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Kerry Cooks' goal? Fresh defensive backs

Does the term starter become obsolete this year under Kerry Cooks?

Oklahoma fans are going to be wondering who the starting defensive backs are going to be in year No. 2 under Kerry Cooks.

Who’s going to be starting in that opposite cornerback position of Jordan Thomas? Who is replacing Zack Sanchez? P.J. Mbanasor or Dakota Austin?

It’s a valid question, but it might not have an actual answer. If you can accept that, things will be just fine.

Because Cooks doesn’t want a true answer. Cooks’ goal this year is to use every single body he has to help the collective group.

It’s not about starting this game or that game. It’s going to be about staying as healthy, as fresh as you possibly can against some of the most high-powered offenses in the country.

“I would say, if I had to say there’s a guy coming into it with a lead, it would be Dakota Austin,” said Cooks about who would be the starter. “But, in the back of my mind, I want that position to be open because I want to create that competition.

“I feel like I have some young guys who have just got here that I think, at least athletically, have shown the ability of playing at a high level. PJ has progressed, Dakota still needs to do things to show that he’s capable of being an every-down corner. To me, in my mind, I’m going to try to give that position a lot of opportunity. A lot of competition.

“And I want to get to the point where – when you are playing those offenses like Baylor when you are taking 100-plus snaps a game, I’d like to have four guys or maybe five that I can rotate in and roll in.”

That means everyone. Freshmen like Parnell Motley, Parrish Cobb and Jordan Parker. Transplant cornerback Michiah Quick in his first year at the position. It’s going to be the Cooks philosophy for the secondary.

There’s no way anybody can be a 100 percent for an entire game when you’re playing the likes of TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, etc. It’s not possible. But if you can a break here, get a break there, regroup and come back stronger? Everybody is better off for it.

In order to do so, though, it’s going to be about commitment. A commitment to ignore the conventional role of what being a starter means and focusing on what your part signifies the overall group.

It’s something Cooks used successfully at Notre Dame, and he started to put the idea into his guys’ heads in the spring that this will be the best way to get where they all want to be.

“The base philosophy is there is a thing, in my mind, to where we have a key starter, which is a guy who can play championship-level football for 50-70 plays,” Cooks said. “And then there’s a starter. Key starters are guys that you put a lot of pressure on and you rely on. And then the starters are guys who can come in and play winning football for you.

“They just may not be ready to take that next level and be a key starter, but if they can come in and take 15-20 reps off of you, that’s helping the team. I’ve started talking about it with the guys. I’ve showed them some things that I did at my previous institution, Notre Dame, and said ‘Hey, listen. You still want to get drafted and all these things and have some high hopes, let me show you some examples.””

Cooks said he believes the defensive backs are starting to buy into what he’s selling. It’s a mental thing. If Cooks can convince the secondary that he’s not trying to screw anybody out of reps or playing time but rather working to make sure you’re as fresh on the initial play of the first quarter as you are the final play of the fourth quarter, then he has done his job.

“We’re going to rep it in practice starting next week so the guys get a feel for it and understand that we’re just trying to give you a blow,” Cooks said. “You just ran 80 yards. Let PJ go in and take this series. You are OK. I just need to keep communicating with those guys about that stuff.”


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