As of late, Oklahoma’s “Speed D” has been sluggish on the practice field.
At least, that’s the players’ diagnosis of why the Sooners have gotten off to slow starts defensively this season.
Plagued by injuries, the Oklahoma defense hasn’t come close to their level of play over the three-game stretch of Western Carolina, Nebraska and West Virginia, where the unit combined to allow 29 total points.
But missing any number of players out of the starting lineup is no excuse for allowing a bad Kansas Jayhawks team to march up and down the field at times past Saturday in Lawrence. Those issues have been highlighted by a lack of intensity in practice.
On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said the team has been taking what he called “auto-pilot” reps in practice, where the players are just going through the motions and not playing at game speed.
Rush linebacker Nik Bonitto agreed with Grinch’s assertion, and he described how failing to take practice seriously has hampered the OU defense on Saturday’s this year.
“When you don't practice at the speed that we're supposed to on game days,” said Bonitto, “and we just go and be lackadaisical through practice and aren't taking game reps during practice then of course when you first go out in the game it's going to be much faster to you. That's what's been happening and teams have been hitting us in the mouth because of the way we've been preparing.
“So I think it all just starts on the practice field. It starts with game reps on the practice field so that way when those first drives come in the game we won't be surprised by anything.”
And while Grinch tries to figure out how to motivate the defense to increase their intensity in practice, Bonitto said he and the other defensive leaders are taking on that charge themselves.
“As an older guy, I'll take full blame on it as a lot of the other leaders on the defense will too,” Bonitto said. “Because it all starts with us. A lot of guys are going to look at us to see how we practice, what our preparation looks like. And if we're not upholding that standard to what practice is supposed to be like and feel like then obviously the guys that look up to us are going to follow after us and do the same thing.”
This week, the Sooners host a Texas Tech Red Raider team under new leadership, as interim head coach Sonny Cumbie takes over for Matt Wells, who was relieved of his duties on Monday. Cumbie’s history both at Texas Tech and as a play caller at TCU means the OU secondary could again be tested this Saturday.
Well aware of the challenge, cornerback Jaden Davis said the intensity at practice has been much better so far this week in preparation for the Red Raiders as OU will need to get off to a faster start to put the Texas Tech offense behind the 8-ball.
“Coach Grinch has been emphasizing it in practice every day,” Davis said. “Fast start, fast start, go straight from stretch to a team period and a competitive period. We’re just working every day to eliminate that slower start that we’ve had.
“We know we have it in us. As a team, we know it’s not an issue of just talent or scheme or anything. It’s a mindset. It’s a mindset that we have to go out there every play. And when the game starts, no matter who is the opponent, you are on the same level. There’s no looking down or looking up. It’s just the same level on every opponent and you are only as good as the last play as you made.”
The Sooners should get some reinforcements back in defensive tackle Jalen Redmond and safety Delarrin Turner-Yell, but Oklahoma is running out of time to turn things back around defensively before OU hits the meat of their schedule in November.
“I think it just starts up top with definitely the seniors on the defense and the older guys and the leaders,” Bonitto said. “We know we've got to be better, and I feel like as a collective if we're better, then everybody will be better. We've just got to be better at practice during the week.”
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