Cornerback Dominique Franks returns an interception for a touchdown against Nebraska in the 2008 season.
Previous Spring Preview Issues
The defensive back seven should be loaded with both talent and experience. At linebacker, all 3 starters will be returning in 2009, plus 2 reserve middle linebackers that received starts due to injuries. Additionally, four linebackers will arrive on campus from the high school ranks this summer, all of them highly regarded by recruiting services. Therefore, the Sooners could be 2 to 3 starting caliber players deep at each linebacker position.
In the secondary, both of the starting cornerbacks (Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson) will return again in 2009. The two starting safeties will graduate, but Quinton Carter got significant playing time and even a few starts last year. Therefore, it will essentially be like attempting to replace one starter in the secondary.
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#22 SR Keenan Clayton, 6-2 220, Sulphur Springs H.S. in Sulphur Springs, TX
#4 SR Ryan Reynolds, 6-1 234, Bishop Gorman H.S. in Las Vegas, NV
#28 SO Travis Lewis, 6-2 232, Robert E. Lee H.S. in San Antonio, TX
#10 SR Mike Balogun, 6-2 250, JUCO transfer from Lackawanna Community College
#12 SO Austin Box, 6-2 221, Enid H.S. in Enid, OK
#21 SR J.R. Bryant, 6-3 230, JUCO transfer from Garden City, KS Community College
#31 rFR Daniel Franklin, 6-3 220, Habersham Central H.S. in Mount Airy, GA
#42 FR Tom Wort, 6-1 220, New Braunfels H.S. in New Braunfels, TX
#48 JR Brandon Crow, 6-0 228, Comanche H.S. in Comanche, OK
#55 FR Jaydan Bird, 6-3 230, Conway Springs H.S. in Conway Springs, KS
#56 FR Ronnell Lewis, 6-3 220, Dewar H.S. in Dewar, OK
FR Gus Jones, 6-2 220, Wagoner H.S. in Wagoner, OK
If I had to pick one word for the linebacking corps in 2009 it would be scary. Yes, they are that talented and experienced that if I were lining up on the other side of the ball, I might be scared.
In the middle, senior Ryan Reynolds will be back for his last season. Reynolds has been injured often in his career, and was knocked out for the season in the Red River Rivalry last year. Despite only playing in six games he was an honorable mention All Big 12 by the AP. When he's healthy he's a great player. He had 10 tackles against TCU and 14 tackles against Baylor. In fact, against Baylor he received Brent Venables' first ever perfect linebacking grade.
On the strong side, another senior will be starting - Keenan Clayton. He was a major part of OU's opportunistic defense last year, forcing a school record 6 fumbles, and picking off one pass. His 9 passes broken up was the 2nd best mark by a linebacker in school history. Clayon was honorable mention All Big 12 by the coaches and AP. He has the range and athleticism to be a "tweener" and cover slower wide receivers as well as tight ends and running backs.
On the weak side, Travis Lewis will likely start again. He made his mark felt in his freshman season, accruing all sorts of accolades. His 144 tackles during the season broke Brian Bosworth's freshman record. He also tied Bosworth's record of most tackles by a freshman in a game with 19 against Texas. He had double digit tackles in 6 games. Lewis had 4 interceptions and led the team with interception return yards (108). He basically flew all over the field and made plays left and right. He played unbelievably well as a freshman, but didn't really come on until conference play. It should be amazing to see him work during a full season.
Look for Austin Box, Mike Balogun or J.R. Bryant to see the field in the event of an injury or for game rest. Balogun and Bryant are both seniors. Bryant mainly took the field for special teams last season, and was a standout with 16 special teams tackles (2nd on the team). Box and Balogun have more game experience than him. Balogun started in the BCS Championship Game. Balogun doesn't have the range or athleticism that some of the other linebackers have, but is a pretty good backup. Box had more starts at middle linebacker (4). He probably is a bit more talented than Balogun, but sometimes puts himself out of position trying to jump into a passing lane for an interception.
Behind them, the only other guy with any real experience is Brandon Crow. Don't expect him to see the field too much with a lot of incoming freshman nipping on his heels. That being said, some of the freshman will likely redshirt. Ronnell Lewis is a 5 star recruit, Jaydan Bird and Tom Wort are both 4 stars, and Gus Jones and Daniel Franklin certainly have talent. Basically Brent Venables will have more linebackers than he can shake a stick at. I won't preview each of these freshman as it could go on forever. Suffice it to say they are all really good. Or you could just listen to Dom Franks:
"Those kids hit. They’re not scared at all,” Franks said. "From the first time we started in full pads, they’re flying in, they’re knocking people’s helmets off, getting up and talking smack and it’s like they’re at home already and it’s good to see that.”
"It surprised me. You take into consideration that those kids should be back in high school getting fitted for a tux and getting ready for the prom, they’re out here going against kids that have already been in college and they’re out here playing like they’ve been here all year.”
I think that Stoops will try and redshirt as many of them as he can, without sacrificing depth. That way we can have some of these premium talents through hopefully 2013 (barring any early declarations for the NFL Draft).
Reserve Defensive Backs
#3 JR Jonathan Nelson, 5-11 177, Summitt H.S. in Mansfield, TX
#5 rFR Joseph Ibiloye, 6-4 205, South Garland H.S. in Garland, TX
#6 SO Desmond Jackson, 5-11 198, Seguin H.S. in Seguin, TX
#15 rFR Lamar Harris, 6-2 180, Gilmer H.S. in Gilmer, TX
#25 SR Emmanuel Jones, 5-11 190, transfer from Northeastern College
#30 FR Javon Harris, 6-0 180, MacArthur H.S. in Lawton, OK
#47 rFR Zach Montana, 6-0 194, Flower Mound H.S. in Flower Mound, TX
FR Kevin Brent, 5-11 196, South Oak Cliff H.S. in Dallas, TX
FR Gabe Lynn, 6-1 180, Jenks H.S. in Jenks, OK
FR Demontre Hurst, 5-10 170, Lancaster H.S. in Lancaster, TX
FR Marcus Trice, 5-9 175, Mesquite H.S. in Mesquite, TX
The Sooners will be returning two quality cornerbacks to starting roles in 2009. Dom Franks has a swagger, you can just tell. He was trash talking Florida before the game even started, and he's now changed his number to #1. Of course, having a swagger isn't bad if you're the shutdown corner. His stats don't look all that impressive because teams don't throw his way very much. He basically locked down Michael Crabtree in the Texas Tech game. He still led the defense in touchdowns (2) and pass deflections (10). He was named to All Big 12 honors by the coaches, AP and several publications.
On the other side, Brian Jackson could be just as good as Franks, but he doesn't get the same recognition. He had the 4th highest number of tackles (66) on the team in 2008, which I suspect is because the Big 12 offenses use a lot of bubble screens. They threw them at Brian because Dom does a good job of anticipating them (he took one to the house against Nebraska). He was tied for the team lead in pass deflections with Franks (10) and led in fumble recoveries (3). He had 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
Quinton Carter is basically a returning starter at safety, given his experience last year, which has been rehashed several times on this blog already. He's known as a hard hitter and has even lit up his own teammates in practice. He notched 10 tackles in his first start against Kansas. Look for Carter to make guys think twice about running routes across the middle.
Sam Proctor is a bit of an unknown at the other safety position. He was a good special teamer, but hasn't seen a lot of playing time at safety. He runs a 4.6 40 so he's got range and speed. Look for him to play centerfielder and free up Quinton Carter to run wild and scare the bejeesus out of everyone. Proctor looked good in spring camp last year before eventually being beaten out by Harris and Holmes.
Behind these guys, the backup spots and battle for playing time is actually wide open. Give the edge to Jonathan Nelson to be the nickel back, given his experience at OU (junior), and Desmond Jackson to be the backup safety for the same reason. Nelson was a shutdown corner in high school and teams rarely threw to his side. He was the #10 cornerback prospect nationally by ESPN when OU recruited him. Jackson also was highly regarded, as Rivals had him as the #14 safety prospect nationally.
Javon Harris has been rumored to be on the second string already at safety, despite being an incoming freshman. He was a 4 star recruit, along with Kevin Brent, but Brent might get redshirted if Harris has the edge already. Not to mention Joseph Ibiloye is also rumored to be on the 2nd string for safety, possibly also as a nickel/dime back, and has great range. Also Emmanuel Jones is reportedly having a great camp too. It's possible Stoops will just redshirt Harris and Brent and they could be a good safety tandem a few years down the road.
At backup corner, beyond Nelson, Lamar Harris already has a redshirted year under his belt, so the experience may help him over the incoming freshmen. Look for Gabe Lynn to fight for some playing time if he doesn't get redshirted. The guy is a 5 star recruit and has loads of talent. Marcus Trice is a 4 star recruit who should be a good cornerback down the road, but it's uncertain whether he'll see the field this year. Demontre Hurst could be a corner or safety, and I'm not sure if that's been determined yet.
Basically, the secondary is very deep but has lots of raw, young talent other than the two starting cornerbacks. I think the spring and summer competitions will allow the cream to rise to the top and we'll wind up with two very solid safeties and some solid nickel and dime backs. However, based on total experience and proven commodities in college ball, this is probably the weakest part of the defense. That isn't to say I would call this unit weak, either. I think they are quite good. The front seven is just ridiculously good.