The Oklahoma football team will go into spring practice with more experience than they had a year ago and feeling very good about three positions in the secondary.
OU feels they have a star in the making in short field corner with D.J. Wolfe, who before his career is done will earn All Big-12 honors and possibily All-American honors. OU almost pulled Brian Jackson out of redshirt several times, so now they get a chance to throw him into the fire at the wide side corner, especially with junior Marcus Walker out once again this spring with shoulder surgery.
At safety, the Sooners return both starters in junior Darien Williams and sophomore Reggie Smith, plus two talented young players in Nic Harris and Keenan Clayton that the Sooner coaches are very high on. Throw in senior Jason Carter, sophomore Bret Bowers and true freshman Quenton Carter, and the Sooners are loaded with talented players at safety.
There is tremendous speculation on whether Smith will move to corner in the spring. Smith goes into the spring as the starter at stong safety, but he will be more than just an emergency corner this spring.
"I am not going to say that he is an emergency corner. I am not going to say that at all," said OU Co-Defensive Coordinator and secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright. "We will find out this spring exactly what he should be. With time or enough snaps, we might find out his best position his corner. I can't say that until we spend a little time with him and put him for a few more snaps than he has been there. I wouldn't say one way or the other that it is etched in stone. Reggie will absolutely get a look at corner this spring."
Coach Wright feels that the group of athletes that he will have in the secondary this spring will more than hold their own athletically.
"We are happy with this whole group," said Wright. "They have some physical ability about them, they are a smart group and are all good students and they all learn well. We are excited about them. We have one of the best secondary groups in the Big 12. We have three starters coming back and then you throw in Jason Carter who got some good playing time and experience and Nic Harris and there are five guys there that played quite a bit last year. That was certainly different than going into this fall when we had only one player who had played there."
The Sooners also plan to work on more man coverage this spring. That doesn't mean the Sooners are going away from their zone blitz principles, but with teams spreading three and four wides all over the field, OU will counter more next year with man coverage.
"You can't be an all-man team anymore and you can't be an all-zone team either," said Wright. "You have to be able to play both and you have to be able to play both well. If you are just one thing or the other it is pretty easy for the opponent to zero in on you, and they know where your weaknesses are in man and they know where your weaknesses are in zone. So you don't want to give anybody a steady diet of anything.
"We played a little more man this past year than we have played in the last four or five year simply because of the ability to blitz. We want to be able to bring pressure and then cover people up in the back end. It is not necessarily what they are doing offensively from a personnel standpoint, as it is what fits us the best. Plus, we want to be able to be more multiple and present more problems for the offense."
The keys this spring in the secondary will be whether Clayton and Harris can show enough to be major factors at safety next season. If they can, then Coach Wright and OU head coach Bob Stoops can seriously consider moving Smith to corner. Smith is going to start somewhere in the secondary and by the end of the spring we should have more of an idea of whether that will be at safety or corner.
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