Each Saturday this summer, SI Sooners examines 10 players on the Oklahoma roster who can elevate their ceiling in 2021 with a big offseason. Today: defensive lineman Jalen Redmond.
Jalen Redmond has the talent. That’s never been a problem. But now the Oklahoma defensive lineman just needs to catch a break.
“Everybody’s story is different,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, “and he’s gonna have a heck of one at the end of this deal.”
For starters, he could use a perfectly normal offseason — one with no blood clots and no pandemics. Just lots of weightlifting and running and working on his technique.
If that happens, it seems likely that Redmond will be able to elevate his game in 2021 and become the defensive force up front that Sooner Nation has been waiting to watch.
“Very talented young man,” said defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux. “He’s one of those guys that can find the ball. Put him out there, he’s going to find the ball. For him, it’s just getting his legs under him.”
Redmond reluctantly opted out of 2020 because he was genuinely afraid of the unknowns around COVID-19 and its potential effects on the respiratory system. His fears were not unfounded: he missed most of the 2018 season because of blood clots that reached his lungs and threatened his life.
“It's a respiratory thing,” Redmond said, “and with my past history with blood clots and those things, me and my family just thought it was the best idea to sit that one out. It was — shoot, one of the hardest decisions I had to make.”
Redmond said the decision to sit out was “especially tough” because he was coming off such a strong 2019 season, when he led the team with 6.5 quarterback sacks and ranked third on the squad with 11 tackles for loss.
But a lot of that early success came on a defense that wasn’t exactly loaded with depth and talent.
Now, Redmond looks around and he sees upgrades everywhere — real competition at every position — and everyone expects Redmond to be an impact starter.
Senior Isaiah Thomas paid his dues and became a reliable playmaker last year whether it was at end with Ronnie Perkins suspended or at tackle after Perkins came back. Senior LaRon Stokes has plenty of talent and experience at tackle (15 career starts) and expects to be healthy this season after missing time last year with what Lincoln Riley called “significant” knee injuries. Fourth-year junior Jordan Kelley, junior Josh Ellison and third-year sophomore Kori Roberson earned playing time last year and all were disruptive. Sophomore Reggie Grimes has shown plenty of promise at end. And there are other newcomers who are waiting in the wings to play both inside and on the edge.
The room is more crowded than ever, so Redmond needs to have a good offseason.
Redmond could play either the defensive end or the defensive tackle position. Although he could start at either spot (he’ll open up at tackle), he also could switch off at both with his roommate, Thomas.
During his year off Redmond went from 266 pounds to 284. Was that all good weight — all muscle — to help him hold up at tackle? Or does he need to shed a few pounds to be able to move on the edge?
“He puts in the work,” Thomas said. “He’s curious to learn more. He’s another one of those guys who wants to play more than just that one position. He wants to play inside, edge, all that. It’s very exciting to have him back.”
“The strides he has made since he’s been back has been great to see. Nothing short of what he was before when he was playing with us.”
Riley said Redmond did a good job in a lot of areas during spring practice.
“He's been disruptive as he's always been,” Riley said. “He's always been a pain in the butt to block and that certainly hasn't changed. I think he's just really in a good place. Just all parts of it. Physically, mentally, just everything. He's just in a really, really good place.”
A big part of Redmond’s journey so far at OU came last winter when he returned to the team for the Cotton Bowl. He agreed that he would not play — that wouldn’t have been fair to the guys who were on the roster all season — but just returning to the locker room and contributing to the scout team had an impact.
“I do think him coming back was big, not just for Jalen but also when the team saw that,” Riley said. “It said a lot to his teammates for him to come back and do that, to practice, to want to help us be ready to go play Florida and beat Florida. I think it was a really positive thing for him and for just the team and the team chemistry.”
Redmond was obviously a little behind when he came back, but it didn’t take him long to catch up.
Now, it’s about taking the next step, elevating his ceiling and fulfilling the recruiting potential that earned him 5-star status from 247 Sports when he played Oklahoma high school football at Midwest City. He was regarded as the No. 16 overall recruit in the nation, the No. 3 weak side defensive end and the No. 2 prospect in Oklahoma when he chose the Sooners over Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU and others.
“It’s fun to see him around this building,” Grinch said. “You think you missed him in the moment, then you see him and — wow.”
“When we roll our best guys out there,” said Thibodeaux, “certainly, he's one of them. Just expecting big things from him this year.”