Many factors have gone Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners a consistent top 15 football program. The first thing most people will cite is the run of tremendous signal-callers who have sported the crimson and cream over the last 15 years or thereabouts. But what has always jumped out at me is Oklahoma's speed and physicality in the back seven of the defense. The Sooners have always boasted a pack of greasy fast hounds to converge upon and clean up any leaks into the second level of the defense. Those same hounds have also been adept at creating turnovers.
Well, with Texas Tech's latest crop of defensive back recruits, the Red Raiders may be on the path to fielding a defense that resembles Oklahoma's. Tevin Madison, Nigel Bethel, Josh Keys, Payton Hendrix, Jah'Shawn Johnson, Derrick Dixon, Connor Wilson and Michael Coley are an impressive bunch.
Following defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt's initial Red-Black Scrimmage, Wallerstedt readily admitted that Tech's speed in the back seven was only adequate, and that he hoped to upgrade this facet of the defense quickly. That mission looks well on the way to being accomplished.
Players such as Madison, Wilson and Keys are very fast indeed. Coley is a tall strider who eats up turf in chunks. Dixon shows remarkable closing and recovery speed. And Bethel, a 21.13 man in the 200 meters who finished second in Florida at that distance, is the fastest of them all. This is speed at corner where it is expected, and safety where it is hoped for but not all that often seen.
But as fast as this group is, it is equally physical. Smaller guys such as Madison—who looks like a real sleeper—Johnson and Dixon are not the least bit afraid to mix it up. Safeties Keys and Hendrix are genuinely explosive hitters. Hendrix in particular is a crunching tackler who looks like a linebacker playing safety. A truly intimidating player, he very much resembles former Arkansas Razorback and Denver Bronco great, Steve Atwater. And Connor Wilson also brings a very heavy load.
A couple of these players show signs of being turnover generators as well. Wilson is a true ballhawk—and Tech hasn't had one of those in many years—who, if he doesn't spin down to outside linebacker, could be a bigger version of Tracy Saul.
Dixon is a safety who seems to have a real knack for causing fumbles, and Wallerstedt corroborates this observation, "There's a kid who had 10 takeaways two years ago by himself, so he's going to be like the Honey Badger [Tyrann Mathieu]. He's a really good player."
Given that the inability to create turnovers has been a bane of Tech's defense the last couple of seasons, it is good to know that help may be on the way in the form of Wilson and Dixon.
Combine Tech's latest secondary haul with talented youngsters like Justis Nelson, Keenon Ward, and perhaps Jalen Barnes, and the Red Raider secondary could be elite within a couple of years.
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