Oklahoma’s defensive line made significant strides in 2020 under Alex Grinch’s tutelage. The unit became one of the most formidable fronts in college football disrupting the pocket and harassing quarterbacks. The front four brought consistent pressure in Grinch’s ‘get up and attack’ style of defense.
Now, the linebacker group is looking to make the same impact in 2021. Middle linebacker David Ugwoegbu discussed with media via zoom how the defensive line set the standard last year and elevated the expectations for the second and third levels of OU’s defense.
“Gives us all the confidence. We have already known that about our defensive lineman and it just took the rest of the world … to catch up and finally realize it. That is exactly how we feel about this linebacker group. We have real vets in there: we got [Brian] Asamoah, D-White [DaShaun White], like you said Caleb Kelly. We got a whole bunch of guys that go under the radar but are real dogs. Everybody in that room can play. So, we already feel as if that is us, we just got to wake up the rest of the college football world.”
Ugwoegbu along with the linebacker corps. will be out for blood this upcoming season and it begins with the preparation and commitment during spring camp. Confidence breeds success and translates onto the gridiron. The main priority of growth for Ugwoegbu during the offseason is pass coverage.
“The main area that I see I need to improve in is my pass coverage. Whether it’s dropping into a zone or whether it’s just man [coverage] on a tight end or running back- that’s one area in my game that I’ve taken the time out for me and the whole linebacker position group- we’ve been putting in a whole lot more work. Working and focusing on our man protection, man coverages, and our zone drops and everything.”
Continuity and reps will benefit Oklahoma’s Mike. Ugwoegbu underwent a transition from edge rusher to middle linebacker in Grinch’s system. Instead of penetrating and bursting off the edge in a one-gap scheme, he has the responsibility of reading the offense and calling out formation strengths and signals to the rest of the defense. Ugwoegbu was no longer able to just react and collapse the pocket, but had to wait until the play developed. He is now the anchor in an increased leadership role.
“When the move happened and I got into linebacker, the coaches let me know from coach [Lincoln] Riley to coach [Alex] Grinch to coach [Brian] Odom … that this is what they wanted and that they have full faith in me playing linebacker here. So, I’ve just been focusing on that middle spot … I needed a confidence booster when I first got into the room because I went from playing rush end and not having to know much, to being the inside backer and you are pretty much the quarterback of the defense. So, I had to learn the whole defense through different eyes and I had to learn to be more vocal out there because I’m making calls to the D-Line and to the back end; communicating with both of them pre-snap.”
Oklahoma’s linebacker room is filled with veterans heading into 2021 and Ugwoegbu leads the charge.