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 end/outside linebacker Marcus Stripling
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Marcus Stripling came to Oklahoma with great expectations.
A consensus 4-star recruit in the 2019 class, Stripling was supposed to be on the front lines as the Sooner defense underwent a face lift.
Through his first two years in Norman, Stripling has been good, but he’s yet to establish himself as an every-down star.
After totaling eight tackles in 2020, 3.5 of which were for loss with two sacks, Stripling underwent a position change this offseason. The Houston, TX, product struggled to maintain the weight OU desired of him to play at defensive end, so Stripling slides out to rush linebacker in 2021.
“I was very excited about the move,” Stripling said during a spring post-practice media availability. “The only difference, the major difference between (defensive end) and (rush linebacker) is the rush drops (into pass coverage). But I wouldn’t say I had to majorly work on my drops. It’s just like, knowing where I have to be and when I have to be.
“At (defensive end) I really didn’t have to think that much, move a lot, do a lot. But rush just opened my eyes and made me more of a student of the game and just exceed and be better.”
Stripling made the transition to a new position sound easy, and his coaches praised how quickly he’s caught on to playing as outside linebacker throughout spring football.
“He's learning it, and the adjustment is going well,” outside linebackers and defensive ends coach Jamar Cain said during the spring. “He's actually getting better every single day.”
Despite Stripling’s struggles to maintain his weight, his explosiveness led the defensive staff to believe that he could still be an impact player for the defense.
“That's the beauty of (Alex Grinch’s) defense,” Cain said. “... We're going to adjust the defense to to you. So we moved Marcus over, and the only true difference is he's going to be dropping in coverages a little bit more, he'll have a little more freedom on his his pass rush stuff. We think Marcus is a 4.5 kid (in the 40), you know, and he can run, he's athletic. So he's in that mold of (Nik Bonitto).”
Without needing to obsess about keeping his weight up, Stripling can think more about improving on the field, he said.
“Not having to focus on forcing myself to eat or forcing myself to gain, it gives me a freer mind,” he said. “I can just go home and study strictly on football and strictly on getting better. But also, I still do focus on gaining weight, too, because it's still a problem. It's not like it's going anywhere. But it just helped me cope with the problem moving to rush.”
The mentality instilled in the defense by Grinch has helped the transition, Stripling said, as he’s asked to do similar things regardless of the position.
Stepping Up at Oklahoma:
“Our defense is an attack defense. ... We deliver the blow, we all try to fly to the ball, swarm the ball. So, it's just some fast kids,” Stripling said. “You play as a fast kid, it don't matter where you're at. As long as you play fast and you attack. And the defense has a couple changes, but it's nothing major.
“The major difference is literally the stance.”
The recruiting behind Stripling means he’ll have to continue to grow if he wants to play a major role this season. Bonitto will take the major share of the snaps, but Brynden Walker and Clayton Smith are waiting in the wings to take advantage of any snaps that get thrown their way.
Walker was a 3-star recruit the Sooners landed out of Bishop McGuinness High School in Oklahoma City, and has speed off the line of scrimmage that the coaching staff liked in his recruitment.
When the Sooners landed Smith out of Texarkana, TX, many believed he would be the heir to Bonitto’s spot with his build and explosiveness.
But Stripling has a key advantage — experience.
And now he’s got one of the nation’s best pass rushers to learn from in Bonitto.
“I’ve just seen Nik everyday improve his craft. I’ve seen him work and I just see him really add that ‘it’ factor, add all the extra, little things he came back to get done and accomplish, he’s really doing them,” Stripling said. “He’s a tremendous leader. I see his get-off and his speed off the ball. It’s just amazing. He’s just out there every day trying to hone his craft and make it better.”
If Stripling can continue to develop on the outside, the Sooners will not only develop even more quality depth behind Bonitto, but they’ll have a guy who can push him to be even better each day in practice.