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October 12, 2011Opening fall camp the Oklahoma defensive coaching staff was continually probed on questions surrounding the Sooners' front seven.
Would Ronnell Lewis be ruled academically ineligible?
Could Frank Alexander shoulder the responsibility left void by the graduated Jeremy Beal?
Was it time to finally give up on former five-star all-everything R.J. Washington?
Through five games those inquiries seemingly have been answered as the Sooners defensive ends have accounted for nearly 60 percent of the Sooners sacks (11.5 total) while raking in 77 tackles between the main four rotation of Alexander, Lewis, Washington, and David King.
"Yeah they're all great athletes. You know everyone forever talked about Ronnell (Lewis) and they should he's just an amazing athlete. But Frank (Alexander) is and you saw him make an interception earlier in the year and he has great hands. I see him I can't tell you how many times he'll pick off a screen in practice or one-hand a ball. His competitiveness and his technique and the way he's playing he's really playing at another level," said Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops who has often been complimentary of his front seven.
"All those guys have (come on). David King has come on and I've loved (it). Maybe for me that the thing that has been a real positive has been R.J. Washington and not that it should be a surprise but he's really coming on and making some nice plays. They're playing well."
For Alexander, a Baton Rouge native, it's about proving himself and leaving a legacy at Oklahoma with the main goal of playing his final collegiate ball game in his home state at the New Orleans Superdome.
"Yeah by far I feel like I am. Just playing the whole game first through fourth quarter and just getting better with technique and seeing plays before they happen," said Alexander who is on the heels of the best game of his career in which he recorded six tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a pass break-up.
"I feel like I have a lot to prove because of the last few years I haven't been where I feel I wanted to be. I haven't had bad years but I knew I could be a lot better. It's just going out there every Saturday and trying to prove (people). That's motivation."
A type of attitude from a defensive unit leader that has trickled down from top to bottom as Fort Worth (Texas) Keller Fossil Ridge junior defensive end R.J. Washington continues his own personal road to redemption.
"We had a good feeling if we did everything that we needed to do the pieces to the puzzle would fall in place. Like I said I think it was more about us than about them we just started making plays and then I think they got a little bit behind the eight ball once things started going our way. We had energy and focus and we played hard," said Washington who has six tackles and two sacks on the year.
Turning in success on a level the Sooners head coach thinks could possibly make them the best group in his 13 years in Norman.
"Yeah I would say they are playing as well as anyone we've had and if that continues that will be the case. I mean when you look at the sacks, the pressures, and at the forced turnovers those kinds of things the productivity probably is better than any we've had through the first 5 games," said Stoops.
The level of production has also gives the defensive coaching staff the ability to use different defensive fronts as seen last week in the Cotton Bowl when the Sooners used King and Alexander as nose guards in their four-man fronts.
"Obviously just for twists and for speed coming around the corner and it really showed up great. First of all we've got the depth to do it so we've got other fresh guys to go in when we're just playing two ends and then you start running twists with those guys," said Stoops.
"You get David and Frank running around the edges in different twist schemes and running around the corner and your not worried about the corner breaking contain or he's going to be able to close on him and your being really effective."
Venables: Defensive mastermind
Tuesday afternoon's media luncheon also offered a slight glimpse into the relationship of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
"He's been a very consistent, great leader. He's been a very bright guy a great worker, dedicated, committed and all the positive things you would want to say about an assistant coach. And as much as anything I feel a great connection because I feel we're very much a like the same personality," said Stoops of his 13-year assistant.
"We take it very personal and to heart how our team plays and are a part of it. And Brent is very much that way and players pick up on that and the fact that we have such a long connection makes it pretty special too."
Venables long tenure at Oklahoma as linebackers coach and eventual evolution into defensive coordinator perhaps climaxed Saturday following the Sooners Red River Rivalry victory when his defense suffocated a dismal Texas offense forcing five turnovers and holding the Longhorns to 259 yards.
Some could call it his best defensive game plan in his 13 years but for Venables it was a will of his players.
"Obviously were very pleased how hard our guys played and how physical they played and again they played with great purpose and focus. We practiced that way and against a good quality team (against) Texas your biggest rival. It was just kind of the perfect storm."
"Our guys were impressive today I'm not going to down play that they played again with great focus and purpose and great leadership. I'm so happy and proud of Travis Lewis," said a somber Venables following the Sooners victory.
"This is my first time as a coach to go through something and losing a player and again I've said it before to see how our guys have embraced Austin's spirit and kept it alive and the strength that they've exuded it's pretty special and it's pretty humbling for me and I know it was on everybody's heart all week and it has been but this was his biggest game of the year and it meant everything to him. Whether he participated or not. To see Travis out there in No. 12 was very appropriate and to play that way was very special for him."
Hunnicutt settling in at kicker
With so much negative talk surrounding the Sooners special teams redshirt freshmen Michael Hunnicutt continues to be a bright spot that the Sooners hope to see continue.
Making his third consecutive start at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday Hunnicutt became just the third freshmen kicker have kicked multiple field goals vs. Texas.
An outing that was almost a dream come true for the life long Sooner fan.
"Oh definitely yes. It was a really good experience. I always grew up watching the game so I was really glad I got the opportunity to do that," said Hunnicutt, who is 6-for-7 on the year with a season long of 44-yards.
"The first one I was probably a little more nervous than the second one but I'm glad the first one went through and my confidence was high for the rest of the day."
But even despite his record setting visit to the Cotton Bowl Hunnicutt admits he didn't get to spend time with the 'Golden Hat'.
"I did not actually. I let the seniors kind of do it. I was trying to get out of there so I could talk to my parents after the game but I had fun with it."
As for if he thinks the job is his for the rest of the year the redshirt freshmen admits it's all up to the coaches.
"No. I don't know what the situation with Jimmy's leg still is and when he comes back he's a senior and is 5-for-5 this year so I'm not exactly sure what will happen."
Sooners racking up the honors
Even for a program that is use to honors and awards off the field it seemed members of the Sooners were recognized in just about every way possible this past week following the Red River Rivalry victory:
- Quarterback Landry Jones was recognized as the Davey O'Brien Quarterback of the Week while also taking home Big 12 Player of the Week honors for his 31-of-50 367-yard 3 touchdown performance.
- Cornerback Jamell Fleming was rewarded for his career high 13 tackle day by being honored as both the Bronko Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week as well as the the Big 12 Player of the Week.
- While defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis were added to the Bednarik Award watch list by the Maxwell Football Foundation who hands out the award to the defensive player of the year.