The Sooners do return a lot of talent, maybe more than ever under Stoops. The award watch lists and preseason Big 12 teams are littered with Sooners, but you hear non-stop about how the offensive line is the key to the Sooners' season.
Well, there is one other position that OU lost their starters that could bite them hard. No, it is not the wide receivers. Despite losing two great receivers there is plenty of young talent, and receivers have never been an issue under Stoops.
We're talking about safeties.
Despite returning the front nine, the Sooners will be replacing both of the starting safeties from last year. In the spread/pass happy Big 12, the safety position is one of the most important on the field. So do not think replacing both safeties is no big deal, because sloppy safety work can destroy a pass defense and make the difference between a seven and a 70-yard run.
Safety has been a weak point for the Sooners for a few years now. Ever since the days of Roy Williams and Brandon Everage, there has not been anyone making the opposition pay consistently for catching passes over the middle.
The second half of last year the safeties were very strong, but both Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes are gone now.
Nic Harris had flashes of brilliance last year but seemed to be more effective as the nickel back in years previous than a starting safety, and Lendy Holmes was an excellent cover safety but not a big bruiser. Neither was making people pay for catching passes over the middle, especially early in the year.
Receivers on teams like Texas and Florida had no fear of going to the middle to get their yardage.
The good news it that the new guys are young but have shown something already. Quinton Carter and Sam Proctor are the likely candidates to start, and they both got quite a bit of playing time last year with a few starts.
Proctor was especially good on special teams and made quite a few special teams tackles, while Quinton Carter showed the Big 12 that he may be the next big hit threat that can make people pay for throwing over the middle. I can guarantee Jeremy Maclin has not forgot Quinton's name or number after the hit he took during the Big 12 championship game.
Plus do not forget Austin Box. After returning from injury Box has not found a home on the defense yet despite showing immense talent. So using him as an extra safety or nickel back is not out of the question with all the incoming talent on the linebacker corps. Box is just too strong of a talent not to get on the field.
In a normal year where OU replaces five or six starters on defense, the new safeties would not worry me so much. However, with all nine other positions returning proven and highly-touted starters, this defense has a chance to be something special.
But the safeties are the lynch pin of a great defense, especially in a conference that passes so much. Without the two new starters stepping up and filling their shoes quickly, the Sooners defense will not realize its full potential.
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