It’s no secret that Oklahoma’s secondary left a lot to be desired at times last season. The Sooners ranked No. 87 in the country in passing yards allowed — although much of that can certainly be attributed to scheme. At any rate, OU has made defensive backs a recruiting priority as of late, and things seem to be trending in a positive direction at the cornerback position, in particular. Some fresh faces coupled with some youthful, yet somewhat experienced corners should give Sooner fans reason to be optimistic that the defense should take a step forward in years to come.
OU’s highest-ranked 2018 defensive recruit is IMG product Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles. He was recruited primarily as a cornerback by many schools, but early reports out of spring practice point to Bookie being utilized at safety and nickel. Redshirt freshman Justin Broiles has also been working out at safety, so that leaves a junior and three sophomores (one of whom is a redshirt sophomore) to handle the snaps at cornerback in 2018. The battles at the position are sure to drag out through the spring and summer, and the situation could remain somewhat fluid throughout the entire season.
Regardless of who ends up starting opposite Parnell Motley (assuming he hangs onto his gig), OU fans can feel pretty confident about how things currently stand at the position — certainly more confident than is the case with the current situation at safety. Fans should be bullish in regards to the future at the position, as well. As I mentioned, three talented sophomores who have big-game experience are on the roster behind Motley, and guys like Miguel Edwards and Starrland Baldwin have plenty of upside. Oklahoma is also a major player for some blue-chip corners (such as Erick Young and Chris Steele) in 2019, so the future at the position seems to be a trending in a positive direction.
Parnell Motley - Junior
Motley won a hotly-contested starting battle over Jordan Parker during the 2017 offseason, and Mike Stoops’ faith in him proved to be well-placed after Motley’s breakout performance against Ohio State in Week 2. His eight solo tackles coupled with a crucial second-half interception were key in helping the Sooners pull off the September upset in Columbus.
Motley wasn’t perfect after that game, but he looks to be the surest bet to lock up one of the Week 1 starting spots and he could have a huge year in 2018.
Tre Norwood - Sophomore
Norwood played very little over the first half of last season, but he started the final five games of the 2017 campaign as a result of the injury/poor play of Jordan Thomas. He will look to build off of some strong showings, and he appears to have a slight leg up at the moment on everyone not named Parnell Motley. Norwood has great instincts, speed and agility, but his attitude and approach may be what truly set him apart. The guy doesn’t back down from competition — whether he’s going up against an accomplished receiver or pushing to earn snaps as an under-the-radar freshman — and he’s demonstrated a knack for being aggressive without making critical mistakes. Adding mass to his body throughout the offseason will be critical, as there were times in which his size was an issue in 2017. If he and Coach Wiley take care of business on that front, look out.
Jordan Parker - Sophomore
Parker started eight games as a true freshman in 2016 and seemed to add a bit of stability to the position before suffering a season-ending knee injury against UTEP. He was granted a medical redshirt, so he still has three years of eligibility remaining. Parker just returned to full-participation in practice this past week, but it could be awhile before he’s truly back to 100%. The good news is he has plenty of time to make his case for the starting job. Expect Parker to get a bit of PT even if he isn’t named a starter in Week 1.
Tre Brown - Sophomore
The former Tulsa Union standout and four-star prospect appeared in all 14 games as a freshman (much of it on special teams), including one start against TCU. Brown’s one of the fastest guys on the roster, and that speed could earn him some extra snaps, particularly when OU has to deal with speedster receivers such as Baylor’s Denzel Mims and Texas’ Devin Duvernay. On top of that, Brown has demonstrated an ability to bring the pain, as he did here to break up a pass against TCU:
Brown is a fun DB to watch, and he always seemed to be making plays when he was on the field in 2017. While I don’t think he’ll beat Tre Norwood for that second starting spot in 2018, don’t be surprised to see him make an impact in ‘18 and become a really good DB in the future.
Starrland Baldwin - Freshman (Early Enrollee)
Baldwin, a three-star recruit out of Houston, is sitting out with an injury he sustained back in the fall. Signs point to a redshirt in ‘18, but the long and athletic Baldwin has a very high ceiling and was a bit underrated as a prospect coming out of high school. In short, big things are expected down the line.
Miguel Edwards - Freshman (Early Enrollee)
Edwards could probably benefit from a redshirt year to continue to bulk up and gain practice experience rather than being thrown into the fire immediately. Like Baldwin, he’s another guy with a very high ceiling.