Oklahoma Sooners: Jordan Thomas

Spring practice is in its infant stages but Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has some encouraging words for anyone concerned about replacing All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin.

“They’re competing at a higher level and that’s what we need,” said Stoops, of those battling to fill the void in OU’s secondary.

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor is in prime position to earn a starting cornerback job this spring.
Sophomore Stanvon Taylor, junior Cortez Johnson and sophomore Dakota Austin are the cornerbacks battling to replace Colvin. All three players saw time behind Colvin in 2013 but none of them separated themselves with their performances.

With Colvin battling a head injury, Taylor started in his third collegiate game against Tulsa, but his production tapered off as his freshman season progressed.

“It’s a lot faster game,” Taylor said of getting his feet wet as a true freshman. “You’ve got to be able to read a lot of stuff and know the offense and know formations -- all the things that come with football. You’ve just got to be ready to go.”

Johnson started against Iowa State and Kansas State but didn’t lock down "favorite to start" status heading into the spring. Austin saw limited duty on defense but has strong coverage skills. OU is hopeful their 2013 playing time, although limited, will pay off this fall.

“They’re green in a lot of ways,” Stoops said. “Just getting them out there and getting them in that environment, I think they understand how much they need to improve to get out there and play confidently. That’s the lesson they learned, that they need to get a lot better. Those experiences, hopefully, will process to them that they need to be in a better position than they were a year ago.”

OU returns Zack Sanchez on the opposite side of the defense, giving the Sooners' secondary at least one proven cornerback to build around this fall. He knows the importance of having a solid pair of bookend cornerbacks.

“It’s huge,” Sanchez said. “Stanvon, Dakota and Cortez are all doing a great job. They’re all making plays and it’s kind of up in the air right now. It’s going to be a tough decision for coach. All those guys are competing and all look really good.”

Colvin’s inner drive and competitiveness make replacing him an unenviable task. Taylor was mentored to slide into the spot but the job is open for the taking with all three players in hot pursuit this spring. If nobody steps up it creates a potential problem in a unit that could be one of the Big 12’s best. Stoops would have to turn to a true freshman (Tito Windham or Jordan Thomas) or prepare to provide help for one of the most important spots in his defensive system.

“We’re getting better,” Stoops said. “I think there’s improvement. We’re all kind of finding our way and we need one or two of them to, hopefully, separate themselves and take control of that position. I don’t think anyone’s done that at this point but, overall, we’re better at that position with those three guys. But I’m not saying that they’re at the same level as Aaron. They’re heading in the right direction.”
Oklahoma began its spring practices last weekend with back-to-back practices Saturday and Sunday. The Sooners get back to work today with an eye on capturing another Big 12 title under Bob Stoops. Here are some things to watch this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Keith Ford could be ready to take the next step in the Sooners' offense. OU needs someone to fill the void left by departed running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, who combined for 4,824 career rushing yards in crimson and cream. Ford earned himself some carries as a freshman, but fumble troubles put him in the doghouse for a portion of his first season. This spring, Ford could lock down a major role in the offense with his power, decisiveness and quickness.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Thomas
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAhmad Thomas' blend of size and athleticism makes him a candidate to step in at safety as a sophomore.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Safety Ahmad Thomas didn’t get major time on the Sooners' defense as a freshman. But the versatile defensive back appears poised to become a key piece of OU’s defensive plan as a sophomore. At 6-foot and 218 pounds, Thomas brings terrific size, athleticism and aggressiveness to the Sooners secondary. If he continues to improve and develop, he could be too good to leave on the sidelines, forcing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to find ways to get him involved.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Defensive tackle Charles Walker was an unknown with an underwhelming offer list when he signed with OU in February 2013. But Walker was one of the guys who repeatedly earned praise during discussions of scout-team stars last fall. At 6-2 and 289 pounds, Walker moves like a much smaller man and could force his way onto the field with his play this spring and provide young, quality depth along the defensive line.

Most significant position battle: The battle to replace two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin should be entertaining. There is no clear favorite among a group of talented cornerbacks that includes Stanvon Taylor, Cortez Johnson and Dakota Austin. This spring provides the opportunity for someone to step up in Colvin’s absence and become a trustworthy cover man on the perimeter of OU’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, the Sooners could be forced to account for a weak link in the secondary, particularly if none of the freshman arrivals in the summer (Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green) proves they can slide into Colvin’s spot.

Key midterm enrollee: Linebacker Devante Bond already is making an impression during his short time at OU. An outside linebacker with pass rush skills, Bond isn’t going to replace Eric Striker in the Sooners lineup. Yet if he proves to be one of the best pass rushers on the squad this spring, Stoops could pair him with Striker to give Big 12 quarterbacks headaches this fall.

Question that could be answered: Will Trevor Knight build on his Sugar Bowl MVP performance? The sophomore ended his first season with a bang, leading OU to a upset win over Alabama. This spring will show if Knight is hungry for more and striving to play at a championship level every Saturday this fall, or if he could return to the inconsistency that hampered his play in 2013.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will get the majority of the carries in OU’s backfield this fall? Even if Ford has an exceptional spring, there’s no guarantee he can hold off the talents of incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the summer. The lone certainty is that there will be a bunch of talented options for running backs coach Cale Gundy.

OU spring position battles: No. 2

February, 27, 2014
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Spring football provides the opportunity for players to put themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to position battles. Several Oklahoma Sooners will have the chance to make themselves the favorite to start or become a significant contributor during spring drills with several starting spots open heading into 2014. This week we’ll review the top five position battles to keep an eye on this spring, continuing with cornerback.

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.

Competitors

[+] EnlargeCortez Johnson
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsCortez Johnson provides some experience in the secondary.
Junior Cortez Johnson: The Arizona transfer brings size (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) and he started two games in 2013. He’s the most experienced cornerback in the competition.

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.

Summer arrivals

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.

Potential outcomes

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.
Spring practice is just over the horizon for Oklahoma. The Sooners defense could develop into the Big 12’s best in 2014. It won’t reach those heights without replacing two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin.

Here's a look at the battle to replace Colvin:

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor could be poised to take over for All-Big 12 corner Aaron Colvin in Oklahoma's secondary.
Departed (2013 stats): Colvin was fifth on the team with 55 tackles in 2013. He added three pass breakups, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. His competitive nature and leadership example will be missed.

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.

Top position classes: Athletes 

February, 19, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and Big Ten)
Ohio State continues to add speed and versatility, and the 2014 class was more of the same. The Buckeyes signed five athletes, and versatility was the name of the game. The Buckeyes' haul included potential corners to big wide receivers to safeties to speedy playmaking receivers and return men. The uber-impressive list includes future cornerback and ESPN 300 No. 45 Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville), No. 153 Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall), No. 178 Parris Campbell Jr. (Akron, Ohio/St. Vincent-St. Mary), and four-star prospects Noah Brown (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) and Malik Hooker (New Castle, Pa./New Castle).

The Buckeyes had the nation’s best athlete class; these programs had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:

Spring football is just over the horizon.

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.

The breakdown

On campus: Zack Sanchez, So.; Stanvon Taylor, So.; Cortez Johnson, Jr.; Dakota Austin, So.; L.J. Moore, So.; Daniel Brooks, So.

[+] EnlargeZack Sanchez
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTeams tried to attack redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez in 2013.
Summer arrivals: Tito Windham, Fr.; Jordan Thomas, Fr.

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.

The list

Did the Sugar Bowl never end?

It sure seems like it as Oklahoma rode the momentum from its 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to a stellar finish in its recruiting class. Nine Sooners signees committed during the month following the Sugar Bowl including ESPN 300 running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and ESPN300 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla/Jenks).

OU finished as strong as any program in the nation, landing Quick, Parker, offensive tackles Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge), along with cementing the commitment of Courtney Garnett (New Orleans/St. Augustine) in the final two days.


Here are some news and notes from signing day including my take on what it could mean for the program:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsBlake Bell will move to tight end, as Trevor Knight is entrenched as Oklahoma's starting quarterback.
In case you missed it, quarterback Blake Bell is moving to tight end and former Texas Tech signal caller Baker Mayfield has enrolled and is walking on to the Sooners’ squad. OU coach Bob Stoops confirmed both bits of news during his press conference on Wednesday.

Chatmon’s take: Both things were expected but it leaves a void behind Trevor Knight heading into 2014. Normally it wouldn’t seem like a big deal to have two freshmen, Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen, battling to back up Knight, but Knight got knocked out of two different games as a redshirt freshman and he only started five total games during the year. Thomas and Hansen are talented but inexperienced, meaning OU could be one play from seeing its national title hopes derailed by an injury to a quarterback who got knocked out of 40 percent of the games he started in 2013. Uh, oh.


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Bill Bedenbaugh needs a raise.

During his first full recruiting cycle as the offensive line coach at OU, Bedenbaugh landed an exceptional group of offensive lineman including a pair of four-star prospects in center Alex Dalton (Troy, Ohio/Troy) and guard Natrell Curtis (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe). And Bedenbaugh did work down the stretch landing Brown, who flipped from Tennessee in the surprise of signing day, and Frison, who was committed to Utah before inking with OU.

“The more I watch them, the more excited I get about these kids,” Bedenbaugh said.

While he signed a large group of talented guys, Bedenbaugh is most pleased by the toughness of this group.

“You can’t overlook toughness,” Bedenbaugh said. “There are a lot of big, athletic guys out there that may not have the toughness you’re looking for and a lot of those guys don’t pan out.”
Chatmon’s take: A terrific group at a need position. It’s hard to imagine a better class in Bedenbaugh’s first recruiting cycle, and it’s a group with several players who have the versatility to play multiple positions. OU doesn’t need immediate help along the offensive line, but don’t be surprised if one or two of these guys show up on the depth chart in 2014.

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Along with offensive line, the Sooners needed to address the secondary in this year’s class. Parker is the headliner of a group of versatile secondary players. With the range of a safety and the cover skills of a cornerback, Parker should be able to play immediately for Mike Stoops’ defense.

“He brings a different element to the safety position that a lot of players just can’t,” Mike Stoops said. “His mobility, skill level and cover ability, he fits perfect in our system.”

Stoops feels like OU secured two cover cornerbacks in Tito Windham (Gulfport, Miss./Harrison Central) and Jordan Thomas (Klein, Texas/Klein Collins) along with a versatile prospect in Cedar Hill (Texas) cornerback Marcus Green and a physical presence in DeSoto (Texas) safety Vontre McQuinnie.

Chatmon’s take: Parker is an ideal fit and should make an immediate impact. He’s too talented to remain on the sidelines. The overall versatility of these five defensive backs really stands out, with McQuinnie as the lone guy who likely wouldn’t be a good fit at cornerback in OU’s system. In the Big 12 that versatility is critical because the Sooners will have the ability to put its safeties on the Big 12’s top slot receivers and have the confidence they can hold their own in coverage without being exposed.

State of the position: Safety

January, 30, 2014
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In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Thursday, we take a closer look at the safety position.

[+] EnlargeTexas Tech tight end Jace Amaro
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesQuentin Hayes (10) proved this season that he can hold down the back end of the Sooners' defense.
Starter/contributors: Quentin Hayes (Sr.)

Hayes brought terrific versatility to the Sooners secondary during his first season as a starter. His coverage ability was an upgrade at the safety spot and he was consistently around the ball, finishing with 80 tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries and one interception. His consistency and excellence was a pleasant surprise in the secondary.

On the cusp: Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)

Thomas was a mainstay on OU’s special teams and saw spot duty on defense. He’s an aggressive, athletic safety who should be a superb playmaker for the Sooners in the future. He played in 12 games, finishing with nine tackles as a role player on special teams.

Byrd is another solid young player with good upside. His performance against Tulsa, when he filled in after Gabe Lynn was injured, was a glimpse at his potential. He could combine with Thomas to give OU a pair of solid bookend safeties in the future.

On the recruiting trail: Jordan Thomas (Klein, Texas/Klein Collins), Vontre McQuinnie (DeSoto, Texas)

Thomas is a good example of the progression of the safety position. He has the athleticism and versatility to play several positions, including cornerback, yet the Sooners have him slated to line up at safety as they aim to fill the roster with versatile safeties that can hold their own in coverage and still be factor in the run game.

McQuinnie is a physical player who could be a terrific fit in a Tony Jefferson-like role or even as a linebacker. His size (6-foot-1, 204 pounds) and aggressive nature will make him a solid run support safety, and he has the athleticism to grow and improve as a coverage man.

Overall Grade: B+

Hayes is a star, Byrd and Thomas are talented but inexperienced, and the Sooners have two quality, yet different, commitments at the position. From top to bottom this is a good group, but the inexperience behind Hayes drops the grade below an A.
The switch was anticipated, and early Sunday evening, it was confirmed. Jordan Thomas (Klein, Texas/Klein Collins) is headed to Norman.

Thomas, a high three-star athlete expected to play safety at the next level, flipped his commitment from Northwestern to Oklahoma after an official visit to Norman. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound athlete, who confirmed the pledge via text message, became the Sooners’ 22nd commitment of the 2014 recruiting class.

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