NORMAN, Okla. — DaShaun White’s athleticism turned heads as he played in every game his freshman season, making him a name to watch for Oklahoma moving forward.
Expectations around him shifted in April, when the Sooners announced starting weakside linebacker Caleb Kelly would miss significant time this season due to a major injury.
White could have been one of OU’s breakout players in 2019-20 regardless of Kelly’s status, but appears even more of a candidate now with linebacker depth weakened.
“There's a group of guys, the Ryan Joneses of the world, the DaShaun Whites, the Bryan Meads, the Brian Asamoahs that maybe thought their role was gonna be a little bit different this year,” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “Now I hoped they attacked [the spring] as if they were gonna be starters or contributors already.”
White has moved linebacker positions in the wake of Kelly’s injury, but can play both the strong and weakside spots.
“DaShaun in particular's gotten reps at both Mike and Will this spring,” inside linebackers coach Brian Odom said. “We've had a number of guys that have taken multiple reps at multiple positions — Bryan Mead can play both, Kenneth Murray can play both, DaShaun can play both.
“Those guys that are pretty savvy have a chance to be able to play both of them because in the same room and when we talk about it, it's kind of a whole defensive point of view, so everybody in that room should know both positions. It shouldn't be that big of a learning curve for him.”
White will be relied on regardless of his exact position, in a defense that has a number of vacancies in Grinch’s first season. Outside of Murray, leadership roles and playing time are there for the taking with the Sooners shifting to a new defensive era.
“I want to be one of the type guys on this defense, continue to step into a leadership role I’m sort of easing into,” White said. “Anything the team needs I want to be that guy.”
He’s seen a lot so far.
White’s only been with the unit one season, but it was tumultuous at times with swirling questions about OU’s wilting defense. It culminated with the firing of former defensive coordinator Mike Stoops in October, and a lot changed in the spring.
“We’re not tolerating those regular, average days,” White said. “Us having an average day on defense is something we’re getting in trouble for. It’s not accepted around here, and it’s the way we’re trying to change the culture. You can tell just being in the program this year from last year that the bar is being raised. There’s a lot of things that were accepted then that aren’t accepted now.”
Coaches have always been encouraged by his athleticism. Physically, he wasn’t asked to change much from a year ago — he was virtually the same size at 6 feet, 225 pounds in the spring.
Before Tim Kish departed as OU’s inside linebackers coach, White was told Kish had been harder on him than perhaps anyone else. That hints toward White’s potential, the kind that made him four-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American out of North Richland Hills (Texas) High School.
Before he became injured, Kelly saw that talent for himself.
“DaShaun White is a guy who can definitely play,” Kelly said.