Oklahoma Sooners: Dakota Austin
An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we’ll make five spring predictions, continuing with No. 2:
Why it matters: OU fans were less than impressed when the Sooners inked ESPN.com’s No. 17 recruiting class in February 2013. While the Sooners coaching staff swooped in to land a few late bloomers and potential hidden gems, OU fans were lamenting the recruits they had missed out on. Now, one year later, that class appears poised to have a significant impact on the program.
What it would mean: First off, it would underscore the value of evaluation and development. Secondly, it would mean the Sooners have a bright future ahead.
Linebacker Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 newcomer of the year, while running back Keith Ford, cornerback Stanvon Taylor, safety Ahmad Thomas, safety Hatari Byrd, receiver K.J. Young and guard Dionte Savage are on the verge of locking up starting spots. Cornerback Dakota Austin, receiver Austin Bennett, receiver Jordan Smallwood, defensive tackle Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans, defensive end Matt Dimon and quarterback Cody Thomas are among several members of the class who could be contributors.
Over half the class appears ready to make an impact (or already has made an impact) heading into their second season on campus. This spring provides the opportunity for the majority of this class to prove they are ready and able to help spark a successful 2014 season in Norman, Okla.
While the class is appearing to develop quickly, OU has its fingers crossed that its development continues. OU’s hopes of competing for a Big 12 title and national title this fall rests on several members of this class. It’s critical for sophomores such as Ford, Taylor, Byrd and Young to become key pieces of the 2014 squad, otherwise the Sooners could be forced to turn to true freshmen.
No. 2: Cornerback
Why it’s important: The Sooners need someone to step into Aaron Colvin’s starting spot. Colvin was one of the Big 12’s top cover men in the past two seasons and helped a young defense exceed expectations in 2013. Replacing the three-year starter is easier said than done and the Sooners’ defensive system counts on its defensive backs to be able to hold their own in coverage.
Sophomore Stanvon Taylor: He started one game as a true freshman but will need to take his game to another level if he hopes to step into Colvin’s spot. He was groomed to be the guy but it won’t be given to him.
Sophomore Dakota Austin: He plays with a chip on his shoulder and has strong coverage skills but his lack of size (5-foot-11, 151 pounds) will always be a burden.
Freshman Tito Windham: The Sooners might have found a hidden gem in SEC country with the Mississippi native. He has the physical tools to insert himself into the competition.
Freshman Jordan Thomas: OU swooped in late to land Thomas but the key will be how quickly he transitions to college football. He’s a versatile defensive back who can play multiple positions.
Freshman Marcus Green: He could end up at cornerback, nickelback or safety in the Sooners’ system so it could take a while for him to settle in at one spot.
Best-case scenario: The Sooners use the spring to find a capable replacement, even if that means shuffling around the current secondary. Or Taylor rises to the occasion and locks down the position during the spring. He was Colvin’s protégé, has exceptional talent and probably the highest upside of any cornerback on campus.
Worst-case scenario: Johnson, Taylor and Austin have a competition that drags into the summer with none of them giving the Sooners confidence they can handle the starting spot. That would force the Sooners to search for ways to solidify the cornerback spot, which will be critical if they hope to have any success this fall.
Here's a look at the battle to replace Colvin:
Spring contenders: Sophomore Stanvon Taylor; sophomore Dakota Austin; junior Cortez Johnson.
Summer contenders: Freshman Tito Windham; freshman Jordan Thomas.
The skinny: The Sooners won’t be able to replace Colvin, who was the best player in the secondary for the past three seasons.
Nonetheless OU needs someone to step up at the cornerback position opposite Zack Sanchez, a FWAA Freshman All-American who started all 13 games in 2013. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops depends heavily on his defensive backs to be able to hold up in man coverage so he can come up with creative ways to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. That game plan falls apart if there’s a weak link in the secondary that is consistently being exposed.
Taylor, who started one game as a true freshman, spent the 2013 season as Colvin’s protégé, watching in the background while preparing to slide into his spot in 2014. That won’t happen if Taylor doesn’t take his game to another level, beginning this spring. The starting spot is there for the taking, but he’ll have to earn it with several other talented cornerbacks on campus.
Johnson, who started against Kansas State and Iowa State in Colvin’s absence, would bring an upgrade in size at the cornerback spot. At 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, he brings a physical presence that is unmatched by any of the other competitors.
Austin could be the most competitive of the contenders, but his lack of size (5-11, 151) is a major concern. The sophomore will be able to hold up in man-to-man coverage, but he’ll have to prove he can overcome his size limitations and play like he’s twice his size if he hopes to earn the starting spot.
Windham and Thomas arrive in the summer and could throw themselves into the competition as true freshman. Taylor and Austin escaped redshirt seasons in 2013 so there’s no reason to think Windham and Thomas can’t battle for immediate playing time.
Prediction: Don’t be surprised if there is some shuffling among some of the returning players in the secondary to help fill this void. If not, Johnson emerges as the front runner after spring. He passed Taylor on the depth chart during the 2013 season, so unless Taylor takes his game to another level, Johnson will emerge atop the depth chart. But, with two talented freshmen on the way, the lone certainty is that this battle will wage on deep into August.
Oklahoma is coming off a banner 2013 campaign, featuring an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl victory over SEC power Alabama, but the Sooners have several position groups they need to address if they hope to make a national title run in 2014. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the top five position groups that need to improve during OU’s spring practices. On Wednesday, we continue the series with the Sooners cornerbacks at No. 3.
On campus: Zack Sanchez, So.; Stanvon Taylor, So.; Cortez Johnson, Jr.; Dakota Austin, So.; L.J. Moore, So.; Daniel Brooks, So.
Summary: Similar to the running back position, the Sooners are loaded with talent at cornerback. But outside of Sanchez, Oklahoma is largely inexperienced. Aaron Colvin, a two-time All-Big 12 cornerback and three-year starter, and Kass Everett have moved on, leaving a void that will be difficult to fill. That void also means plenty of opportunity and competition this spring.
Sanchez showed his competitiveness and playmaking ability during a redshirt freshman campaign. He was picked on week after week with teams unwilling to challenge Colvin. Sanchez responded with 46 tackles and a team-high 13 pass breakups, as he started in all 13 games. Now, he needs to take on a mentor role as the most experienced cornerback on the roster.
Taylor was groomed to step in for Colvin during his first season with the Sooners. He started one game and played a key special teams role as a freshman. He has a strong hunger to succeed, which could push him into starting lineup as a sophomore. The spring will be his opportunity to show the coaches he’s ready to step up and try to fill Colvin’s shoes.
Austin arguably was the most surprising freshman to play his way out of a redshirt season in 2013. He’s undersized at 5-foot-11 and 151 pounds, but has exceptional feet and quickness. Don’t be surprised if he uses the spring to earn some type of role in the Sooners defense with his coverage skills.
Johnson started against Kansas State and played a backup role during his first season in crimson and cream after transferring from Arizona. He brings a terrific size/athleticism combination to the cornerback group, which could help distinguish him in the cornerback competition.
Moore is another talented sophomore who has the talent to earn a starting spot during the spring. He played the least of OU’s true freshman trio at the position, but he brings good height (6-1) and versatility.
Brooks didn’t play much on defense or special teams during his redshirt freshman season. He’ll have to use the spring to make an impression if he hopes to earn playing time in 2014.
Windham went from unknown to Semper Fidelis All-American after the Sooners unearthed what they hope will be a hidden gem. A Mississippi native, he has terrific speed, playmaking ability and ball skills, making an immediate impact well within the realm of possibility.
The Sooners hope Thomas develops into a versatile cover cornerback. He has good size (6-1, 175). Thomas joined the recruiting class late in the process, but he could insert himself into the cornerback competition immediately with his quickness and athleticism.
Sanchez had ups and downs during his redshirt season but started all 13 games as his competitiveness never wavered. He gave up big plays against Kansas State and Alabama, then bounced back to make key interceptions against both squads. He was picked on throughout the season but matured into a key player on at the end of his first college season. Sanchez led the squad with 13 pass breakups, twice as many as any other Sooner.
Taylor started the third game of his college career against Tulsa and held up well. The Sooners will be looking for him to help fill the void left by two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Taylor mentored under Colvin in 2013 and should be ready for a bigger role in the defense.
Johnson started against Kansas State and played a backup role in 2013, finishing with 16 tackles. He should compete to replace Colvin and earn more playing time as a junior.
On the cusp: Dakota Austin (So.)
Austin saw limited duty as a freshman, playing in four games and recording four tackles. He’s undersized but competitive with good coverage skills, so he could factor into the plans in 2014.
Daniel Brooks, a sophomore, is a small, quick prospect who has played multiple positions and bounced around from offense to defense during his first two years on campus, but he has the talent to work himself into a role.
On the recruiting trail: Tito Windham (Gulfport, Miss./Harrison Central)
The Sooners are confident they’ve found a hidden gem in Windham. They ventured into SEC country to find the Mississippi native. He can play a lot of different positions but appears destined to play cornerback. He’ll need some time to get used to playing corner, but he has the physical gifts to excel as early as 2014.
Overall Grade: A-
It will be impossible to replace Colvin, but the Sooners do return three cornerbacks who started games in 2013. Taylor, who has arguably the best upside of the group, was placed under Colvin’s wing as a freshman and gives OU a potential star at the spot. Johnson, Austin and Windham are talented and can provide quality depth.
The Sooners can still have success against average defenses. We’ve seen this before. OU can have plenty of success and put up plenty of points against defenses ill-equipped to put up with its strength up front or athletes at the skill positions. The Sooners proved it again with 405 rushing yards (9.2 yards per carry) as their running game was clicking against the Cyclones. Some wondered if the Sooners could have any success on offense after its ugly showing against Baylor. Saturday proved OU still has some explosiveness in its offense.
The Sooners still can’t pass. OU finished with 118 passing yards against the Cyclones. Nobody should be surprised. The Sooners played three quarterbacks, Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, and none of them passed for more than 61 yards. Knight, who rushed for 123 yards, played the majority of the game after Bell was injured. OU receivers combined to catch eight passes in the win.
OU’s defense will bring hope in 2014, no matter what happens with the offense. There’s a bunch of young talent on the defense and even more was on display in the blowout win over the Cyclones. True freshman Dakota Austin got his first career interception, true freshman safety Ahmad Thomas recorded more tackles against the Cyclones (six) than he had all season (2) and true freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander led the team in tackles with 11. There are a bunch of reasons for OU fans to be excited about 2014, no matter how the offense looks for the remainder of the season, because the Sooners defense is young, athletic, fast and improving.
Having a highly ranked recruiting class and a bunch of four-star signees sounds good in the spring and summer, but it's a different story when the season begins. The freshmen who are game-ready are the ones who get the playing time, no matter their star rating. Here's a look at the five Big 12 schools getting the most from their true freshmen:
Tech has played eight other true freshmen in 2013, and a few are making solid contributions. Receiver Dylan Cantrell has six catches for 56 yards, linebacker Malik Jenkins has recorded five tackles and a pass breakup and receiver Carlos Thompson already has a 73-yard kick return and 35-yard punt return.
2. Oklahoma: Is it possible Oklahoma’s best running back is its fourth-string freshman? Keith Ford, the gem of the Sooners’ class, has rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and wowed in OU’s last game against Tulsa.
Fellow freshman Stanvon Taylor earned his first career start against Tulsa, and he’s one of several newcomers contributing in the secondary along with Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, L.J. Moore and Dakota Austin. Linebacker Dominique Alexander has also chipped in six tackles through three games.
3. West Virginia: Of all the new skill players who joined West Virginia’s offense this year, who would’ve expected Daikiel Shorts would be the Mountaineers’ leading receiver and Wendell Smallwood would be their No. 2 back? Shorts has 12 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and Smallwood has 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries thus far.
A total of seven true freshmen have played for WVU this season, and four of them are defensive backs. Corner Daryl Worley is off to a nice start with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
4. Oklahoma State: Many expected Ra’Shaad Samples to be OSU’s breakout true freshman receiver, but so far that distinction belongs to Marcell Ateman. He has hauled in eight passes for 92 yards, good for fourth-best on the team.
Freshman kicker Ben Grogan has hit all 19 of his extra-point attempts and is 1-for-2 on field goals, and defensive backs Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson have combined for eight tackles this season.
5. Baylor: Baylor might have two of the conference’s most talented true freshmen in receiver Robbie Rhodes and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, but they haven’t had to do much so far. Rhodes has 65 receiving yards and Billings has recorded three tackles, including one tackle for loss. Kiante’ Griffin is also contributing at linebacker with three tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
TCU can also make a case for the No. 5 spot. The Frogs don’t have a Devonte Fields-caliber breakout star yet, but receiver Ty Slanina has two reception and is currently listed as a starter, and former ESPN 300 prospect Tevin Lawson is breaking into the rotation at defensive tackle with two stops already.
As he prepared to arrive in Norman, Austin checked in with SoonerNation to talk about the OU defense, his frustrations through the recruiting process and what he's been doing to get ready for the season:
Dakota Austin: Either Hatari (Byrd) or L.J. (Moore) -- one of those two. I’m not sure yet.
SN: What have the coaches told you about a potential role?
Austin: They told me the defense will be a little bit different. But they told me I’ll be playing the nickel or cornerback. I’ve played both in high school.
SN: What is going to be different about the defense?
Austin: They said they’re going to run some more 4-2-5.
SN: What personal goals do you have?
Austin: I just want to play a significant role on the team this year. That’s all I want to do.
SN: What are your thoughts on your chances to do that?
Austin: To me, the spot is open. (Aaron) Colvin is going to be on corner. The other one is for the taking. I think I’m the guy to do it. I’ve been putting in the work with some D-1 athletes, so I’m going to be ready.
SN: Sounds like preparation has made you more confident?
Austin: That’s the key. I feel more confident when I’m working every day versus taking time off. I’ve been working and I feel confident.
SN: Who are some of the guys you’ve been working with?
Austin: Jalen Mills, a cornerback at LSU. Some juco guys. A corner from Texas, a guy from K-State. Receiver from Baylor. Guy from Abilene Christian. We’ve been getting in some good work.
SN: When did you know OU was the place for you?
Austin: I’ve been liking OU since my sophomore year. I thought I could get the offer long time ago if Brent Venables had stayed. He really loved me. But it picked back up after I went to camp over the summer. I connected with the new coaches.
SN: So the OU camp, it picked back up?
Austin: I had a pretty good camp. Coach Mike (Stoops) and Coach (Josh) Heupel started talking to me.
SN: You really didn’t get recruited hard until late. What was that like to go through?
Austin: Real frustrating. Real frustrating throughout the whole recruiting process. I started my high school career with a really good high school recruiting coordinator. Then the whole staff, and he left, too. The next dude didn’t have as many connections. So my recruiting slowed down. Then my going into my junior year I broke my wrist. They had to take bone from hip and put it in my wrist. I was stitched up the whole summer, so couldn’t go to any camps. But going into my senior year, I was healthy. I was able to work out, and get well conditioned.
SN: Sounds like you’ve traveled a road similar to Colvin, who because of an injury went under the radar during recruiting for awhile.
Austin: I think it’s kinda like Demontre (Hurst) too. He went to my high school, got the (OU) offer late.
Year after year, wide receivers coach Jay Norvell has done a tremendous job bringing in top talent. And every offseason during which the Sooners are able to keep Norvell from taking another job simply means more good things to come for OU.
Foreman isn't out of the picture. But if he is, that's something OU can adjust to because Norvell has more tricks up his sleeve and already has offered several quality names:
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Lancaster, Texas, cornerback Dakota Austin caught the eye of the Sooners last spring during OU's football camp. His size, or lack thereof, was a concern, but his coverage ability and competitiveness were obvious strengths. The Sooners waited until late in recruiting process before extending an offer but eventually decided Austin's coverage ability was just too good to ignore, even if it came in a 5-foot-10, 149-pound package.
"We had him in camp, he wasn’t as big but I loved him in camp," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "His footwork, ability to change direction. The more I got around this kid the more I started to like him."
Stoops paid close attention to Austin during the camp and got an excellent feel for the player's coach-ability and knack for overcoming his size disadvantage against several bigger receivers during one-on-one drills. Nonetheless, Austin was lightly recruited leading into signing day, until the Sooners swooped in with an offer. And OU hopes the lack of interest from others will spur Austin to bigger heights during his time in crimson and cream.
"I think he’s got something to prove," Stoops said of Austin's limited number of offers including Nevada, New Mexico and UTEP. "Because I think he was slighted throughout the recruiting process. I think he’s going to have a chip on his shoulder and I think he can be an impact player."
But riding the Lancaster wave, McQuinnie committed to the Sooners. Earlier in that day, cornerback Dakota Austin, also from Lancaster High, committed to OU and signed with the Sooners four days later.
OU was McQuinnie’s first offer, and instead of playing the recruiting game, he said he felt 100-percent content with his decision and was ready to end the madness before it started. He is OU’s only commitment on defense.
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Cornerbacks who were asking him for advice on the position were committing to one top-tier program after another.
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- Why one OU coach 'saved the day' with a signee
- OU's final signee reflects on why he chose the Sooners
- There's still one more 2013 recruit in play for the Sooners
- The Sooners' newest 2014 commit wanted a program that won consistently
- Class of 2014 targets talk more about OU junior day
- Is OU on top for a 2014 athlete?
- What happens now at quarterback for 2014?
Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.
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How would you grade Oklahoma's 2013 recruiting class based on the Sooners filling their needs?
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Top Returning Players: Big 12
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35