NORMAN — The Oklahoma defense has undergone a physical transformation under Alex Grinch, and no player embodies that more than Perrion Winfrey.
The junior college transfer anchored the defensive line a year ago, despite not being fully up to speed with the defense due to the pandemic wiping out spring and summer football.
But now with a full offseason under his belt, Winfrey said he’s prepared to raise his game to the next level.
“It’s just great to be able to be around the defense and be able to actually able to feel like I’m getting the hang of things,” Winfrey said in a Zoom press conference at Wednesday’s OU Football Media Day. “It was just great being able to have a full spring and a full summer and I feel great going into fall camp.”
Winfrey said he’s been especially excited about his progress on the mental side of the game. At times last year in practice, Winfrey said he didn’t totally understand the call, but now he’s locked in physically and mentally.
“My on-the-field leadership and my off-the-field leadership has helped me a lot,” Winfrey said. “Being able to do what I need to do off the field so it doesn’t mess with my mind on the field.”
And Winfrey isn’t the only one who has noticed his jump in both football IQ and the leadership department.
“I believe Perrion has done a great job of accepting his role as one of the leaders of this defense,” linebacker Brian Asamoah said. “He’s excelled at his job just to get better every single day.
“Whether that’s in the spring or that’s in the summer. I like to give kudos to Perrion because he’s attacking it like it’s his last day here.”
As he looks to take the next step and actualize his NFL first-round potential, Winfrey hopes his mental jumps over the summer will translate to quantifiable production on the field.
Though he was a menace for opposing offensive lines last year, taking on double teams and making life easier for teammates Isaiah Thomas, Nik Bonitto and Ronnie Perkins to wreak havoc in opposing backfields, Winfrey’s impact rarely showed up in the box score.
The Maywood, IL, native finished 2020 with just 0.5 quarterback sacks and nine solo tackles. Perhaps most memorably, Winfrey had Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy dead to rights twice in last year’s Big 12 Championship game, and was unable to bring him down either time.
Winfrey said this offseason, he’s been pleased with how he’s managed his weight and how that will allow him to be more flexible and better move around the field and finish off more plays in 2021.
“I’ve been working on my balance, my hands, along with my strength so that I can have a great season this year,” he said.
Personal growth has led to Winfrey, alongside Thomas and Bonitto, stepping up as leaders this offseason. Thomas said it wasn’t actually a big adjustment for the trio, however, as they naturally felt like leaders last season.
“What I’ve seen from each and every one of us honestly is leadership,” Thomas said. We had to take on that load, take on that weight and it wasn’t even like a load in our opinion because it came so naturally to us after that last season that we had.”
But as they’ve grown as leaders, Thomas said the defensive line hasn’t lost sight of what made them so dominant in 2020.
“I can also say that sharpened up the things that we did good at,” he said. “I think that’ll pay off in the long run, mastering what we’re good at, and try to like wait on the things we’re not so good at.”
Behind Winfrey and Thomas, the question surrounding the Oklahoma defense is no longer if they’re any good, but how good they can be leading from the point of attack.
“We’re excited man,” Thomas said. “We’re excited to go out there this year.”
Want to join the discussion? Click here to become a member of the AllSooners message board community today!
Follow AllSooners on Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest OU news.