibodeaux said. “He has that type of skill set. We expect big things out of him having a year under his belt. Doesn’t guarantee anything. But talentwise, he can really be a special player. We look for him to have impact on every game that he plays in.”

Winfrey and Ellison, of course, were members of that class that didn’t get spring ball last season because of COVID-19. The adjustment period was tougher than ever before.

But even Ellison started to make plays toward the latter portion of the season, and he has carried that momentum right on through to the spring.

“With Josh, I tell you who really helped me with that guy, was actually Quentin Griffin,” Thibodeaux said. “He’s the running back coach there at Blinn. He just kept telling me stick with it, stick with it, stick with it. It ended up working out for us. I’m excited about Josh. He’s pretty easy to form a relationship with. I think his best football is ahead of him. He’s ran with the 1’s all spring and did a great job for us.”

Coe was juco teammates with Winfrey, and now the same at OU. He wasn’t out there early, but he’s starting to make his presence known now.

“I tell you a guy that’s coming on, he didn’t practice some of the early practices is Isaiah Coe,” Thibodeaux said. “He’s probably the most powerful guy in the group. He’s just figuring out he don’t know what he don’t know. He’s flashing. I’m really excited about him.”

Redmond rounding into form

Everybody is hoping for the happy ending to the story with Jalen Redmond. But he’s gonna have to earn that playing time and be productive.

He has definitely had moments of greatness, especially during the 2019 season, but it’s about putting it all together and being that game-changing presence.

Thibodeaux is starting to see it again.

“He’s one of those guys that can find the ball,” he said. “Put him out there, he’s going to find the ball. For him, it’s just getting his legs under him. He didn’t play for a year, then he got hammered with little nick-nack injuries. So he’s kind of slowed down a little bit. But to see him out there, when that ball is snapped, he’s causing havoc. It makes you a better coach when you have a player as talented as him.”

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