NORMAN — Alex Grinch’s cut-to-the-point words have the possibility of making Oklahoma fans cringe.
Before sharing what the OU defensive coordinator said to reporters during Tuesday’s spring football wrap session, understand this: Grinch is a perfectionist. He demands excellence from his players. He wants a fast, swarming defense.
There were a lot of things positive witnessed this spring, Grinch said, before balancing that statement by saying there is room for improvement.
“I don’t see a fast defense yet. I don’t see a brand of football that would put us anywhere close. Certainly not an elite defense, but I wouldn’t even make a claim (to) the top half of the country,” Grinch said. “Just the willingness to make decisions post-snap, it doesn’t put us in the best situation individually to have success, which ultimately puts us in a bad situation collectively as a defense. Long way to go.
“But that’s the charge. That’s the job as coaches make sure we take advantage of these next several months of summer ball, the eight hours, the bulk of that is in the weight room and we’ll use every last second of it but there’s a little bit of football time that we get with them. There’s a core group of guys who are very anxious to get right and get this thing turned defensively. We’re going to make sure that group grows over the next couple of months.”
The important thing during spring drills was building a foundation for the 2019 season. Grinch was impressed with the defenders’ willingness to run to the football and do the things that the coaching staff — which includes three new faces — is asking them to do.
Tackling during spring football practices is limited, and Grinch was asked how the defense did during the spring game.
“I was probably fairly pleased for it not to come to the forefront of my brain and say that we were terrible at it,” Grinch said. “Maybe that speaks to the fact that it was pretty good.”
Grinch doesn’t want too many solo tackles. During the spring, he said he watched too many individuals have to make solo tackles. He understands that while the spread offense will isolate defenders, he wants a team-based effort.
He wants to see more guys swarming to the football with the mindset that all plays are theirs to make. Grinch said some players don’t understand that, “and that’s coaching. So we’ve gotta get that corrected.”
Grinch was impressed with the defensive line. Junior college transfer LaRon Stokes (who battled a minor hamstring issue midway through spring camp) has absorbed OU’s system as an early enrollee. Ronnie Perkins, Grinch said, has shown flashes of what he can be when he plays low and plays fast. Grinch is “extremely excited” about Neville Gallimore’s progress.
“If I was gonna highlight one group, I probably would (point to the defensive line),” Grinch said. “Is it where it needs to be overall from a numbers standpoint or just an overall dynamic standpoint? We’ve gotta add pieces but I’ve been very pleased with their progress.”
When the 2019 recruiting class enrolls this summer, Grinch will let them know all jobs are open. He’s mentioned multiple times that OU is for the nation’s top 1% players.
“They’re gonna have an opportunity to compete right away. And what does that look like? Well, it looks like trying to put guys in the shortest line possible to get them to the top so that they can play this year,” Grinch said. “I think going back to that 1% comment, when you bring guys in ... you don’t redshirt 1-percenters. You don’t do it. You don’t redshirt that level of guys. All these guys are gonna come in and play.”
Grinch expects injured players Robert Barnes and Jordan Parker to return to activity this summer. There could be news about Jalen Redmond fairly shortly, Grinch said. Everything sounds positive, the coach said about the redshirt freshman, but it’s important to remain cautious until a final decision is made.
One final question — how can the defense improve during the summer months?
“From an athletic standpoint, make sure our speed gains, explosive gains, size gains in several instances, transforming your body. If you look the same come August that you do in April, then something is wrong and it certainly has nothing to do with the work put in by coach (Bennie) Wylie and his staff,” Grinch said. “That’s a personal decision, not to take advantage of the resources and not put yourself in the right frame of mind to play elite football in the fall.
“I don’t envision that happening in any way, shape or form.”