Jacob Lacey’s retirement marks early blow for Sooners’ first SEC defense

Jacob Lacey’s retirement marks early blow for Sooners’ first SEC defense

Oklahoma’s most-utilized defensive tackle last fall announced his medical retirement this week. What does that mean for the Sooners’ 2024 defense?

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Mar 4, 2024, 6:00am CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Mar 4, 2024, 6:00am CST

(This story originally appeared in Eli Lederman’s OU Week in Review. Receive Sellout Crowd in your inbox by subscribing here.)

NORMAN —  Still a couple of weeks out from spring camp, OU lost a member of the veteran core within the experienced defense the Sooners are set to return in the fall.

Brent Venables revealed that defensive tackle Jacob Lacey was expected to medically retire from football during an appearance on the Oklahoma Breakdown podcast earlier this week, referring to the development as a “devastating blow”.

On Thursday, the 6-foot-1, 282-pound defender confirmed the news himself as Lacey took to Twitter, revealing that he has suffered blood clots for the second offseason in a row.

“I’ve (had) two pulmonary embolism incidents in less than a year,” Lacey wrote. “Both times I was told I am lucky to be alive. The game I love was taken away from me, but I refuse to let it define me. Sooner nation, thank you for everything you have done for me and my family. God has a plan.”

Perhaps you remember Lacey’s story from last fall. My colleague Jenni Carlson chronicled it well when Lacey opened up to her about the blockages that threatened his life and football career months after he transferred from Notre Dame to OU. 

In the end, that health scare only robbed Lacey of summer workouts and fall camp. He played 15 snaps in the Sooners’ 2023 season opener, then started each of OU’s final 12 games. Lacey’s 17 total tackles ranked fourth among Sooners defensive linemen, and he logged a critical sack on Texas’ Quinn Ewers in the closing stages of OU’s 34-30 win over the Longhorns on Oct. 7.

For Lacey, the forced retirement represents a heartbreaking ending for one of OU’s quiet leaders and a player who was poised to play a big role in his final college season. Of course, Lacey’s health is paramount; he’s leaving football to protect it.

For the Sooners, Lacey’s exit leaves OU without its most used defensive tackle from last season (385 total snaps, per Pro Football Focus). Lacey was supposed to form an experienced tandem up the middle alongside Da’Jon Terry in 2024. Instead, OU hits spring camp already down a key piece up front. 

That likely means chances for returners Gracen Halton, Markus Strong and Ashton Sanders in spring camp and likely into the fall, as well. Ditto, perhaps, for five-star freshman David Stone and his former IMG teammate Jadyen Jackson, the three-star defensive tackle originally from Indianapolis. Defensive tackle may now also be a priority for the Sooners when the spring portal opens on April 16, too.

The Sooners have options on the roster and a chance to address the defensive tackle position through the portal next month. But there’s no softening the blow OU’s defensive line takes with Lacey’s pre-camp exit as the Sooners prepare to battle at the line of scrimmage in the SEC.

Here’s a few more roster notes from Venables’ podcast appearance with Gabe Ikard and Teddy Lehman:

  • Junior cornerback Gentry Williams will miss spring camp following offseason labrum surgery.
  • Dasan McCullough, the hybrid linebacker/safety, did not participate in winter workouts following a knee scope but is expected to be available for spring practices.
  • Justin Harrington, the veteran hybrid linebacker/safety, is still waiting on an eligibility waiver from the NCAA. Harrington appeared in two games last fall before undergoing season-ending knee surgery. 
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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at eli@selloutcrowd.com.

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