Aaron Colvin still has a big decision weighing on his mind.
Giving up big plays in the secondary was a problem for the Sooners during the 2011 season. With the return of Mike Stoops this year, it was expected that the secondary play would be dramatically improved from a year ago, and limit the big plays from opposing offenses. Overall, it’s safe to say those expectations were met for the most part. The Sooners finished 29th in the country in pass defense this year, while playing several high-powered offenses in the pass-happy Big 12.
However, with Tony Jefferson declaring for the NFL draft, the Sooners must retool almost their entire secondary. Jefferson will need to be replaced, as well as both Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris, who the Sooners lose to graduation. The good news is that there are several young players who look like they could be potential stars in the future.
Cornerback: Aaron Colvin is still weighing his options, and has not decided if he’s returning next year, or if he will enter the upcoming NFL draft. Bob Stoops said on Friday, that there is no update yet on his situation. If he does return, he will be the most experienced player in the secondary, and a starter at cornerback. His decision will be very important. At the other cornerback position, several players will be in the discussion. Gary Simon played in three games this season, and will enter his sophomore season as one of the leading candidate to take over the position left vacated by Hurst. Redshirt freshman, Zack Sanchez, and senior, Kass Everett will be the other candidates in the discussion. Everett was a JUCO signee in last year’s class, and will enter his senior season after appearing in 10 games this year. He will be the smallest guy in the competition at 5’10, 180 pounds. Also, 6’2, 191 pound, Cortez Johnson could see some action at corner as well.
Safety: Gabe Lynn will enter his senior season as the favorite to win the starting job at safety. He started 11 games last season, and will be one of the few returning starters on defense. Lynn began his career as a cornerback, but has since moved to safety. Incoming freshman, Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd both have a chance to see playing time next year at the position as well. Thomas is a three-star recruit by 247Sports, and shined in the recent Semper Fidelis All-American Game. He will enroll early, and take part in spring workouts. Byrd, is a four-star recruit by 247Sports. He was also selected to play in the recent Semper Fidelis All-American Game. Both Byrd and Thomas should see playing time next year.
Strong Safety: This will be one of the more interesting position battles with several candidates vying for the starting job. Cortez Johnson can play multiple positions throughout the secondary, but may very well find himself at strong safety. A transfer from Arizona, Johnson certainly has the frame to play the position. He appeared in eight games as a true freshman at Arizona, and started two. His versatility will be very important next year. Quentin Hayes has been impressive in practice, and could very well end up being a key contributor at the position. The downside to Hays is that he will enter his junior season with no starts under his belt, and very little experience. Don’t be shocked if Byrd or Thomas see time at the position either.
Nickel: Julian Wilson seems to be the favorite after seeing a quality amount of playing time this season. He appeared in every game this season, and started in two. Wilson had 31 tackles on the year, including two for a loss. He will bring much needed experience into a secondary that will be very young. Other players who could see playing time at the position are, Eric Striker and Kass Everett. But most likely, Wilson will be on the field almost every snap.
With so many young, talented players in the mix, there will be a lot of competitive battles for playing time. The thing that will be important for the unit is for Aaron Colvin to return. Without him, the Sooners will be breaking in two new corners. What should excite Sooner fans is the fact that there’s a lot of young talent within the unit. Sure, they don’t have the experience you would like, but the future certainly looks bright in the secondary.