Athletic freshman DEs might play in 2012

NORMAN, Okla. -- At this time last year, Mike Onuoha was a relative unknown. He was a lanky former basketball standout who believed the hardwood was his destiny.

Charles Tapper was an AAU basketball standout from Baltimore with raw potential and a limited football background.

This August, the true freshmen are emerging as potential options at defensive end during their first semester on campus at Oklahoma.

“I am really happy with where they are at as freshmen because you know how tough the learning curve is for true freshmen, but they are fighting it,” defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright said. “Physically, they’re ready to play. If they can get the learning process done, they can help us right now. Both of those guys have a bright future ahead of them.”

Onuoha is wowing with his long arms despite being relatively undersized at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds.

“Mike is ridiculously athletic and long,” defensive end R.J. Washington said.

Tapper, meanwhile, is impressing with his quickness, strength and raw ability.

“Tapper hasn't tapped into all his talent yet,” defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland said. “He has amazing attributes as far as, like, running and strength-wise."

Said Washington: "[Tapper] never lifted a weight until he got here. I was like, 'You haven’t lifted weights and you look like that?' We lift weights year 'round and your body starts to mature so he’s going to get naturally strong.”

With Washington likely to join fellow senior David King as OU’s starters and Chuka Ndulue emerging as OU’s No. 3 defensive end, Tapper and Onuoha are battling to earn playing time behind the Sooners' top three defensive ends.

Regardless, both freshmen could carve a role in OU’s defense if he handles the mental and emotional challenge of playing early.

“I’d like to play them; they’re big, strong good looking guys,” Wright said. “Physically, they’re ready to play.

“If I can get them in tune with three or four calls and they can be in tune, go out and play fast and fly around in spot replacements, they can help us this year.”