Kerry Cooks is key to OU season

Trying to turn the secondary around is why Kerry Cooks has the most important job of anybody at OU this season.

The stakes were raised almost immediately. No kid gloves for the Oklahoma secondary, certainly wasn’t going to be the mentality of first-year defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks.

Cooks wasn’t going to shy away from it. He put it up for all the defensive backs to see – “114.” No. 114, the ranking of the OU pass defense for the 2014 season.

OU fans remember former cornerback Julian Wilson in a shouting match with Mike Stoops against Baylor. OU fans remember Jordan Thomas and Ahmad Thomas colliding into each other, allowing an easy Texas Tech touchdown.

In other words, there are a lot of bad memories from what happened last year that most want to forget and that Cooks is making sure the players don’t.

“It had a very big impact on us,” sophomore nickelback Steven Parker said. “We saw how bad we were as far as the Big 12 and nationally. It affected us. This summer we took that into consideration and said this isn’t good enough.

“OU has never been that bad on defense. This is our time. This is our time to be getting better.”

The changes were made. Mike Stoops left the secondary and cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright retired. Cooks is coming to OU from Notre Dame, and all he has preached about is communication.

Months later, and it’s still troubling/startling/(insert word here) that OU’s defensive backs met in separate meeting rooms last year. Corners didn’t know what safeties were seeing and vice versa. Sure enough, that showed up on the field.

The room is one under Cooks. The communication? That’s something we’re all going to find out as Cooks continues to stress verbal and non-verbal communication.

“He’s a guy that has really changed the mindset and mentality in our program,” graduate assistant coach Chip Viney said.

It had to happen. Because it wasn’t just about bringing Cooks into the program, the attitude did need a change. Essentially the same cast of characters who made OU No. 114 in pass defense is back for this season.

Some are older and wiser like Parker and Jordan Thomas. Another is the unquestioned leader of the secondary in cornerback Zack Sanchez.

But with so much returning, no idea if that was a good thing or a cause for concern? Enter the 2015 class to spice things up.

OU head coach Bob Stoops raved about the secondary class on signing day, calling it perhaps the best group he has ever signed. Now days away from the season starting, and we’re getting a better understanding of why that is.

If juniors like Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd cannot get the job done, there are options this time around. OU’s lack of depth was apparent in the secondary throughout last season.

Not the case this time. If somebody struggles, a young gun is going to get his shot, and it might be the only shot needed to be there permanently.

Cooks said he would have loved if all five of his true freshmen could play, but it sounds like it will be four of the five with cornerback P.J. Mbanasor and all three safeties – Kahlil Haughton, Will Sunderland and Prentice McKinney.

Mbanasor, Sunderland and Haughton are all listed as the backup at their spot on OU’s depth chart. In other words, they’re coming and maybe sooner than you think.

Offense grabs the headlines. Offense scores the points. But there’s a reason the adage is defense wins championships. Trying to restore the confidence and quality of OU’s secondary is the No. 1 challenge for OU in 2015 and the reason why nobody has a bigger responsibility than Cooks this season.

Players have appreciated his coaching technique, the way goes in-depth and makes sure the guys understand what is going on.

The start for Cooks and his crew is two days away.

“The biggest thing you have to be is one,” Cooks said. “It didn’t look like last year they were on the same page. When you’re not in the same (meeting) room, it makes it tough. We’re together. We’re one unit. We just have to keep working.

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