Perhaps the most important position on the field this upcoming season, the linebacker scheme in a Brent Venables led defense can be a challenging task to master.
Last season, the linebackers looked lost at certain points. Implementing a defense as complex as Venables style is no easy task in one year. After a full offseason and another year on the horizon, the coaching staff feels that the combination of more experience and new talent can equate to more winning.
Leading the charge for another year will be none other than Danny Stutsman. Though he led the team in tackles a season ago, it was an up and down season for the junior backer.
Stutsman seems to be taking on a new found leadership role for the defense. During post practice interviews last week, Stutsman showed up with a bloody gash across his nose and jokingly stated, “Coach V caught me with a right hook.” He continued on to say he is trying to be the most physical player each and every day of practice.
Jaren Kanak is one of the more popular names amongst the OU fanbase. While many believed he should have played more a season ago, Brent Venables has been adamant since his arrival to Norman he does not plan on rushing anyone into action, especially a young linebacker.
Though it was obvious Kanak would go through some growing pains at first, the ferocious linebacker still showed glimpses of greatness when he was given the chance. Kanak also delivered one of the best quotes of the entire season.
Even if BV feels Kanak isn’t 100 percent ready for consistent action, he may not have a choice heading into the 2023 campaign. Kanak is undoubtedly one of the most physical players on the team. His presence will be needed if OU plans on correcting its poor rush defense from a year ago.
Moving onto the Cheetah position, the most important in the Brent Venables scheme. To briefly explain the position, it is comparable to having a third safety on the field. The Cheetah is expected to do it all. Whether it be covering prolific slots and tight ends or helping out in the box against the run, the Cheetah is also expected to make sure everyone is lined up correctly on every play.
Though the staff likes to keep specific positions a mystery, the leading candidate to take over the spot is none other than Indiana transfer Dasan McCullough.
McCullough was one of the more sought out players in the transfer portal this season. Coming in at 6″5, 230 Ibs, the former Big Ten stud is not slow on his feet. The term “freak” gets floated around a lot in sports, but there is no greater description than that for a player like McCullough.
Other potential players to fill this role could be Justin Harrington, who has been around the program for a while at this point. Harrington has been used mostly as a safety during his Sooner tenure, but there have been rumblings about him taking snaps at Cheetah.
Even during our interview with Texas Tech Safety transfer Reggie Pearson, he told us Venables is trying a host of players at the position and that he wants multiple players to be comfortable with Cheetah.
Freshman Kobie McKinzie should fit into the rotation as well. That also goes for Ferris State Transfer Konnor Near, who was a late addition to the 2023 Sooners.
BV was short and sweet when asked about what Near would add to the OU defense.
“He understand football. Now it’s time to learn the verbiage.”
For a group that ranked #122 in total defense last season, the change has to start at the heart of it all. More consistent play from a host of linebackers could be the secret recipe to turning the defense around.
We will have a watchful eye on the linebackers all season long, and especially on the Cheetah position.
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