The strength of the Sooner team is in its secondary. That is saying something when you consider that Oklahoma lost Roy Williams, the best defensive back in the country to the Dallas Cowboys as the number eight pick in the recent NFL draft.
Yet, it is also the loss of Williams that is causing the biggest problem on the Sooner roster. At the end of spring practice the Sooners still weren't sure how they were going to replace the Jim Thorpe Award winner.
"We played Eric Bassey in Roy's position all spring and he did a good job, but there is no question that he also still has a long way to go," said Sooner defensive back coach Mike Stoops.
"Eric is a tremendous talent, but learning all the little things that go into playing that position will take time. Roy was so instinctive that it was easier for him. There are not many players like Roy and we can't ask Eric to be Roy Williams. If Eric plays up to his capabilities he will be a great player. He may play the position differently than Roy, but he will play well. Just how he plays it and just how we use the position is something that we will talk about over the summer. I think you will still see some wrinkles that we will throw in to help Eric and help our secondary."
There is so much scrutiny on Bassey that you get the feeling he didn't have a good spring and that the coaches are worried that he can play, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Bassey is a tremendous athlete that the OU coaches feel can be an All-American someday. He needs to get bigger, as he currently weights about 185 pounds, and OU Strength and Conditioning Coach Jerry Schmidt wants to put ten pounds on him before the start of next year.
Even with the ten pounds Bassey will not be as physical as Williams was last year, thus OU might have to come up with some other wrinkles with the position, especially against teams that are very physical.
"We are going to spend our summer really studying our personnel to determine the best way to use everybody and the best way to use our players in certain situation," said Mike Stoops. "Maybe Bassey can only play half the time in passing downs in our nickel package and we need to work a Michael Thompson, or Teddy Lehman into that look in some down and distances. We have a lot of good players and we will come up with the best way to use them. It may take one or it may take two or three players to replace Roy Williams, but we have enough good players to get it done anyway you look at it."
Heading into the double sessions, Bassey will be the starting strong safety with All-American candidate Brandon Everage at free safety. Everage didn't practice much in the spring, because of an injured arm. That allowed Thompson and Bobby Klinck to get a lot of work at FS and SS.
The only thing that hasn't totally returned for Thompson yet is his 4.5 speed. This summer Thompson should get most of his speed back. Thompson had a very good spring as it is and will be a factor next year.
Klinck is a player that really excites the OU coaches. He is a very intelligent player, who is a good athlete that doesn't mind laying a lick on a player.
Another former Jenks Trojan, Matt McCoy, is in the mix as well. McCoy played the nickel back last year and is a candidate to play that position again.
However, McCoy is going to get pushed by Antonio Perkins and the former
Lawton star is the ace-in-the-hole in the secondary. Perkins is one of the top three athletes on the team and the coaches will find a spot for him to play somewhere.
"Our biggest concern is to get our best players on the field," said Mike Stoops. "If our top four defensive backs are all cornerbacks, then we as coaches have to determine which two of those could get by playing safety.î
ìA perfect example will be how we use Perkins next year,î Stoops continued.. ìPerkins played corner all spring, because Derrick Strait had shoulder surgery, but Strait will be back in the summer and he is one of the best cover corners in the country. So, you figure that Andre Woolfolk and Strait will be the corners making Perkins the number three corner. So, at the start of two a-days we are going to work Perkins at safety and get him in the mix there. We have to find a way to get Perkins on the field."
It's a good bet that Perkins is going to take the nickel back spot away from McCoy and he could win the strong safety job outright and make Bassey the nickel back. No matter how it shakes out the Sooners will have tremendous depth at safety. Everage is one of the nation's best, Bassey and Perkins are tremendous talents, Klinck is a natural at safety and if totally healthy, Thompson can add a lot to this football team.
At corner, the Sooners will play with one of the nation's best in Woolfolk.
"We get so used to watching Woolfolk sometimes that we forget how good he really is," said Bob Stoops. "He concentrated only at corner all spring and really grew into the position. He has always been one of our best athletes on the team and now that he has totally committed himself to cornerback I don't think it is a stretch to say that we have another outstanding contender for the Jim Thorpe award."
Woolfolk and Strait will be one of the best cornerback tandems in the country and with Perkins as the third corner OU has some tremendous talent out on the island. However, Mike Stoops would like to have four corners that he can press into action and that fourth spot is up for grabs.
Jowahn Poteat was the favorite going into the spring, but he struggle badly at times, especially against bigger receivers. The final two weeks of the spring Brandon Jones beat Poteat so many times that you thought Jones had paid him off to fail to cover him. Poteat has excellent speed and adequate size, but he will have to improve in his cover skills to play a vital role at corner in 2002.
Poteat's struggles have left the door open for the two talented corners the Sooners recruited this past season. Both Michael Hawkins and Aaron Miller are excellent prospects, and both have the ability to step in and help as freshmen.
The key question is whether the OU coaching staff will use a year of eligibility for one of them if they are only going to get a few plays a game? This coaching staff has already proven that they will go with three players at a position instead of four or five if it means wasting a redshirt possibility.
When you think about the troubles the Sooners may have in the secondary, they are all good troubles to have. That is a good thing on any football team and certainly with Oklahoma. In every game they go into, OU will feel they have the edge in the secondary and that includes Texas with their three great wide receivers. Come to think of it those three Longhorns have yet to do much against the Sooner secondary over the last two years, so why should they expect too in 2002?
Spring Review: Woolfolk leads talented secondary
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