Oklahoma Football: 5 Weakest Positions to Worry About
It's easy to point fingers and place the blame on the Oklahoma Sooners weakest link from a season ago. However, at this time last season, almost nobody could have expected the Sooners secondary to play as flaky as they proved to be.
To make matters worse, the Sooners now have to replace their best cornerback in Jamell Fleming (NFL draft) and only have an offseason to work on fixing last season's mistakes.
Luckily, the re-hire of former defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will certainly aid the secondary's woes. However, that doesn't mean that the Sooners are in the clear. There are still some major concerns heading into summer practice—the bulk of which are centered around the entire defense, not just the defensive backs.
Let's take a look at the five weakest positions for the Sooners heading into next season. Here's a hint, there's only one offensive position on this list.
Projected Starter: Demontre Hurst
Depth: Aaron Colvin, Lamar Harris, Joe Powell, Julian Wilson, Gabe Lynn, Kass Everett
I actually have quite a bit of confidence in the Sooners' cornerbacks this season. However, they still come in at No. 5 on this list due to the lack of certainty among who will be starting, and the lack of actual starts from those who are competing for the job.
As of now, Demontre Hurst is the only for-sure starter. Hurst is the best cornerback on the roster, but even he fell victim to haphazard play last season. As a senior, Hurst will be called upon to be one of the defensive leaders this season, filling in the leadership void that Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander and Jamell Fleming are leaving behind.
After Hurst, things become a little more hazy. Aaron Colvin, who started every game at strong safety last season, appears to be the best option to start alongside Hurst. Colvin played admirably last season, and he has the size, speed and athleticism to be a great cover corner.
Colvin, who is still nursing an injury, was held out of the Sooners' Red and White spring game. Sophomore Julian Wilson was the defensive back who really stood out, totaling a game-high eight tackles.
Senior Lamar Harris and junior Joe Powell are the other defensive backs currently gunning for a starting position. If Colvin remains the team's starting strong safety, then Harris and Powell will be the most likely candidates to start opposite Hurst.
Junior college transfer Kass Everett figures to add depth to the position this year, but he likely won't get an opportunity to see the field on a consistent basis until next season.
Junior Gabe Lynn started the Red and White game as the team's dime back, which is likely where he'll stay unless he's needed at cornerback or safety.
Stoops is prepared to play six defensive backs at a time against high-powered passing attacks this season, so there's a good chance we could see a number of these guys on the field at the same time.
4: Defensive Tackle
Projected Starters: Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker
Depth: Stacy McGee, Jordan Phillips
As a whole, the defensive line appears to be more of a concern than the secondary right now for the Sooners. However, this was the feeling going into last season, as well, and we all know how that worked out.
If the projected starters' names sound familiar, that's because they're the same two guys that started last season for the Sooners. If they don't sound familiar, that's the reason the defensive line is more of a concern than the secondary.
Losing defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis to the NFL draft comes at a major expense to the defensive line's production. While Jamarkus McFarland, Casey Walker and Stacy McGee have plenty of experience, the three seniors only totaled three sacks last season.
There's no doubt that McFarland, Walker and McGee will make up the rotation to begin the season, but redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips has been a standout during spring practice and will have a chance to compete right away if the production is lacking.
At 6'6" and 329 pounds, Phillips has the size to be a star. However, don't just write Phillips off as a big guy who only gets by because of his size, it's been said that Phillips can do a backflip in full pads. That's athleticism at its finest.
3: Defensive End
Projected Starters: R.J. Washington, David King
Depth: Chuka Ndulue, Chaz Nelson
Let's stay on the defensive line for a bit—defensive end comes in as the third-weakest position currently on the Sooners roster.
Just like defensive tackle, experience is not an issue. While Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis were the starting defensive ends with the most production last season, R.J. Washington and David King played their fair share of snaps.
Together, they totaled 2.5 sacks last season, so, also like defensive tackle, the production definitely has to go up this season. Washington has really impressed the coaching staff during spring practice, and there were times last season where King looked like a legitimate starter on a title contender.
While I have more confidence in Washington and King to provide production than McFarland and Walker, I like the depth at defensive tackle more than at defensive end.
Sophomore Chuka Ndulue has also looked polished during spring practice, but he only saw very limited action last season. Junior college transfer Chaz Nelson is also expected to join the rotation next season, but the transition to Division I football will surely take some time.
Last season at Garden City Community College, Nelson was named the Jayhawk Conference Player of the Year after totaling 96 tackles, including 9.5 sacks. Hopefully he'll be able to bring that sort of production to the Sooners.
2: Tight End
Projected Starter: Brannon Green
Depth: Taylor McNamara
Coming in at No. 2 on this list is the only position on offense that warrants any sort of concern: tight end.
The Sooners have depth and talent at every other position on offense, but after losing James Hanna to the NFL draft and the transfer of Austin Haywood, the Sooners were rubbed thin at tight end.
Junior college transfer Brannon Green is the likely starter, but, obviously, he has no Division I experience. Green has great size at 6'4" and 260 pounds. With that size comes great strength, and he figures to primarily be a blocking tight end.
Green's likely backup, freshman Taylor McNamara, is the more offensively gifted of the two, but he needs to add strength and gain some experience before he becomes the full-time starter. Unfortunately, there may not be time for that.
McNamara caught three passes for 23 yards in the Sooners Red and White spring game, and he's likely going to get the opportunity to earn a decent amount of snaps this upcoming season.
However, the lack of experience at tight end for Oklahoma shouldn't make that much of a difference in the passing attack, even though McNamara is a skilled receiver. Last season, Hanna only caught 27 passes in 13 games.
1: Strong Safety
Projected Starter: Javon Harris
Depth: Aaron Colvin
There are a lot of "what ifs" that go along with this slide, and frankly, one "what if" could be the difference between strong safety being No. 1 on this list rather than off of it completely.
As of now, Javon Harris is the projected starting strong safety. Harris, who was the starting free safety last season, slid over to strong safety to allow Colvin to move to cornerback and Tony Jefferson to move back to a more natural free safety position.
Harris was the most talked about defensive back last season. Unfortunately, it was nearly all criticism and very little praise. While the entire secondary at times looked lost, confused and turned around, it was Harris who seemed the most susceptible to lackluster performances.
While the move to strong safety will allow Harris to focus less on covering a large portion of the field, coverage is still going to be an issue that he'll need to address before the season starts. For anybody who watched the Red and White spring game, flashbacks of last season came too soon.
Fans watched as Harris got turned around and let wide receiver Jaz Reynolds fly past him, consequently resulting in a touchdown strike. It was just one play, but it was enough to hear the murmurs of reminiscent frustrations.
If Harris remains the starting strong safety, then strong safety will remain the No. 1 weakest position on the team, and it's all based on last season's performances. Harris is a hard worker and a tremendous athlete, and as a senior, he's going to do whatever he can to fix his defensive lapses.
I have faith in Harris's ability to turn things around, but if he can't, then Sooner fans can at least feel comforted in knowing that Aaron Colvin is the current replacement.
Hopefully for the Sooners, if Colvin does have to go back to strong safety, either Lamar Harris or Joe Powell will be ready to make the jump to full-time starter at cornerback.