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How Oklahoma's Young, Twitchy, 'Freak' DEs Can Help Turn Things Around Immediately

Teammates say freshman P.J. Adebawore is "like the Avatar," while sophomore R Mason Thomas still plays like Taz.

NORMAN — Opponents scouting Oklahoma’s young defensive ends this season might notice a problem trying to block freshman P.J. Adebawore.

“P.J. is a freak. He's built like the Avatar,” said junior Ethan Downs. “Like the blue Avatar. Lankiest dude. He's super strong. Super fast. Twitchy. He's a great player. Very smooth pass rusher. He's a beast.”

Adebawore is the Sooners’ 5-star freshman from Kansas City, a 6-foot-4, 241-pound edge rusher who might as well be animated for all he can do physically.

Miguel Chavis, Adebawore’s position coach, famously called him “longer than Monday afternoon” because of his tall frame and long arms — all the better to sack you with. He also plays with a youthfully high energy.

But during August training camp, his teammates noticed some of Adebawore’s other qualities.

“Not only his motor — his motor is great — but just the way he responds to things,” said senior d-end Reggie Grimes. “He's a freshman. There can be lofty goals and lofty expectations for a freshman, but he's still a freshman. Freshmen mess up. When he does mess up, I know for a fact that when he messes up he's going to come back and make a play. That's the kind of kid he is. That's just how he was raised, so I think that's the part that has impressed me the most about him.”

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Last year, R Mason Thomas made an impression on the position group as a true freshman. He played in 10 games, finished with seven tackles, one tackle for loss and half a quarterback sack.

“He's already an amazing athlete,” Downs said, “but as much as he keeps maturing and as strong as he keeps getting in the weight room — we'll be staring at each other and like, curling and bench pressing ... we're always challenging each other in the weight room. He's getting a lot stronger and more mass on him. As fast as he already is and how powerful and twitchy as he always is with more mass, he's going to be that much more difficult to play against.”

Thomas’ gift is a relentless energy, a Tasmania Devil mindset. Everyone agrees that Thomas will develop into a fine player at OU. But at 6-2, 239 pounds, he’s blessed physically with the different tools than Adebawore.

“Both very twitchy,” Downs said. “Lanky. Strong. Fast. Level-headed guys. They're about the right stuff. And that's the two best freshman — well, R Mason is a sophomore now — but that's some of the best guys I've ever seen come in a recruiting class.”

Adebawore’s arrival and Thomas’ continued growth are coming at the right time as Oklahoma’s defense is going to need more punch from its edge players this season. Downs and Grimes were co-leaders last year with 4.5 sacks each as the team managed just 28 — the Sooners’ fifth-lowest team total since 1999.

Experienced transfers like Rondell Bothroyd and Trace Ford should also help.

Combine them all, and the OU defensive ends should be significantly more productive this season.

“I would say our motor,” Grimes said. “It's relentless, relentless pursuit. And if we're tired, two more are coming right back in. We're not going to stop hounding you. I think that's the fun part. I love going out there and getting off a few plays.”

The season starts Saturday when No. 20 Oklahoma (a 34 1/2-point favorite) hosts Arkansas State. After a disappointing 6-7 campaign in 2022 and an offseason spent rebuilding the team’s psyche, everyone is finally ready to play a real game and prove something to themselves.

“We're really anxious,” Downs said. “We left a lot out there last year. It was a disappointing season. All of our fans felt it. We represent a whole lot more than just the 100-plus guys on the team. We're ready to get out there and set the name right, leave a legacy and put it all out there.”