OU battles: Safety

Three incoming freshmen close in on two returners on the back end

Preseason camp nears for the Oklahoma Sooners, who are looking to rebound from what can only be described as a disappointment.

There’s new blood to lead the Sooners. On offense, Lincoln Riley begins his first season with Oklahoma and his first as a major conference coordinator. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops plans to work from the box this season and has two new assistants helping to mold the defense.

What happens on the field will be more important than what happens on the sideline, though. Oklahoma still has a few battles yet to be decided. Over the next week, Sooners Illustrated will examine those battles.

Safety battle - Hatari Byrd vs. Ahmad Thomas vs. Will Sunderland vs. Kahlil Haughton vs. Prentice McKinney

Who will be the starters?

Case for Hatari – Byrd has been held back ever since he got to Oklahoma. He hasn’t been given a chance to start. Once he gets more reps with the first team, he’ll shine and live up to his potential.

At least that’s what Byrd’s top apologists will say. Some of it’s true, though. Byrd will get his first chance to really compete for a starting job this season after playing in 18 games over the last two years.

Detractors say that he’s only averaging a tackle per game and has broken up just three passes.

Byrd finally has his chance – to fly or fall.

Case for Ahmad – Thomas has by far the most experience at the safety position. He’s got four times as many tackles as the rest of the group combined – although three don’t have a single game on the roster.

Most of that experience came with its share struggles. Thomas can definitely lay the boom, and that can be a game-changing talent for a safety. He also has a penchant for struggling in coverage – a game-changing problem.

Case for Will – The back end of Oklahoma’s defense needed an overhaul, and the Sooners got it with a stellar class of safeties. Sunderland was the highest-rated of the trio.

He most likely fits in at free safety with 4.58 40-speed, and standing at 6-foot-2, Sunderland is the biggest safety on the roster.

Case for Kahlil – A little more physical than the other two safeties coming in, Haughton looks like he could be a natural fit at strong safety – but could play either.

Right now though, it seems like he has the furthest to travel to earn a starting role.

Case for Prentice – McKinney has been getting a lot of attention from teammates during the latter part of summer workouts. He was mentioned by Eric Striker and Sterling Shepard during Big 12 Media Days.

He’ll likely enter camp with a chance at a starting spot but with a little bit of work to do.

Verdict – At least for the start of the season, Thomas is going to be one of the two starting safeties. Steven Parker isn’t included in this battle because he’s set as the starting nickel back.

When Parker moves back to safety on occasion then things could change.

It would seem logical that Parker would move to strong safety and remain an in-the-box presence. That could leave Thomas with another year starting at free safety.

The year probably starts with Thomas at free safety and Byrd at strong safety, but McKinney or Sunderland could earn a starting spot before the conference season begins. Byrd is the most likely casualty with McKinney starting at strong safety – replaced directly by Parker if the sophomore moves back to safety.

It’ll be a fluid situation, and the starter might not even earn the most playing time. Look for all five to play in a rotation.


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