Scheme changes, Phillips spark OU's D

NORMAN, Okla. --Oklahoma’s defense had more question marks than strengths heading into the 2013 season. After three games, a bunch of those questions have been answered and the Sooners defense has been the most impressive unit on the team.

Here are five things we’ve learned about OU’s defense during the first three weeks of the season.

1. The scheme changes are paying off. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops debuted the Sooners' three-man front in the season opener, validating rumors that began last January. It has been wildly successful thus far. OU’s defense looks faster and more disruptive than it ever did in 2012 with the addition of linebacker Eric Striker as a pass-rushing threat. Add to that the change from a two-gap to one-gap scheme along the defensive line, which has helped create better penetration into opponents backfields, and the Sooners defense is looking pretty stout heading into their much-hyped game against Notre Dame. The game against the Fighting Irish could define the scheme changes, particularly if ND tries to play power football against OU’s 3-3-5.

2. The defensive interior is better than we thought. Nobody doubted defensive tackle Jordan Phillips' potential; he flashed it several times during his redshirt freshman year. During the first three games of his sophomore campaign, Phillips has been superb yet still has the ability to take his game to another level. Add Quincy Russell, Torrea Peterson and Jordan Wade into the mix and all of a sudden OU’s defensive interior looks deep and talented.

3. Charles Tapper could be a special player. Now, everyone sees why the Sooners’ coaching staff began to rave about Tapper as soon as he stepped on campus. He’s unusually instinctive for a player with such a limited football background and his unique physical talents could result in him playing on Sundays. He’s strong, quick, fast and aggressive. Once he truly learns how good he can be, look out.

4. OU’s veteran safeties won’t lose their jobs anytime soon. Senior Gabe Lynn has been a playmaker for the Sooners at safety, and backfield mate Quentin Hayes has brought range and coverage skills to the secondary. True freshman Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas created plenty of buzz during the summer, but they face a tall task to supplant Lynn or Hayes in the starting lineup.

5. Maybe the Sooners do have quality linebackers. Senior Corey Nelson and sophomore Frank Shannon rank 1-2 in tackles for the Sooners. Nelson leads the squad with 20 tackles, including three tackles for loss and a sack. He’s added three passes defensed and two quarterback hurries, a sign of his versatility. Shannon has 19 tackles, including one tackle for loss and two hurries. That duo along with Striker have been extremely productive on the heels of a 2012 season that saw the linebackers disappoint and go largely unused.