Oklahoma Sooners vs South Dakota Coyotes

Oklahoma linebackers Kenneth Murray (left) and David Ugwoegbu tackle South Dakota running back Kai Henry on Sept. 7 in Norman. Murray has been able to get more rest in the first few games this season as the defense has rotated more players in. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World

NORMAN — When the Oklahoma football defensive staff meets each Thursday to plan rep counts for the upcoming game, the list of projected participating players is lengthy.

The rotation for the resurgent Sooner defense has been surprisingly deep through three games, with as many as 36 players seeing the field in a given week.

“We want to play more (rather) than less and we’d rather leave the game and say we rotated too much than not enough,” first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “So we’ll continue to do so as long as these guys earn the right over the course of practice.”

In an attempt to rebuild following a season in which OU ranked last nationally against the pass, the focus has been on changing the culture, creating competition and developing playmakers. Using more players fits into that.

“We’re not going to get married to playing a guy 90 snaps in a game,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “It’s hurt us in the past. There’s no other way to say it.

“We’re developing it better and with that, you’ve got to continue to recruit better and more players you want to put in the game. It all goes hand in hand, but it’s been healthy on that side and guys know they’re going to get an opportunity.”

The fifth-ranked Sooners, who have an open date this week before hosting Texas Tech on Sept. 28, have seen 13 players record a tackle for lost yardage and seven have at least a sack. As a team, OU is allowing fewer than 20 points per game.

“We’re going to get people in there who are doing the right thing and who want to play and who are showing they can play,” cornerback Tre Brown said. “That really helps everybody. You see that you have depth and even if you come out, you’ve got people who can also make plays.”

Standout linebacker Kenneth Murray, the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year, played significantly fewer snaps in the nonconference portion of the schedule. Last season, he was approaching close to 1,000 snaps before the Orange Bowl.

“With the group that we have now, we have the ability to (rotate more),” Murray said. “Everybody can really come in and play. It’s been good just trusting (linebackers coach Brian Odom) and trusting what he wants to (do) and knowing that he has my best interests in sight.”

More playing time has given reserves a chance to show they belong on the field, and many have taken advantage in the early going. At UCLA on Saturday, Brian Asamoah and Nik Bonitto recorded the first sacks of their careers and fellow linebacker Ryan Jones had his first interception.

“Even if you’re playing behind a Kenneth Murray right now, you’re going to get an opportunity,” Riley said. “If you think you should be out there, go out there and prove it.

“Guys don’t make plays until you give them a chance. Trust me, we’re not putting them out there if they’re not showing us something behind the scenes that says they’re ready.”

Kelly Hines 918-581-8452


Twitter: @KellyHinesTW

Sports Writer

Kelly has been the University of Tulsa football and basketball beat writer since 2014. She grew up in Moore, was valedictorian at Christian Heritage Academy and graduated from Oklahoma State University. Phone: 918-581-8452