The story in the Sooner secondary centers on how is Oklahoma going to replace one of the greatest players in it's storied history in Derrick Strait, big-play safety Brandon Everage, and how a former Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini is going to fit in as a the Co-Defensive Coordinator and secondary coach for the Sooners.
"I am not a story at all this spring, so don't include me in that group, "said Coach [Bo Pelini. "My situation is easy and a good one for me. I am working with total pros in Brent Venables, Jackie Shipp and Bobby Jack Wright. We all want the same thing, and that is to win the Big 12 and National Championship. We all love to coach and share ideas, and we all want the common goal, which is to be the best defensive in the country. These guys have been doing a good job of that before I got here and they really don't need me. My job is to come in, fit in and just do the best job I can."
How the Sooners replace Strait is the big question. And actually, that question won't be totally answered until the fall when junior college All-American Chijioke Onyenegecha fully recovers from a torn hamstring and can fully participate in drills.
"I am not sure what we will get out of Chijioke this spring," said Pelini. "His rehab is going well, but that is such a delicate injury and I don't think he has turned it loose yet. I think he can do some drills with us, but I don't think we will let him turn and run at full speed. Eric Bassey has to get the first shot anyway. He has started before at safety here and in his one start at corner last year he played very well, coming up with an interception for a touchdown. Darien Williams will also start out at corner, but he looks like he could be a real good safety as well. Darien is a very good young defensive back that has really impressed the defensive staff. He had a tremendous offseason and has grown into a very big corner or safety. He really competes and gets after it, and I am looking forward to coaching him."
There is no question who will play the wide side corner as Antonio Perkins returns for his senior season.
"Antonio is a proven player for us and a guy that has all the talent in the world," said Pelini. "He has closing speed and the ability to change directions and cover. I think he can improve some in this area and he can get a little more physical, but he is well aware of those things and has worked hard this off-season to try to get into that position.
Junior Jowahn Poteat figures to back Perkins on the wide-side. Despite the loss of Everage, the Sooners appear in good shape at safety. Brodney Pool had a break out year last season and he has his weight up to 208. Donte Nicholson was super in his junior college transfer year playing the 'Roy' position and free safety for the Sooners. The key will be finding a third safety, when the Sooners go to five DBs, and Tony Cade will get that first opportunity.
"Obviously, Brodney Pool and Donte have more than proven themselves, and we have some good young safeties that are ready to get into the mix," said Pelini. "Tony Cade and Jason Carter are two outstanding young safeties for us, and senior Brandon Shelby has been more than adequate as a nickel back. Every time he gets on the field he makes things happen and makes plays. Look for him to get into the action a little bit more as well."
"Tony has had a solid freshman year up to this point. He needs to learn the language in the secondary, and that would help his understanding of the defense and where he needs to fit," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "Tony is a big, strong, active, physical player with tremendous range and a lot of great natural instincts. His biggest hurdle will be the mental aspect of it and learning the defense. There is a mature side of him that can ride the ups and downs while he improves on a daily basis."
This secondary will miss Strait more than they know, but so will the entire defense. Onyenegecha may be the answer in the future, but Bassey is talented enough to make a strong run for the starting spot himself. Cade needs to really learn the defense, but once he does he becomes the next great safety at Oklahoma. Watching Pelini will be fun, but I think he is right. It will be more fun watching the competition at corner and safety.
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