Oklahoma Sooners: Tony Jefferson
This class featured seven players in the ESPN 150 and a ton of star power led by the “Cali Trio” of Kenny Stills, Brennan Clay and Tony Jefferson. The class was ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN.com.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin: An afterthought on signing day, but he was arguably the best player in this class. He started his first-ever Red River Rivalry as a freshman and started three straight seasons at two different positions, earning All-Big 12 honors twice. The nation’s No. 40 safety prospect coming out of Owasso, Okla., Colvin finished with 234 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five interceptions in 50 career games (36 starts).
Tackle Daryl Williams: The No. 53 tackle in the nation, Williams has performed like a highly-regarded offensive line prospect. He started his first college game as a redshirt freshman before injury derailed his first season. Nonetheless, Williams became a anchor on OU’s offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons and enters his final season as one of the Big 12’s best offensive linemen.
Safety Tony Jefferson: The No. 21-ranked player in the ESPN 150, Jefferson stepped on campus with high expectations. He didn’t disappoint, earning Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors in 2010 and All-Big 12 honors in 2012 before leaving early for the NFL. Jefferson finished with 258 tackles, eight interceptions and seven sacks in 40 career games (34 starts). He’s currently a safety for the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted last spring.
Receiver Kenny Stills: The No. 36-ranked receiver prospect, Stills started every game he played in crimson and cream. His speed and football IQ separated him from the competition, as he finished with 204 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns in 38 career games (38 starts) before leaving early for the NFL. He’s currently one of Drew Brees’ main targets with the New Orleans Saints.
Running back Brennan Clay: Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150, Clay overcame injuries to become a key performer. He never emerged as a star, but he was the type of consistent, productive player who helps teams win games. He had 1,913 yards and 13 touchdowns in 46 career games (18 starts).
Linebacker Corey Nelson: The No. 62 player in the ESPN 150, Nelson had a solid career. A three-year starter, he had 153 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss in 45 career games (27 starts).
Completely missed the mark
Receiver Justin McCay: McCay never made an impact with the Sooners, transferring after his redshirt freshman season. The No. 142 player in the ESPN 150, McCay transferred to Kansas and currently plays for the Jayhawks.
Receiver Sheldon McClain: Much like McCay, McClain had a higher ranking than Stills as the No. 22-ranked receiver nationally but never made an impact before transferring.
A-minus. Even though this recruiting class featured multiple disappointments, it was littered with stars and contributors. Tyrus Thompson, Julian Wilson, Roy Finch, Blake Bell and Chuka Ndulue are just a few of the other Sooners in the Class of 2010 who became starters or major contributors alongside Colvin, Millard and the rest of the playmakers signed in February 2010.
2010 was a banner year for the Big 12 in recruiting, as the league collectively landed 23 from the ESPN 150.
A few, such as Jackson Jeffcoat, Ahmad Dixon and Shaun Lewis, became stars. Others washed out before their careers ever got off the ground.
No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – Though he never reached a high level of team success, Jeffcoat had a great individual end to his career, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league with 13 sacks.
No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – Hicks has been good when he has played. Because of multiple injuries, that hasn’t been often. Hicks missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, just a year after also being knocked out with a hip flexor injury. After getting a medical redshirt from his 2012 season, Hicks has one more year of eligibility remaining.
No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas – Davis finished in the Big 12’s top 10 in receiving the last two seasons, compiling 200 career catches and 18 touchdown receptions.
No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas – Bible never played a down at Texas, leaving after his redshirt freshman season because of issues with grades. Bible ended up at Carson-Newman.
No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor – Dixon had a tremendous tenure with his hometown school, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors as a senior as Baylor captured its first Big 12 title in 2013.
No. 18: Demarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas – The Tulsa, Okla., native has appeared in 29 games on special teams and as a defensive reserve. He missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury.
No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas – After making just six catches his first two seasons, White transferred to Missouri. He caught just seven passes this season for the Tigers, but has another year of eligibility left.
No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma – In his first season, Jefferson was the Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the year, and he was a three-year starter before leaving early to go pro.
No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas – After serving as a reserve throughout his career, Dorsey was projected to start this season, but he transferred out days before Texas’ season opener.
No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma – After getting playing time as a third tight end early in his career, Haywood unexpectedly quit in the middle of the season, tried to earn his way back on the team, failed and ended up transferring to Central Arkansas. After getting suspended there, Haywood gave up football.
No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma – Nelson shined early this season after finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter. That, however, was short-lived, as Nelson tore his pectoral muscle in an early October win over TCU and sat out the rest of his final season.
No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma – The “Belldozer” starred his first two seasons as a situational, short-yardage QB. But in the preseason, Bell was beaten out by Trevor Knight for the starting job. Bell, however, still had his moments this season because of injuries to Knight. He led OU to a win at Notre Dame, then quarterbacked OU’s game-winning touchdown drive at Oklahoma State.
No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas – He appeared in 51 games as a defensive reserve. Wilson had 19 tackles and a sack as a senior.
No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas – Jones transferred out after one year, and never played.
No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State – Lewis made an immediate impact, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors along with Tony Jefferson. Lewis was a four-year starter and a big piece in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround this season.
No. 86: Tevin Jackson, LB, Texas – Jackson has been a backup linebacker for the Longhorns and will be part of the team’s great depth there in 2014.
No. 103: Adrian White, CB, Texas – Played in 17 games, then joined the mass transfer exodus from this Texas class.
No. 109: Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia – McCartney never became a No. 1 receiver, though he did contribute on West Virginia’s explosive offenses in 2011-12. He only had 12 catches this past season as a senior, however.
No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas – The cousin of former Texas running back great Cedric Benson has only been a contributor on special teams.
No. 122: Carrington Byndom, S, Texas – One of the few players from this Texas class to pan out. Byndom made 39 career starts and was a second-team All-Big 12 selection this past season.
No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma – Clay proved to be a reliable and steady force in the OU backfield. He finished his career with 1,913 rushing yards, including 957 in 2013.
No. 134: Adrian Philips, ATH, Texas – Phillips settled in the Texas secondary, collecting 28 career starts there. He was second on the team this past season with 82 tackles.
No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas – Hopkins became a stalwart up front, making 42 career starts along the offensive line. He was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.
No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma – McCay transferred to Kansas after two years in Norman. He had nine receptions and a touchdown, which also was the first scoring catch by a Kansas wide receiver in almost two full seasons.
Dimon, who was ranked No. 284 in the ESPN 300, checked in with SoonerNation recently as he prepared to arrive in Norman for summer workouts:
Matt Dimon: 90. That’s what was available.
SN: Who is your roommate going to be?
Dimon: Christian Daimler. He lives just down the road here in Houston. So that worked out real well.
SN: Have the coaches talked with you about your potential role this fall?
Dimon: No, they just said they expect me to work my hardest. If I do that, everything will work out. I could get an opportunity; if not, I’ll just learn from the guys in front of me.
SN: There were discussions before the spring about OU possibly going to a 3-4 defense. Did the coaches talk to you at all about that?
Dimon: We did talk about the 3-4 before spring ball. I went over the defense with one of the coaches. Once spring ball started, the talk just disappeared. I don’t know what happened, I guess it didn’t work out. I’m comfortable with running any defense. It’s not like we had a bad defense. We had a really good first half, then the second half was not so good, but we also played some really good offenses. The 4-3 will work if we can just tweak it a bit.
SN: What are you most excited about coming to OU?
Dimon: I don’t really have one thing. It’s going to be a whole experience, a whole new lifestyle. Get to meet new friends, get to work my butt off for a great program. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to play in a great bowl or a national championship.
SN: What are you planning to get your degree in?
Dimon: Not sure yet. Maybe energy management or business or something.
SN: When did you know OU was the place for you?
Dimon: I went up there for the spring game (in 2012). I went to Baylor’s spring game before, and OU’s facilities were just -- this is personally my opinion, 20 times better than Baylor’s. Everything is just so prestigious at OU, I just really, really liked it. I told my dad I was going to commit soon after that spring game. And I did. I loved it up there.
SN: The game you’re most looking forward to playing in?
Dimon: Probably the Notre Dame game. My family is from Chicago, so I’ll get to see them and stuff. But the Texas game is always crazy. I’m really excited about every game.
SN: What OU player did you like watching most last season?
Dimon: I was a Landry Jones fan. I liked the way he threw the ball around. I thought he was a leader. Liked the way Tony Jefferson played. Thought his pursuit angles, his tackling ability were bar none.
SN: Were you surprised Jefferson didn’t get drafted?
Dimon: I was surprised. I felt for him. It’s a bummer to leave early and not get drafted. I’m sure he’s going to use that as motivation. I would. That should drive him.
SN: What goals do you have at OU?
Dimon: First and foremost want to get a degree. I want to go in there and win football games. I could really care less about personal stats or what happens to me. I just want to win. That’s why you play the game, to win. I hope that we can work hard as a unit, and accomplish what we set to accomplish.
In 2010, the Sooners plucked safety Tony Jefferson out of San Diego and away from the West Coast powers. Jefferson became an instant starter in the secondary, leading Oklahoma with 119 tackles last season.
2012 record: 10-3
2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1
RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin
QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)
1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.
2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.
3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.
1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.
2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.
3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.
The lone freshman early enrollees who have fully participated in spring football, Cavil and Thomas are already making an impression on their teammates and coaches. It started with their smooth transition into the program during winter workouts.
Thomas was the same way.
“He handled winter workouts like someone who’s been around for a couple of years,” nickelback Julian Wilson said. “He didn’t handle them like a freshman.”
The duo continued to impress this spring by displaying playmaking ability that could earn them on role on the Sooners’ offense and defense this fall. Thomas is a hard hitter who is displaying terrific instincts at safety. The departures of Jefferson and Javon Harris, OU’s starters last season, leaves a hole in the secondary and Thomas is making a case to slide into that gap.
“I’ve never seen a freshman like him,” cornerback Cortez Johnson said. “He’ll play a big part in our defense, most likely this year.”
Senior safety Gabe Lynn is taking on a mentoring role with Thomas but has already noticed his natural ability. Thomas' instincts have impressed along with his hunger to learn.
“He has good instincts,” Lynn said. “You really can’t tell he just came in, it fits right in. Ahmad wants to learn more so it’s very easy to help him, he’s asking questions all the time.”
“I need you to come off the football and knock the line of scrimmage back,” Montgomery told Favors during practice in a "Mic'd Up" video posted at SoonerSports.com. “You’re reading. We’re not playing last year’s defense, you gotta be aggressive.”
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has expressed the desire for the Sooners defense to play more aggressively during the second year of his second stint as defensive coordinator in Norman, Okla. And that change is desperately needed after a season in which the Sooners finished No. 70 nationally in sacks per game (1.7), No. 112 nationally in tackles for loss per game (4.3) and No. 80 in turnover margin (minus-0.3).
Last season, the Sooners' defensive line played a two-gap scheme, removing the aggressiveness from their front four while looking to funnel plays to their secondary with safeties Tony Jefferson (119 tackles) and Javon Harris (86 tackles) roaming the defensive backfield and finishing first and second on the team in tackles.
“When you do what we did a year ago, you’re asking guys to take up two gaps and all you’re doing is being a plugger,” Montgomery said. “Your production is going to be down. You’re going to muddy things up, and linebackers come clean it up. That’s what that is made to do.”
This spring, the Sooners' defensive line is adapting to a one-gap scheme, which will allow its defensive linemen to play more aggressively and (hopefully) become more disruptive in opponents’ backfields.
“Be a leader to my teammates and make as many plays as I can,” said the fifth-year senior from Jenks, Okla.
“I’ve been around here long enough, so it’s definitely something I have to be,” Lynn said of taking on a leadership role on defense alongside fellow seniors Corey Nelson and Aaron Colvin. “I have to be more vocal since I’m in the middle now.”
Adding to the attention is his move to free safety, a position that requires vocal leadership and was vacated when Tony Jefferson, OU’s leading tackler in 2012, left early for the NFL. After playing cornerback and nickelback during his first four years at OU, Lynn might have finally found a home.
Today's question: We know Lane Johnson will be the first Sooner taken in the 2013 NFL draft. Who will be the second Oklahoma player to come off the board?
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It will be interesting to see what Stoops does with Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson. The nickel and dime backs last year seem more suited playing close to the line of scrimmage and covering man-to-man than operating as the last line of defense.
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Vitals: Safety Ahmad Thomas (Miami, Fla./Central) | 6-foot-0, 195 pounds
Committed: May 22, 2012
ESPN.com grade: 75
ESPN.com rankings: No. 57 safety, No. 438 in the Southeast region, No. 160 in Florida
Picked OU over: Florida State, Auburn, Notre Dame, West Virginia and others
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There's only one Big 12 team on his list, and it's the 2012 preseason favorite: Oklahoma, which is sitting at No. 3 on a list you probably don't want to see your team on.
Landry Jones is the biggest name gone, but Haney says this might be Bob Stoops' biggest rebuild project ever in more than a decade in Norman.
The team's three most talented players -- Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson -- are the biggest losses, but don't overlook guys like tackle Lane Johnson and defensive linemen David King and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris won't be easy to replace, either.
Oklahoma was fortunate to keep cornerback Aaron Colvin and do-everything offensive Swiss army knife Trey Millard, who I'd expect to get a whole lot more touches next season. He was criminally underused in the Sooners' offense this past season. Just ask Texas if Millard should get more touches.
Oklahoma's offensive renaissance should be interesting. There won't be major changes, but Stoops is always going to build around what his personnel does best, and next season, likely with Blake Bell at the helm, you can expect the quarterback running game to be featured. It's still likely going to be a pass-first offense, but with Millard and Bell, next season's team might be a little more physical between the tackles.
I'd agree with Haney in that the top of the Big 12 looks really weak for 2013, which may provide opportunity for the Sooners to make a Big 12 title run, despite all the losses.
Help is on the way: OU fans can debate whether Josh Heupel is the guy to run OU’s offense, but you cannot question his ability to recruit. Heupel has landed yet another top quarterback in ESPN 300 prospect Cody Thomas (Colleyville, Texas/Heritage, ranked No. 178). OU needs help in the secondary, and Mike Stoops attacked the position hard during the spring. Three-star safety Ahmad Thomas (Miami/Central) is enrolling early, and ESPN 300 safety Hatari Byrd (Fresno, Calif./Central East) said he is ready to replace Jefferson. Corner shouldn’t be hurting either with the pledge of ESPN 300 athlete Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla./East Central).
Other key commits: Cannot talk OU’s 2013 class without mentioning running back Keith Ford (Cypress, Texas/Ranch). Ranked No. 27 in the ESPN 150, Ford is the top-ranked recruit for OU’s class. OU is also getting help from the juco ranks with the commitment of four-star ESPN JC 100 offensive tackle Josiah St. John (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley). Defensive end was locked up in April with two ESPN 300 commits in D.J. Ward (Moore, Okla./Southmoore) and Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas/Katy).
Other key targets: OU is still seeking help in the secondary and is looking at ESPN 300 athlete Adrian Baker (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna) and four-star cornerback L.J. Moore (Fresno, Calif./Central East). The Sooners are still keeping tabs on several offensive tackles after four-star tackle Aaron Cochran (Atwater, Calif./Buhach) committed to Cal earlier this week.
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But that was just one position. A move made in the Class of 2010 opened up one of the biggest recruiting areas in the nation, and OU hasn’t slowed down since.
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BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
TBD Oklahoma State Central Michigan TBD Northern Iowa Iowa State TBD South Dakota State Kansas TBD South Dakota Kansas State TBD Texas Notre Dame TBD Akron Oklahoma TBD Sam Houston State Texas Tech TBD Georgia Southern West Virginia