Spring Position Preview: Cornerback

Can Antonio Perkins (pictured left) fill the shoes left by Andre Woolfolk? Oklahoma Co-Defensive Coordinator and Secondary Coach Mike Stoops answers that question and breaks down where the OU defensive backs stand heading into the start of spring practice

NORMAN, Okla. -- Going into spring practice the Oklahoma Sooners will be looking to add some much needed depth at cornerback. Gone is the graduated Andre Woolfolk, who played so well over the past two years as the Sooners wide-side cover corner. Woolfolk is currently projected as a first round draft choice in the upcoming NFL draft and is a talent who excelled on special teams. The Sooners also lost prized freshman cover corner Michael Hawkins, who decided to leave the team.

However, the Sooners have talent returning in All-American candidate Derrick Strait. Strait is considered a better pure cover corner than Woolfolk and is being projected as a top 10 pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Strait will be a rare four-year starter when he graduates in 2004, and will leave as one of the best cornerbacks ever to play for the Sooners.

"Derrick has been a standout player for us the since his freshman year. We don't think there is a better corner in the country," said Co-Defensive Coordinator and secondary coach Mike Stoops. "Derrick has a great knack for breaking on the ball and his coverage ability is amazing at times. We lock him up most of the time with a receiver on the short side and Derrick eats him up. He does a great job of jumping routes, which does get him in trouble at times, but for the most part it allows him to come up with big plays. Derrick is coming off shoulder surgery, which will improve his ability to play greatly his senior year."

There is no question Strait will man the short-side corner, but there is also no question who takes over for Woolfolk.

"Replacing Andre is a little bit easier for us, because we will just move Antonio Perkins back into his natural position," said Stoops. "Antonio has been biding his time at deep safety for us and he played well there, but he is a natural corner and now will get his opportunity to show what he can do."

Losing Hawkins cost the Sooners in a couple of areas. Not only was Hawkins the future star at wide-side corner for the Sooners, but it left the Sooners with questions mark behind Strait and Perkins.

"Hawkins was the best young cover corner that I have ever coached," said Mike Stoops. "I have no idea how he would have turned out in the future now that he has left the program, but as far as a freshman cornerback, I have never seen a more natural cover corner than Michael. We are looking to develop some corners and we are moving Eric Bassey to cornerback from strong safety probably for the remainder of his career."

Oklahoma recruited Bassey as a corner, but played him at strong safety this past season in an effort to get one of their most athletic defensive backs on the field. However, playing in Roy Williams' footsteps proved to be too much for Bassey to handle, and he never seemed to adjust to playing safety.

"Cornerback is his natural position and he is excited about moving back to corner," said Mike Stoops. "He gave us some size and speed inside, but he lacks the knowledge or instincts to play strong safety. A true safety is a little more natural at playing inside with their vision and Eric sees things a little bit better outside. He has tremendous speed as he is one of the fastest guys we have on the team. We figure he will be a great cover guy and he is a good run support guy as well. He will be a guy who will be a factor in there at cornerback."

Bassey figures to be a solid number three corner, but even that is not a certainty. Finding others who could figure in the cornerback picture is a must this spring.

"Jowahn Poteat is the other guy who we think has a chance to really develop," said Mike Stoops. "We think he has great skills, but again he is just a sophomore who hasn't played much for us. Mark Bradley is a guy who has been an interest for me over the winter workouts so far. You look at the numbers he has put up this off-season and they are very good. He played receiver last year for us and we used him as an option quarterback for our scout team. Mark was ineligible because he transferred from Arkansas Pine-Bluff, but we feel like he has a chance to really help us in the secondary."

The Sooner coaching staff has always preached that they will play the best players no matter where they are from or if they have a scholarship or not. It certainly wouldn't be a shock if Bradley, or some other unknown, came on to help the Sooners at cornerback.

"Mark is a legacy as his dad (Danny) was a great player here and was a former Big-Eight Offensive Player of the Year," said Mike Stoops. "Mark has unbelievable athletic skills. We saw that when he was emulating some of the quarterbacks from option teams that we have played. He has great range and it seems like he is picking up things relatively well. Mark is a guy we think can come in and help us. If it turns out that he is the best player you bet he will play."

Redshirt freshmen Aaron Miller and Jason Carter will also draw looks at corner in the spring, but both will probably play some safety as well. However, don't be surprised if you don't see a familiar face back at cornerback in the spring.

"We have decided to move Michael Thompson back to corner and he has really been impressive there," said Mike Stoops. "Michael is getting back to his old self as his body is mending and his speed is returning. He is a guy who we played at safety last year because of his health situation and it took him a little bit of time to really understand that free safety position. Michael is another guy who has been in the system at both corner and safety, and I think he understands our defense better than before as a pure corner. He is another guy who will be in the mix at cornerback and I am excited to see what he can do."

"He has been playing cornerback in seven-on-seven drills and from what I understand he is getting back to his old form his freshman year," said Mike Stoops. "He is continually getting better with his speed and the big thing for him was getting his speed back to where it was before. To play that cornerback position, you obviously have to run in the 4.5's and Michael has gotten back to that."

Strait will be one of the nations best and Perkins has All-American potential as a cover guy. Perkins will have to prove that he can be physical at corner and willing to mix it up to stop the run. It is important that Bassey becomes a factor and shows that he can play up to his amazing athletic ability. And then, out of Thompson, Poteat and Bradley, the Sooners must find a fourth and fifth corner who can play solid corner at the Big 12 level.

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