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Brent Venables Q&A
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Defensive coordinator Brent Venables Talks About 2009 Sooners
Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables has seen a little bit of everything during his 10 seasons as assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma. But last season probably left him a bit dizzy, as the Sooners squared off against 11 of the nation’s top 50 scoring offenses.
Basically every Saturday was a major challenge for Venables and the Sooner defense. They hardly had time to catch their collective breath while facing a gauntlet that included the likes of Cincinnati, Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas Tech, Kansas, Texas Christian and Florida.
Things don’t figure to get much easier in 2009, but the Sooners should be ready with 10 full or part-time starters back on defense and with hopes of avoiding the injury bug that has taken its toll over the last two seasons.
Sooner Spectator caught up with Venables a few days after he came off the recruiting trail this summer and talked to him about the upcoming season and the promise of the OU defense.
Sooner Spectator: First of all, are you happy with the offseason, the way spring football went and the overall evaluation period?
Brent Venables: As a staff, I think we feel great about the way we’ve progressed. We addressed some areas where we felt some improvements needed to be made by certain players in areas that may have been perceived as weaknesses, and we got the chance to look at some guys who are going to have the chance to step up and show what they can do this season. I really felt we accomplished most of the things we set out to do going into the spring, even though we were missing some (injured) guys we obviously would have liked to have had out there.
SS: What have been some of the bright spots from the spring and the offseason?
Venables: One thing, we established we’ve got four safeties who can step in and play for us. We really felt good about Quinton Carter and Sam Proctor, and the consistency they played with throughout the spring. Desmond Jackson is another young guy who looked good, along with Emmanuel Jones who showed he may have a chance to be in the mix as well. We’re awfully thin at that position where experience is concerned, and going into the spring that was probably the overall biggest area of concern. But we have some talent there.
On top of that, developing the depth at linebacker has been a key. I thought we had great competition throughout the spring at that position, as well, which really enhanced our ability to do that. Austin Box and Ryan Reynolds are a big part of our group going into this season, but they were absent from spring and that really provided an opportunity for some guys who have not played a whole lot or even played at all to get in the mix.
SS: How much did it help to have the three incoming freshman linebackers — Ronnell Lewis, Jaydan Bird and Tom Wort — in camp to help fill in some of the gaps?
Venables: No question, them being here will be beneficial to their early development as we head into next season. Obviously, they were in the process of making that initial transition from leaving home to going to college, but between offseason conditioning, learning the new language, getting some reps and earning the trust of their teammates -— that time allowed them to accomplish a lot of things that are so important. We’re pleased with where all three of those guys and where they’re at, and really with how they’ve competed since day one. We feel all three of them have bright futures in some capacity with what we’re doing.
SS: When you have key guys missing in the spring like Austin Box, Ryan Reynolds, Auston English and DeMarcus Granger, can you get a good sense of the chemistry you have on defense?
Venables: Of course, you’d love to have all of those guys out there competing every step of the way because all four of them will play a big part in what we are doing this fall. But that being said, you get a chance to look at and evaluate a lot of other guys who maybe wouldn’t get the same opportunity in a different situation. Fortunately, we’ve got a good sense of what we have chemistry-wise. The core of our defense has been together for a while, and they know each other well and like each other and know how to push each other’s buttons.
SS: How important is the summer program to the overall success of the team as it heads into a new season?
Venables: I believe it creates a situation where the players come back in terrific shape with great attitudes, having attacked the weaknesses and made the gains in the areas they needed to. It helps them become consistent on how they go after it every single day. We’re not really able to really quantify it outside of where are you at when you come back in the fall, both mentally and physically. I think it takes a certain amount of maturity for them to realize how important the offseason program is, and then to go out and take advantage of every opportunity they have throughout the course of the summer. As much as anything, we can kind of determine what kind of commitment they had based on where they’re at.
SS: With all the talent and experience on the defensive front, how special can that bunch be?
Venables: Well, it definitely has a chance to be a great strength for us this season, especially with the experience we have coming back. We still need to do a better job overall of containing the quarterback and maximizing our opportunities. They were very disruptive last season and I think we were in the top 5 in tackles for losses and sacks, and they were a big part of that. But we need to be better from a consistency standpoint. I think we counted up where we missed 28 opportunities where we had at least one or two hands on the quarterback and gave us opportunities for sacks. And that was most evident in the games where teams had us on our heals — whether it was Texas or Florida or Oklahoma State, and the first half against Kansas State — their quarterbacks were able to run around with too much consistency.
That’s the biggest challenge for our front four — to come back and be better and more consistent against some really good quarterbacks. One of our main areas of emphasis this spring and this coming fall is making sure we take better advantage of our opportunities when we get good pressure on the quarterback. We’ve got to be able to take advantage of our athleticism and counter some of these mobile quarterbacks — just do a better overall job of containing them.
SS: What do you like about those guys?
Venables: I saw Frank (Alexander) really improve his fundamentals and technique during the spring. He was young last year, but he makes a lot of good things happen. The key for him is being able to line up for 50-60 snaps and play winning football. We obviously have to keep Auston English healthy because we’ve seen what he can do when he’s at the top of this game. He proved two years ago that he can be a premier playmaker, but he’s had some setbacks with injuries and we’re looking for him to be at 100 percent this fall.
We really felt that Jeremy Beal probably, along with Gerald (McCoy), had the best spring out of those guys. Jeremy really continues to get better and better, and more polished. We expect big things from him.
(Editor's Note: This is a portion of an interview that appears in the 2009 Football Preview edition of Sooner Spectator. To read more, subscribe today by calling toll free 1-877-841-8877)