An eye on 2013: Defense

As Oklahoma stares at the final four games of the regular season, the Sooners still have several goals, including a possible BCS berth, within reach.

Nonetheless, Oklahoma football is about championships. And a BCS title berth is out of the question and an outright Big 12 championship would require a Kansas State collapse down the stretch.

Therefore, now is a good time for the Sooners to starting thinking of 2013 as well as finishing off 2012 without another loss. Both goals can be accomplished if OU makes it a point to play some of the young players on its roster that it will be counting on in 2013. Here’s a look at five offensive players who should see more time in OU’s final four regular season and bowl game appearance:

Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips

The redshirt freshman had the best game of his career against Iowa State with four tackles as he saw significant time in the defensive tackle rotation. Several of his Sooners teammates have said Phillips is OU’s next star in the defensive interior.

With senior defensive tackles Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Stacy McGee completing their eligibility in these final five games, it is critical that the Sooners get Phillips as much game experience as possible in the final month. In OU’s first eight games, Phillips saw limited game action, mostly after the game got out of hand. Against ISU, he saw early action and tied Tony Jefferson for the halftime lead with four tackles in the first 30 minutes for the Sooners.

OU needs to continue making it a priority to get Phillips on the field.

Cornerback Gary Simon

Simon is a raw talent with a bright future. With Demontre Hurst coming down the home stretch of his OU career and Aaron Colvin with the option to leave early for the NFL, the Sooners need to get Simon some quality game experience.

He’s mainly played in blowout wins thus far this season but it would be wise of the Sooners to throw him into the fire with the first team defense at various times in their final five games to see how he responds. Teammates and coaches have been consistent in saying that experience is the missing link for the true freshman. OU can speed up his development by rotating him into the game early in the final month of the season.

Safety Quentin Hayes

Much like the cornerback position, OU features a senior safety and a junior who has played his way onto Mel Kiper’s list of top junior NFL prospects.

Hayes was just recently cleared to play in games after serving a suspension for much of the season. However, he was OU’s No. 3 safety when off-the-field troubles removed him from the depth chart.

OU needs to find out what it has in Hayes and know if he’s ready to contribute on the field. The fact he has been reinstated speaks well for his recent off-the-field behavior, but he needs to continue to be trustworthy off-the-field as well. Throwing him in the fire could give the Sooners a better feel if he’s trustworthy, on and off the field, or if they need to explore other options at safety, which has become a critical position in Mike Stoops' defense.

Defensive end Charles Tapper

OU will enter the 2013 season after losing two starters at defensive end for the second straight year. It’s quite possible the Sooners will need to turn to Tapper. OU decided not to redshirt Tapper for a reason and they should try to get the most out of this year of eligibility.

He’s played mop-up duty through the first eight games but the Sooners should give him one or two first-half series in each of their final five games. Tapper arrived on campus with limited football experience so the more time on the football field the better for the true freshman.

Defensive end Mike Onuoha

Much like Tapper, Onuoha has the opportunity to seize a starting spot as a sophomore in 2013. With his long arms and lanky frame, he brings physical traits that are unmatched by any other defensive end currently on campus. He just needs added experience.

He’s been listed on the depth chart for most of the season but has not seen extensive action in any games nor seen significant snaps with the No. 1 defense. OU could change that in these final five games and it would pay off in 2013 as Onuoha has shown signs of growth and development during his first semester on campus. It’s easier to go through the growing pains now instead of early next season.