Oklahoma Sooners: L.J. Moore

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

State of the position: Nickelback

January, 29, 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 Wednesday, we take a closer look at the nickelback position.

[+] EnlargeJulian Wilson
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJulian Wilson quietly had an outstanding season for OU.
Starter/contributors: Julian Wilson (Sr.)

The most underrated playmaker on the defense, Wilson raised his game to another level as a junior while few people noticed. He started 11 games, finishing with 26 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. His Bedlam pick went unnoticed but was a key play which set up Michael Hunnicutt's touchdown that tied the game in the third quarter. He didn’t dominate but he more than held his own as a valuable piece of the Big 12’s top pass defense.

On the cusp: L.J. Moore (So.)

Moore saw very little time as a true freshman, playing during the Sooners’ nonconference schedule and recording one tackle against Tulsa. He needed a year in the program to add strength and get comfortable with the demands of playing in the secondary but brings good size, versatility and competitiveness to the table in 2014.

On the recruiting trail: Marcus Green (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill)

Green’s size (6-foot-1, 176 pounds), athleticism and physicality make him a good fit for the nickelback spot, but he could play all three positions in OU’s secondary much like Gabe Lynn did during his time at OU. He’s not a shutdown corner but he’s a very versatile prospect.

Overall Grade: B

Wilson takes this grade higher than average with his experience and playmaking bringing a veteran presence to the position. Moore and Green bring two versatile, young prospects to the position, giving OU a veteran presence and hope for the future. Inexperience behind Wilson is the lone concern.
NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma’s defense was among the Big 12’s best in 2013.

And it could be even better in 2014.

[+] EnlargeMatt Dimon
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFreshman defensive end Matt Dimon and other young players will make OU's defensive line one of the nation's deepest.
Freshman linebacker Dominique Alexander, sophomore defensive end Charles Tapper and redshirt freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez were key playmakers while helping OU’s defense finish first in the Big 12 in total yards per game allowed at 336.3 yards. Other young defenders could help the Sooners defense next season and OU’s coaching staff got a glimpse at some of the young talent on the roster as their young players took the majority of the practice repetitions earlier this week.

“All of the young players are improving," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “That’s critical this time of year, you could see them in three days starting to get better.”

The defensive line is quickly looking like it could be a clear strength of the defense with freshman Matt Dimon joining redshirting freshmen Charles Walker, Matt Romar and D.J. Ward along a defensive front that is poised to return every starter in 2014.

“We have a lot of guys coming up,” defensive end Chuka Ndulue said. “When they get it figured out, because right now they are just doing it off of raw talent and making plays … They are kind of like Tap (Charles Tapper). Just imagine a bunch of Charles Tappers running up and down the field. That’s going to be good.”

Walker, in particular, has impressed his teammates during his redshirt season on the scout team defense.

“He’s a monster, a man child out there,” Sanchez said.

A former high school running back, Walker was an late addition to OU’s 2013 recruiting class. The Sooners are hopeful that Walker translates his raw potential into consistent production in 2014. If he does, OU’s defensive line could be one of the deepest units in recent memory.

“Charles Walker on the defensive line has a great future ahead of him,” center Gabe Ikard said. “He might be the most explosive guy we have on the team right now. If he is able to develop the skill work that Coach [Jerry] Montgomery has been able to develop in the guys that are playing right now, he could be an animal on the football field because he is extremely explosive.”

In the secondary, L.J. Moore has impressed at cornerback. Moore, a true freshman, saw limited action in early games this season but wasn’t a consistent contributor during the Sooners’ road to the Sugar Bowl.

“L.J. has been doing his thing,” Sanchez said. “He got moved to the scout team throughout the year but he’s back and he’s competing. That’s big. When you get moved to the scout team, sometimes it can do things to your confidence, you kind of don’t want to be here, you don’t care but these past couple of days it’s been good to see that from him.”

Those young standouts could combine with Alexander and Jordan Evans, who each played well as true freshman linebackers, to give OU talented freshman and/or sophomores along the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.

“It’s been great to see these guys out there,” sophomore linebacker Eric Striker said of the young talent on the roster. “To see them do [well] is a good thing for the future.”

Ranking Oklahoma's position groups 

August, 12, 2013
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Damien WilliamsAP Photo/Cal Sport MediaSenior Damien Williams is one of a deep stable of Oklahoma running backs that are capable of making an impact for the Sooners this season.
It's an unusual role for Bob Stoops' program as Oklahoma prepares for 2013 season with minimal expectations to insert itself into the BCS title hunt. The Sooners have several talented, deep position groups and other position groups full of uncertainty. Here's a look at OU's position groups ranked from strongest to weakest.

It was better late than never for Oklahoma and L.J. Moore. The Sooners’ cornerback signee waited until signing day to pick OU after an on-again, off-again recruitment during his senior season. Moore has a chance to play early and make an impact on a Sooners defense in dire need of quality cornerbacks.

Before he arrived on campus earlier this month, Moore took some time to talk with SoonerNation about his hopes for the future, potential role as a freshman and when he knew Norman would be his college choice.

SoonerNation: What are you looking forward to the most?

L.J. Moore
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comFour-star cornerback L.J. Moore could play immediately for the Sooners.
L.J. Moore: Learning a new environment and getting to play with a bunch of guys I’ve never played with before.

SN: At what point did you feel like OU was the right place for you?

Moore: A couple weeks before signing day.

SN: What happened during that time?

Moore: The last visit with Coach Mike (Stoops) sealed the deal. I realized it was the best opportunity for me, the best place for me and a place I would fit in well. So I was just excited about it and I made the decision that Norman would be a great place for me.

SN: OU is looking for cornerbacks. What impact did the fact you could step on campus and potentially play right away have?

Moore: As a football player you want to be on the field as soon as possible, as much as possible. That definitely played a part because that’s a goal of mine, to play as a true freshman. I felt like I could come in and have a chance to prove myself, that I should be on the field.

SN: OU has one of the best corners in the nation in Aaron Colvin. How will his decision to come back help you?

Moore: It will be great to get to learn stuff from him and learn the stuff that made him the corner he is. It also helps that I get to see him on the field playing, with a corner like that on the other side maybe you don’t have as much responsibility and you can learn at a slower pace and still be on the field.

SN: Do you know you’ll be rooming with?

Moore: I think I’ll be rooming with Dakota Austin.

SN: What things have you been working on to prepare yourself?

Moore: One thing everyone has said is real important is to stay in shape and being ready to learn and show I can endure whatever physical task I have to do. The other thing is just getting stronger, as I’ve been working out here and maintaining my speed.

SN: Is there anything fundamentally or technique-wise?

Moore: I definitely want to work on using my feet at the line of scrimmage. I like to jam a lot, press a lot, so I’m always fine tuning my feet and trying to get better footwork at the line of scrimmage. Then maintaining my tackling form, knowing that I’m moving up a level and the players are going to start changing.

SN: What have the coaches told you about your potential role?

Moore: They said I’ll definitely have the opportunity to come in and play some corner, so that’s a positive. They said I could be a good nickel as well, knowing they play a nickel package 90 percent of the game. Either way it sounds like if I come in and handle the business I need to, I’ll be able to get on the field early.

SN: Is there any Sooner you might consider a mentor other than Colvin?

Moore: Jalen Saunders. He’s from my area, I knew him before and seeing how well he’s growing as a player on the offensive side of the ball. I work out with him because I know he’s a good receiver, he’s real shifty and I need to work on staying in front of small receivers that are faster than the bigger ones.

SN: How will having Hatari (Byrd) coming with you help as far as having familiar faces around?

Moore: That’s always a plus. Knowing somebody from California, because that (Oklahoma) is far away, having him that will provide some comfortability and knowing Jalen is there will provide a comfortable environment.

SN: How much have you talked about playing together for three or four years?

Moore: Our goal is to play at the next level, after college. It’s going to be great having somebody back there and I have already played with and am familiar with. I seems like that will help us going into camp, being able to communicate with each other and show we can play on the field as well as anyone else.

SN: How much did knowing Coach Mike would push you to reach your dreams, reach that next level, help when he was recruiting you?

Moore: Coach Mike did a great job recruiting me. I watched his style of coaching and he’s a fiery coach that seems like will keep me going and always keep me on type of my game. I’m very excited about the situation with Coach Mike.

SN: When you leave OU, what do you want your legacy to be?

Moore: I want to be remembered as a hard worker who kept working hard to be the player he wanted to be. Somebody who had a lot of interceptions, gave a lot of help on the defense side of the ball and in the program.
There’s always going to be a positive feeling for Oklahoma fans when it comes to Fresno (Calif.) Central East safety Hatari Byrd.

Byrd committed exactly when the Sooners needed some good news, as ESPN 150 running back Greg Bryant had decommitted from OU the previous day.

[+] EnlargeHatari Byrd
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comHatari Byrd made a quick connection with Oklahoma, committing to the Sooners before he had visited campus.
He committed without seeing the campus. His official visit sealed the deal, as Byrd never seriously considered looking at other schools.

Prior to his arrival on campus, Byrd spoke to SoonerNation one more time to discuss the potential Fresno pipeline developing.

SN: Any idea what jersey you’re going to wear?

Byrd: I don’t know what jersey. I have no idea. I don’t really care. I just want to work.

SN: What have the coaches told you about your potential role this season?

Byrd: Playing free safety, so there’s a good chance I can get in there and play early. With Tony Jefferson leaving early, it left a spot open. I know I can be that guy.

SN: With that in mind, did that change the way you worked this spring?

Byrd: It has. My training has gotten so intense. I’m just focused on the next level. I’m getting bigger and faster. Work -- that’s all I do. Running every day. Hitting the weights. Doing all the little things.

SN: When did you know in your heart OU was the place for you?

Byrd: I knew right when I committed. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen the campus yet. I already knew I was going to some place far from home, so it didn’t matter to me. The atmosphere. The thought of playing in front of 80,000 fans. It gets me pumped just talking about it.

SN: What do you expect during your first year at OU?

Byrd: It’s going to be a big change. The biggest difference I expect is with the game speed. It’s going to be a whole ‘nother level with the speed.

SN: Who have you developed a relationship with that’s on the team already?

Byrd: Wide receiver Jalen Saunders. We have a pretty good relationship. He was from Fresno, too, and he was a big factor during my visit last year.

SN: When you leave OU, what do you want your legacy to be?

Byrd: Ooh, that’s kind of a hard one. That I left everything I had at OU and tried to get better every day. There was a reason they recruited me, and I showed everybody what I’m all about.

SN: You and L.J. are coming to Norman. OU would love to add ESPN 150 athlete Michiah Quick to that equation. How much are you trying to encourage Michiah to join you?

Byrd: I talk to him a lot about the recruiting process, but I’m leaving him alone now. I want him to follow his heart, but I always put that OU in his head. I think he wants to play football with us.

SN: A big influence in your life has been Fresno Central East defensive backs coach Tony Perry. Can you put into perspective what he has meant to you?

Byrd: I can’t even say any more about what he has meant to me. He has done so much for me. From the training on the field to the guidance off the field, it’s unreal. He means so much to me.

SN: Does this feel real to you yet? How hard you’ve had to work to get here and all the personal issues you had to overcome?

Byrd: Every now and then I stop and think about it. I can’t wait to get it done. This is what I want to do with my career. It’s an incredible blessing, and I’m very thankful for everything I’ve got. I can’t wait to say I’m doing it. Not that I’m going to do it but that I’m doing it -- living my dream.
July marks the third edition of The Opening, an all-star event featuring 150 of the best recruits in the country. And for the third year in a row, OU fans don't have a commit to keep tabs on.

Don’t worry, though. If history has proven anything, the Sooners are going to end up with two signees from The Opening. And they’re both coming from California.

In 2011, wide receiver Derrick Woods and tight end Taylor McNamara both went to Beaverton, Ore., and ended up in Norman. Woods is from Inglewood, Calif., while McNamara is from San Diego.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • A Houston wideout is planning a visit to OU soon. Could he commit?
  • OU commits have put the full-court press on an in-state target.
  • OU commitment changing things for defensive back.
  • A Texas three-star offensive tackle is eyeing a trip to Oklahoma.
  • One of the Sooners' top defensive tackle targets talks about his missed visit.
  • Top 2015 in-state recruits get first look at OU.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


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Signee Q&A: CB Dakota Austin

June, 11, 2013
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Four years ago, the Sooners unearthed quite the gem in lightly recruited cornerback Aaron Colvin. The Sooners hope they have unearthed a gem in another lightly recruited corner. The weekend before signing day, OU snagged a commitment from Dakota Austin, who went largely under the radar with both major college coaches and recruiting services. Like Colvin, Austin turned heads at the OU camp going into his senior year, which ultimately led to his OU offer.

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:

[+] EnlargeDakota Austin
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comCornerback Dakota Austin didn't have many offers before the Sooners offered in late January.
SoonerNation: Who are you going to room with?

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.
Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • A recent defensive offer will be at the Sooners' summer camp.
  • A Houston wideout has Oklahoma on top of his list.
  • One Arizona ESPN 150 cornerback is planning to take an official visit to OU.
  • ESPN 150 athlete and his coach will be in Norman for OU's camp.
  • More on the Sooners' sleeper commit, cornerback Tito Windham.
  • Was OU's offensive line commit always destined to be a Sooner?
  • An in-state defensive tackle could be offered soon.
  • Why OU hasn't made up ground with four-star defensive end Deondre Clark.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • The latest on OU's pursuit of former ESPN 150 defensive back Tee Shepard.
  • An OU offer would change the recruitment for a three-star wideout.
  • The Sooners' defensive ends coach is developing a bond with a four-star end.
  • What's next for OU and offensive line target Alex Dalton?
  • A top linebacker offer talks about where the Sooners stand.
  • One of ESPN 300 DE Matt Dimon's teammates is keeping in touch with the Sooners.
  • A Dallas safety is hearing a lot from OU and might visit this summer.
  • OU is taking an interest in a defender at Adrian Peterson's old high school.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • A giant Georgia offensive tackle has the Sooners in his top three.
  • An OU commit is getting more comfortable in Norman.
  • The Sooners are scouting a tight end in an unlikely location.
  • The race won't be easy for OU's top athlete target.
  • An OU signee has words of wisdom for a former teammate who's now being recruited.
  • Why putting on an OU jersey was special for an in-state tailback.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Montgomery must reverse fortune at DT 

April, 1, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- OK, Jerry Montgomery, this is a big reason you were brought to Oklahoma. Defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren) unexpectedly committing to Texas on Saturday night is another example of the Sooners falling short at defensive tackle.

And an example of the work ahead for Montgomery.

For OU’s 2012 class, the Sooners had a plan to not lobby too hard for a defensive tackle. They didn’t attack any high school or junior college prospects and were content with who was on campus.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • A top California target is focused on academics this spring.
  • OU's quarterback offer is visiting a rival next week.
  • OU made an impression on a big Texas defensive end.
  • A recent defensive tackle visitor is in no rush to decide.
  • The door is open for an in-state athlete to look at the Sooners.
  • One Texas running back hopes to visit the Sooners this spring.
  • Are the Sooners firmly in the mix for an in-state linebacker?
  • An in-state point guard is hearing a lot from the Sooners.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff finally was able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

The Sooners are in dire need of playmakers in the secondary and Fresno (Calif.) Central East safety Hatari Byrd could fit the bill.

At 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, Byrd has the size and athleticism to become a solid safety for OU. The Sooners coaching staff is hoping Byrd can help lessen the impact of losing leading tackler Tony Jefferson, who decided to enter the NFL draft following his junior season.

"[He's] a big-time player," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Byrd. "He can cover a lot of ground, make things happen in the back end, he has great range. He plays like Tony -- great hitter, great tackler but has more range in his body type than Tony had."

With Big 12 offenses designed to stretch the field as much as possible, the Sooners are excited about the range of Byrd from his safety position, which could help him make plays from sideline to sideline.

“Hatari is a great safety, a big-time DB," head coach Bob Stoops said. "He’s got great size and range. He’s a huge hitter, but a great athlete. He can really run, and again, he’s got a ton of range to him, an excellent skill athlete.”

Byrd will be joined in Norman, Okla,. by his high school teammate L.J. Moore, who could help solidify the cornerback position this fall. Stoops was the only Sooners coach able to talk about Moore, who didn't announce his decision until late on signing day.

“L.J. has great size for a corner and tremendous coverage skills," Stoops said. "He’ll give a boost to our secondary."

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