Tulsa Football Position Preview: Defensive Line
Cullen Wick may not be able to replace fifth round NFL draft pick Trevis Gipson, but Wick has the opportunity to make his own mark. And that could be pretty darn good.
Often stuck behind Gipson for the past two years, it is time for Wick to showcase his ability fully for the first time since coming to Tulsa in the spring of 2018 from Blinn Junior College.
"Cullen Wick right now looks phenomenal," said TU coach Philip Montgomery. "He played a lot last year and did some good things. Probably one the most explosive guys we've got on our football team.
"I'm planning on him having a big year. He's a senior, it's time for him, he looks great. I think he has a chance to do some special things.”
Wick started three of his 12 games in Tulsa's three-man defensive line, and played some in passing situations. The 6-4, 260-pounder from Hallettsville, Texas, had 30 tackles last year and one tackle for loss.
Replacing Gipson of the Chicago Bears is especially noteworthy for the Golden Hurricane, considering it had been 24 years since a Tulsa defensive lineman, Sedrick Clark, was drafted (7th round, Oakland).
And it had been 31 years since any Tulsa DL had been drafted higher (Dennis Byrd, 2nd round, NY Jets). Linebacker Chris Chamberlain (7th round, St. Louis Rams) was the last Golden Hurricane defensive player who was selected, and that was 12 years ago.
"Obviously, replacing Trevis will be difficult," Montgomery said. "Some of those same questions happened a couple of years ago when nobody knew Trevis either. And Trevis kind of showed himself what he could do and what he could bring to the table."
Gipson had eight sacks and had 15 tackles for losses in 2019. He was a force that had to be accounted for.
Wick feels like he will be up to the task of starting in Gipson's place this year.
"Filling the hole that Trevis was in, I've got big shoes to fill," Wick said. "I'm ready for the challenge. I'm a competitor, so I'm going to play my game, and God is going to take care of the rest.
"I'm never going to compare myself to other people. Trevis is a great player and did great things, but you can't focus too much on that, trying to do everything someone else did.”
With expanded playing time, Wick and his teammates will have the chance to make plays. Wick and Montgomery both believe that will happen.
"This year, my expectations are to have a lot more big plays," Wick said. "This is my first year I'm going to be starting, so I need to be more of an impact player this year, and I need to make all of those big plays."
Wick is just one player who will need to step up for the Golden Hurricane defensive line this year. There are several young players who should be able to excel.
In Tulsa’s three-man defensive front, the other end spot is listed as defensive tackle, where a battle to replace departed starter Shemarr Robinson is going on between Deven Lamp and Anthony Goodlow, while NEO transfer Bryce Alonso has been working behind Wick.
"I think we've got a battle at defensive tackle," Montgomery said. "Deven Lamp is long, his strength has come on. I think he has a chance to be a physical presence for us."
Lamp is a 6-5, 250-pound redshirt junior that is from Cedar Hill, Texas. He has shown ability when he's played, but hasn't gotten enough playing time on the regular defense to have an impact.
Lamp's height and speed are prototypical of what teams like out on the edge, and he has shown flashes of that with a blocked punt, a sack, and 2.5 career tackles for losses.
Goodlow is another intriguing prospect. The 6-5, 256-pound redshirt sophomore from Del City came to TU weighing just over 200 pounds, like Gipson when he arrived. Goodlow has played in 14 career games, including all 12 last season.
"Anthony Goodlow does some really good things for us from a special teams standpoint," Montgomery said. "This kid was a safety type of body in high school, and now he came back, he's right at 260. He can really run, he's gotten to be extremely strong. I think he's the guy who can really come on and be that X-factor type of guy.”
The 6-4, 250-pound Alonso, a Bishop Kelley graduate, did well at NEO A&M in developing into a strong major college prospect in his two years in Miami. He enrolled early at TU in the spring.
"Bryce Alonso, who we brought in from NEO, I think spring ball obviously would have been beneficial for him," said Montgomery of Alonso's abbreviated spring ball due to COVID. "But he's working extremely hard right now. He's got to be a guy that kind of jumps in there and gets some things done as well."
"As you look at our D-Line, I think we're really solid at the nose spot," Montgomery said. "We've got a great anchor in the middle with both Jaxon and Tyarise."
Jaxon Player was an absolute monster of a player in high school at Midway in Waco, lighting up highlight films like few ever do. But standing six-feet tall, he was not recruited as heavily by the bigger schools as he should have been.
Player showed he belongs right from the start, playing immediately as a true freshman. He played in 10 games as a freshman, and started eight of nine games last season as a sophomore, missing three games due to injury. Player had seven tackles for stops behind the line in 2019, and his 35 tackles were second among defensive lineman at TU.
Stevenson, also known as Big Cat, shared time with Player last season, starting four of the 12 games he played. The 6-3, 343-pound senior had 17 tackles last season with one tackle for loss.
"With Jaxon Player coming back, I think he's a tremendous player for us," Montgomery said. "Big Cat's coming back, and with both you have two different styles of nose guards. Both are disruptive and bring a lot to the table. Those guys have got to anchor us inside."
Tulsa's defensive line has a lot of ability, and despite losing Gipson, should be ready to be disruptive to opposing offenses this season.