A satisfied Venables happy to talk defense
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
4/19/11 at 6:00 AM
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NORMAN - Long after all other players and coaches had cleared out of Oklahoma's interview room Saturday evening, Brent Venables remained. The defensive coordinator stuck around to talk shop with reporters after the Red-White Game. He didn't seem to mind.
After the spring his defense had, he could have talked into Sunday.
"I'm really pleased. I can't say that enough," Venables said. "I feel fabulous."
Up and down OU's defense, there was much to be chipper about, starting with the position Venables coaches.
Middle linebacker Austin Box took it easy this spring to protect his chronically troublesome back. That afforded younger middle men Tom Wort and Jaydan Bird a lot of snaps, and a lot of development.
"He's just a much more confident player, and more consistent," Venables said of Wort, who started nine games as a 2010 freshman. "He had a really, really good spring."
So did Bird, who has spent his first two seasons contributing on special teams.
"Jaydan has really come on," said Travis Lewis, OU's All-Big 12 weakside linebacker. "He's flying around. It looks like he's having a lot of fun this year."
Lewis returns on the weak side, backed by sophomore-to-be Corey Nelson, the Sooners' breakout performer on defense this spring.
"Are you kidding me?" Venables said. "That's got to be the best first- and second-teamer at that position anywhere."
The Sooners aren't quite as stacked in front of or behind their linebackers. They lost starting safeties Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson, as well as All-American defensive end Jeremy Beal.
Still, there is much promise in both places.
Javon Harris, so good in place of the injured Nelson in last year's Bedlam victory, has stepped in at free safety. Aaron Colvin, about whom coaches raved as a freshman cornerback last fall, is the new strong safety. And Gabe Lynn has fit in at corner opposite returning starter Demontre Hurst, while 2010 starter Jamell Fleming tries to solve his academic problems.
"Gabe can hold it down. He's a great corner, and a great player," Colvin said Saturday. "He showed you guys today he can really play with his interception. I feel like he became a lot more comfortable, and is out there playing his game more than worrying about everybody in his ear and worrying about things he has to do."
As for Colvin?
"The first day he went (to safety), it was like, 'OK, this is gonna be ... not easy, but he's comfortable," Venables said. "He has a good feel for the game, has a good understanding of football. He's always in good position. He'll come up and tackle."
The Sooners will need similar physical grit from their defensive front. They got it from their tackles most of the spring.
"Stacy had a really strong spring, played confidently," Venables said of Stacy McGee, a 10-game starter last year. "Jamarkus (McFarland) made marked improvement, probably the most improvement overall. Casey Walker was consistent, along with Torrea Peterson. He had a really good spring, too."
Daniel Noble should also fortify OU's interior, provided he is healthy after missing half his freshman season with a concussion.
At end, three-year starter Frank Alexander expects to rebound from an injury-hampered junior season.
"I feel like I could have done a lot more. I just had a lot of issues," he said, referring to what he called a high ankle sprain and strained Achilles tendon. "But I feel like I'm ready to get back out there and showcase my talent."
Look for Ronnell Lewis to do the same, now that the former linebacker has spent a full spring at defensive end.
"I thought he had a tremendous spring," Venables said, "learning how to play with technique and fundamentals ... and footwork, his understanding and being disciplined with regard to gap control and where he needs to be."
Toss in the versatility of safety/linebacker Tony Jefferson, the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in '10, Venables has the luxury of doing a lot of things with a lot of players.
Venables and head coach Bob Stoops have supervised some salty OU defenses over the past dozen years. The 2011 edition?
"I believe we've got a chance to be really good," Stoops said. "I think it could be one of our better ones."
2011 OU SCHEDULE
Sept. 3: vs. Tulsa
Sept. 17: at Florida State
Sept. 24: vs. Missouri
Oct. 1: vs. Ball State
Oct. 8: vs. Texas (at Dallas)
Oct. 15: at Kansas
Oct. 22: vs. Texas Tech
Oct. 29: at Kansas State
Nov. 5: vs. Texas A&M
Nov. 12: vs. Iowa State
Nov. 19: at Baylor
Dec. 3: at Oklahoma State
Subject to change
Original Print Headline: Venables is quite pleased
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
OU tight end Austin Haywood (89) looks for the ball after it's deflected away from him by defensive back Javon Harris (left) and Tom Wort during OU's spring game on Saturday. Coach Bob Stoops says this year's Sooner defense has a chance to be among his best. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World