Oklahoma Sooners: Dylan Schellenberg

With spring ball done, we’ve been re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team. Wednesday, we finish up with defensive backs. Once again, these outlooks could look different in August. But this is how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): Juco safety Kenny Iloka was one of the storylines of the spring in Fort Worth, augmenting an already loaded secondary. In TCU’s spring game, Iloka scored a touchdown off a fumble return and picked off a pass, underscoring pretty much how he performed all spring. Iloka could probably start for the majority of teams in the Big 12. At TCU, he’s a backup. Coach Gary Patterson seemingly praised Ranthony Texada more than anyone else on his roster this spring, and the redshirt freshman cornerback looks poised to step into the starting role vacated by All-American Jason Verrett. At 5-foot-9, Texada isn’t big. Then again, neither was Verrett. Safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett and cornerback Kevin White could play for anyone in the conference. In other words, this TCU secondary is stacked.

2. Texas (2): Texas is one of the few teams in the Big 12 without really any position battle in its secondary coming out of the spring. Senior safeties Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner have been up and down throughout their careers, but they really buttoned up their play in the spring. Thompson delivered a pick-six in the Orange-White game. Turner had the hit of the day and intercepted a pass. At cornerback, Quandre Diggs isn’t an All-American, but he’s developed into a solid veteran leader. Duke Thomas can really run at the other cornerback spot. This is a sound group.

3. Oklahoma (3): The Sooners return two proven players in cornerback Zack Sanchez and nickel back Julian Wilson. Sanchez was erratic at times last season, but he displayed mental toughness and usually came back with big plays of his own after getting burned. Wilson will be a three-year starter. Safety Quentin Hayes had a decent junior season, too. After that, things get murky, and that’s not necessarily a negative. Dakota Austin, who was an unheralded two-star signee last year, is probably the favorite coming out of the spring to start at cornerback opposite Sanchez and over more heralded classmate Stanvon Taylor. Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd are both talented young safeties, but they have yet to prove they’re every-down players. Steven Parker II will be the player to watch here. Insiders in Norman believe the incoming true freshman has the talent and the temperament to win a starting job by the opener the way Tony Jefferson did in 2010. If he does, that will allow coordinator Mike Stoops to utilize Byrd and Thomas in certain sub-packages where the scheme will be more simplified.

4. Kansas State (4): K-State already boasts one of the best nickel backs in the league in Randall Evans and an up-and-coming safety in Dante Barnett. The Wildcats had a productive spring elsewhere in their secondary, as Morgan Burns stepped up to essentially nail down a starting job at corner. Coveted juco transfer Danzel McDaniel progressed after arriving on campus and exited spring ball on the cusp of earning the other starting cornerback gig. Dylan Schellenberg, who started the two games Ty Zimmerman missed last season, will go into the fall as the favorite to start at safety alongside Barnett.

5. West Virginia (5): The Mountaineers might have the best underclassman cornerback in the league in sophomore Daryl Worley, who locked up Mario Alford in West Virginia’s spring game. Worley was fabulous all spring, and he brings a maturity and attitude that defies his age. Like Worley, Karl Joseph started as a true freshman, and he could be on the verge of turning into one of the best safeties in the Big 12 as a junior. It will be interesting to see if incoming blue-chip freshman Dravon Henry can break into the rotation at cornerback, which would only make this secondary better.

6. Kansas (6): Senior cornerback Dexter McDonald put in the work during the offseason, and it showed in Kansas’ spring game. He's become a technically-sound player. Fellow cornerback Kevin Short, a juco transfer forced by the NCAA to sit out last season, can fly. Safety Isaiah Johnson, who became the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after picking off five passes last season, had another pick in the spring game. With four starters back from last fall, plus the addition of Short, Kansas’ secondary will be the team's strength next season.

7. Oklahoma State (7): The emergence of Ashton Lampkin was a positive development for the Cowboys. Lampkin had a pick-six in the “Orange Blitz” scrimmage, and after two seasons as a key backup, looks ready to take over as a starting cornerback opposite All-Big 12 hopeful Kevin Peterson. The Cowboys are completely inexperienced at safety, with second-year players Jordan Sterns, Deric Robertson, Jerel Morrow and Tre Flowers basically comprising the position. Only time will determine how effective the Cowboys can be at the back end.

8. Texas Tech (8): The Red Raiders have to feel good about their safeties coming out of the spring. Keenon Ward was the defensive MVP and brought the hammer all spring. J.J. Gaines will soon be completely back from a season-ending shoulder injury. He played extremely well through five games last season. Justis Nelson is oozing confidence after earning a starting job as a true freshman last fall. The biggest question is at the other cornerback spot. Sophomore La’Darius Newbold is currently the starter, but speedy true freshman Nigel Bethel II could make noise once he arrives this summer.

9. Baylor (9): The rebuild of a secondary that graduated four starters remains a work in progress. Sophomore Orion Stewart had the best spring of the young players and looks primed to take over the deep safety role held by All-American Ahmad Dixon. Sophomore cornerbacks Terrence Singleton and Xavien Howard also won starting jobs, but they’ll have to fend off juco transfer Chris Sanders in the preseason. Walk-on senior Collin Brence was the surprise of the spring and is listed as the starter at nickelback. This a group, though, that still has more questions to answer.

10: Iowa State (10): Nigel Tribune, who was the only true freshman to play at Iowa State in the past two seasons, is one of the best young cornerbacks in the league and a cornerstone defender for the Cyclones. The rest of the secondary is a big fat unknown. Juco transfer Devron Moore, whom Iowa State beat TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia for, left school in the middle of spring ball with homesickness. He is dubious to return. That leaves juco transfer Qujuan Floyd, redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya and T.J. Mutcherson, who suffered an MCL injury in the spring game (he should be back in June), as Iowa State’s only remaining options at safety.
Is this what the Oklahoma coaching staff saw in August?

That question was on the minds of Sooners fans as they watched redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight lead the Sooners to a 41-31 win over Kansas State in his first ever road start on Saturday. Coach Bob Stoops and the rest of the OU coaching staff named Knight the opening-day starter after he won the job with a stellar performance during preseason camp in August.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrevor Knight has brought a new dimension to the Oklahoma offense.
“At the end of the day we watch these guys every single day,” Stoops said when asked if he feels validated by Knight’s performance after his decision to open the season with Knight instead of Blake Bell.

“Now maybe some people are seeing some of what we’ve seen through these years working with these guys.”

Knight was outstanding, going 14-of-20 for 171 yards with a 90.3 adjusted Total QBR against the Wildcats. His performance in OU's last two games could be setting him up as the Sooners’ signal-caller of the present and future. Let’s use a little film study to take a closer look at five plays that show Knight’s long-term potential and should have OU fans excited about the future.

Knight’s first completion of the game: On OU’s second play of the game, Knight rolled out after a play-action fake, then found Jalen Saunders on the sidelines. It was a superb, accurate throw on the run. The fact Knight could throw a dart on the run is a scary development for OU opponents. If he starts proving he can do it consistently, a scary development turns into a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators, particularly with his quickness and running ability on the perimeter.

Knight’s touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard: Great read, great throw. On 3rd-and-goal from the Wildcats 12-yard line, everyone knew it was a passing situation yet Knight found a wide open Shepard in the end zone. KSU played zone and rushed four defenders but an excellent play call by offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was able to isolate Shepard in a one-on-one situation with KSU cornerback Randall Evans. Knight saw it, was decisive and made a terrific throw that would have been tough for anyone to defend. It should make Sooners fans excited because of Knight’s decisiveness, timeliness and accuracy with a strong throw. It’s the kind of play that should make anyone questioning his ability to run a pass-heavy offense think twice before continuing to question his talent.

Knight’s interception: Huh? Yes, what happened during and after his interception is a great sign for the future. First of all, he made the right read and throw, but Saunders, for some odd reason, went behind the defender instead of in front of him as Knight expected. But, most importantly, Knight didn’t run off the field after Evans intercepted his pass. He went straight to Saunders to ask why the senior changed his route. A clear sign that Knight, as a freshman, already considers himself a leader who isn’t scared to hold others and himself accountable. Quite possibly a better sign for the future than any one throw he made all afternoon.

Knight’s 20-yard run early in the second quarter: Knight rolled left looking to pass after a play-action fake. When Kansas State safety Dylan Schellenberg realized Knight still had the ball and was looking to pass, he scrambled back to get into coverage despite being two yards from the line of scrimmage with nothing between him and Knight. As soon as the Sooners quarterback saw him retreat, he was decisive and tucked the ball, easily outrunning K-Stte linebackers to gain 20 yards including an extra five yards with some nifty open field running. That’s an element to OU’s passing game that the Sooners simply haven’t had in previous seasons. Knight’s ability to adapt to the defense on the fly is another great sign for the future. He scored on a eight-yard run on the next play to cap a 98-yard scoring drive.

Knight’s 20-yard completion to Shepard before halftime: With the Sooners driving to try to take the halftime lead, the San Antonio native found Shepard on 3rd-and-10. Knight zipped the ball into a window between two Wildcats defenders playing zone in the secondary. The velocity and accuracy of the throw allowed Shepard to secure the ball before he was hit and the decision to throw to the sophomore showed good anticipation. Knight was confident in what he saw and made a quick decision.

OU has a bye week before getting the chance to ruin Oklahoma State’s Big 12 title hopes during their Bedlam battle on Dec. 7. And if Knight plays the way he did against the Wildcats, OSU’s road to winning its second Big 12 title in three seasons might be filled with more potholes than most people think.

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