129 reps. 129 seconds. 129 yards.
First-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch revealed Friday that in the spring he and strength coach Bennie Wylie would have their defensive players do rep counts that added up to 129, OU’s pass defense rank in 2018. The rank was at the bottom of the FBS.
It was one of the efforts to remind the players of what they were last year and motivate them to become better. The success of the product on the field will have more to do with the changes made to the culture and mentality than the schematic plan, Grinch said at OU’s media day.
Grinch and Co.’s effort of changing the culture and mentality on defense — a tough task to accomplish in just seven months of having a new coach — primarily hinges on balancing realism with instilling confidence in the players. It’s a combination of recognizing past failures but also realizing that all that can be done is taking steps to improve in the future.
“(No. 129) is just one of those types of things that is a motivation because we get tired of hearing it but as a defense we know what we were last year,” cornerback Tre Norwood said. “We can’t change the past so we just have to do each and every thing to keep moving forward and improve in the future.”
As the team makes the transition to fall camp and prepares to play Houston in the season opener on Sept. 1, last year’s failures on defense will certainly not be the focus.
The reality of the situation is that the Sooners’ new-look defense is one month away from taking the field in front of skeptical eyes on their home field. Grinch pointed out that “no one cares that it’s the first year of the defense” and said there is “not enough (good) to say we’re ready to play a football game.”
“He understands that's the reality of what it is,” defensive lineman Neville Gallimore said. “That's the label that people have of us and that needs to change immediately. He doesn't sugarcoat it, he doesn't half ass it. It is what it is and we got to be better.”
The next month of camp will presumably be a major determinant in which 11 players earn starting spots to start the season. Competition is high across the board, however the goal is to get as many players as possible to be in a position to compete on Saturdays, Grinch said.
"The more bodies that you have, not just competing for starting spots but competing for roles is certainly an important element for us,” Grinch said. “We didn't take a lot of stock in what's happened in the past. That's the responsible thing to do... open-minded for those guys, fresh start.”
The Sooners are currently the favorites to win their fifth straight Big 12 title and third under head coach Lincoln Riley, despite the defensive questions, as well as the loss of four NFL-caliber offensive linemen and Heisman trophy winner Kyler Murray. Riley made it clear at the Big 12 media days that he doesn’t see a drop off in offensive production, meanwhile Grinch — despite mentioning how difficult it is to play defense in 2019 — understands the expectations going forward.
"The standard at Oklahoma is to be the absolute best," Grinch said.