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April 17, 2014

Grissom ready to embrace change on defense

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When the clock struck zero in New Orleans, Oklahoma senior Geneo Grissom seemed a shoo-in for Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player.

Against No. 3-ranked Alabama, he sacked former Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron 2.5 times. He broke up a pass and recovered two fumbles -- including one returned for a touchdown that helped secure the 45-31 victory.

He has watched the game twice since.

"It's just one of those things where you watched it the first time," Grissom said. "The first time I was watching it with my mom and I kind of got a little teary eyed.

"The second time I was just watching it with friends. It's just one of those things where you can't dwell on it because it's over and you've got to get ready for next season."


As a junior defensive end, Grissom racked up 40 tackles with 4.5 sacks, four pass breakups, two fumbles recoveries and an interception. In the previous two seasons, he'd record only nine tackles -- combined.

Grissom's performance in the Sugar Bowl turned heads and got the OU coaching staff thinking. In the last week of spring football practice, OU coach Bob Stoops revealed Grissom had been moved to outside linebacker, and he loved it.

Grissom has already picked out an NFL player he's trying to emulate on the field.

"Definitely guys like DeMarcus Ware. He'll go down as a legend," Grissom said. "If I can come off the ball like he does and still be fast and stay low then I think I'll be just fine."

So would Stoops and company.

Grissom said it's every defensive end's dream to stand up on the outside and play the bookend backer with the expressed goal of wreaking havoc in the opposing team's backfield.

He also said playing outside linebacker gives him more of an advantage than playing defensive end when it comes to pass rushing.

"I'll be playing against guys who aren't as big," Grissom said. "I'm used to going up against 300-pound guys. I'll be mostly lined up against tight ends. Those guys definitely don't weigh 300 pounds so I think I'll have the advantage there."

OU linebacker coach Tim Kish has liked having Grissom in his meeting room. He praised Grissom's work ethic and skill at the position.

"He's been great," Kish said. "It's a learning experience for him, you know, you go from a three-point stance to a two-point stance, there's a little bit of a learning curve, but he's doing a good job in there right now. We've gotta keep working on him, getting him ready for the summer and for the fall."

Kish thinks Grissom will see time at the position next season. He mentioned one of the reasons he's excited about adding Grissom to the linebacker corps is his size.

Playing against the bigger tight end sets the Sooners saw during much of last year and against talented pass-catching tight ends like former Texas Tech man Jace Amaro left OU at a disadvantage at outside linebacker.

While junior Eric Striker emerged as one of the better pass rushers in the country, his 6-foot, 220-pound frame limited his ability to defend the pass.

"Well, yeah, what he gives us is a big presence on a tight end in there, which is what we needed," said Kish of Grissom. "We learned that last season with Eric. We had to make some adjustments there. This gives us an opportunity really match up better all the way across the board, where we had some issues with tight ends a year ago."

The Sooners seemed to have issues everywhere following their loss to Baylor last season. But they pulled together, formed and identity on offense and defense and rode wins against Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State into a BCS bowl berth only to shock college football with yet another big win.

Now, with spring football over and done, the Sooners are poised to play another memorable season. Grissom said OU is in the midst of the best offseason the team has had in his four years on campus.

"We had a lot of guys who stepped up and working hard," he said. "Nobody's missing workouts. Everybody's being accountable. Guys are learning new positions and making the most of it."

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