Oklahoma Sooners: Vontre McQuinnie

OU spring position battles: No. 4

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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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 chances to make a statement and 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 safety.

No. 4: Safety

[+] EnlargeHatari Byrd
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHatari Byrd made three tackles as a freshman, all in the same game.
Why it’s important: OU has a bunch of youth at the safety spot and will need one of those young players to step up to replace veteran safety Gabe Lynn. The safety position has grown into one of the most important positions on the Sooners defense as Sooners safeties are asked to hold their own in coverage and make an impact on the running game. They are the most versatile players on OU’s defense.

Competitors

Sophomore Hatari Byrd: He filled in early in the 2013 season when Lynn was injured against Tulsa, so he does have some experience at the position. His action was limited, but he was in the Sooners’ two-deep for the majority of the year.

Sophomore Ahmad Thomas: Thomas played extensively on special teams as a true freshman, finishing with nine tackles in 2013. He’s an aggressive, athletic defensive back.

Summer arrivals

Freshman Steven Parker: He could step on campus as the Sooners’ most versatile defensive back. He’ll be hard to keep off the field.

Freshman Vontre McQuinnie: He excels around the line of scrimmage, so he’s unlikely to end up in a deep safety spot until he improves his coverage skills.

Potential outcomes

Best-case scenario: Thomas and Byrd have an intense battle to start alongside Quentin Hayes. Both sophomores are talented and can help the Sooners defense in 2014. Having Thomas and Byrd each make a step up in competition is a perfect scenario for OU, as they would push each other to get better. Having Parker join in the summer to make it a three-man competition would make the Sooners’ safety group stronger and deeper than it was in 2013. The best-case scenario does not include Thomas or Byrd winning the job in the spring; OU should want this competition to last well into August.

Worst-case scenario: The coaches end the spring longing for Parker’s arrival. That means neither Thomas or Byrd appear ready to start. It’s an unlikely scenario, but a possibility if neither make a jump from their freshman to sophomore years.

The list

No: 5: Backup quarterback
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
Jan 30
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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.
Oklahoma did what many thought couldn’t be done -- it shocked two-time defending BCS champion Alabama and ended its 2013 season with a 45-31 victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners, a two-touchdown underdog entering the game, finished the year with an 11-2 record and left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with one of the biggest wins in the program’s history.

Recruiting season has now hit Norman, and the Sooners hope to build off this win to find stars in the 2014 class. There are a couple of voids to fill from this year’s squad.


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When the Red River Rivalry is played, records are thrown out the window. When the game’s over, some love looking into the future to play “what if” with the next batch of talented college players.

While both teams have some room to land uncommitted recruits, both are pretty happy with where they are currently. Texas has 24 commits, and Oklahoma has 14, and when comparing ESPN 300 athletes, Texas only has a 7-5 lead.

Which team has the Red River Rivalry recruiting edge this year? Here’s a breakdown of eight positions and which team holds the edge for now.

Quarterback

Perhaps the most competitive comparison between the schools is at quarterback. ESPN 300s Justice Hansen (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe) and Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer) are the nation’s No. 4 and No. 5 dual-threat quarterbacks. Hansen is the Sooners’ top-ranked commit and has proven himself a first-class leader of the class. Heard already has one state championship ring, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance in December before arriving at the Forty Acres.

Advantage: Oklahoma

Dallis Todd
Erik McKinney/ESPNOklahoma will get 6-foot-5 playmaker Daliis Todd in its 2014 class.
Running back

There are high expectations for both ESPN 300 Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) and Donald "Duke" Catalon (Houston/Eisenhower). Perine is a physical specimen with the combination of power and finesse at 6-foot and 213 pounds. Catalon, at 5-10 and 193 pounds, has the agility and overall balance to make him a potential every-down back. Texas also has three-star Kevin Shorter (Newton, Texas/Newton), a player who plays with a chip on his shoulder, looking to show that he should be mentioned with the elite talent.

Advantage: Texas

Wide receiver

Neither Texas nor Oklahoma will be complaining about their receiver crop. The Longhorns have an ESPN 300 player in Armanti Foreman (Texas City, Texas/Texas City), a rising star in Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln) and a player in Garrett Gray (Marble Falls, Texas/Marble Falls) who caught 13 passes for 293 yards and five touchdowns in a game last year. Oklahoma has size and athleticism in 6-5, 210-pound ESPN 300 receiver Dallis Todd (La Mirada, Calif./La Mirada) and a 6-7, 180-pound end zone threat in Jeffery Mead (Tulsa, Okla/Union)

Advantage: Texas

Tight end

Oklahoma has done well with recruiting tight ends and was able to land ESPN 300 players Carson Meier (Tulsa, Okla./Union) and Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain). Meier is the No. 5 Y-tight end in the country, while Andrews is the No. 8 H-tight end. Texas also has a good one in junior college pledge John Thomas (Bossier City, La./Trinity Valley Community College). At 6-6 and 255 pounds, Thomas can be used as both a reliable blocker and receiver.

Advantage: Oklahoma

Offensive line

It’s hard to believe that between the two schools, only three offensive linemen are committed.

Sooners commit Alex Dalton (Troy, Ohio/Troy) is considered one of the nation’s top centers, and guard Jonathan Alvarez (Mesquite, Texas/Horn), with his work ethic alone, will surprise a lot of people in a couple of years. Texas, like Oklahoma, has a four-star center committed in Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper). Cuney is a player who might see immediate playing time as a freshman.

Advantage: Texas

Defensive line


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As football season nears, most of the Big 12 sits in good position with their 2014 recruiting classes. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Here is a must-have recruit for each team. These prospects would go a long way toward improving their particular class.

Baylor
S John Bonney (Houston/Lamar)
6-0, 182
ESPN 300 rank: N/A

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NORMAN, Okla. -- On the last Tuesday of every month, SoonerNation is going to examine Oklahoma's defensive recruiting situation by taking a look at the Sooners' commits and targets.

Here is an idea of where OU stands for the Class of 2014 heading into July. View the Sooners' full commitment list.

The number in parentheses after every position indicates the number of recruits we project OU to sign at the position.

Defensive End (2)

Committed: None


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Every Wednesday the SoonerNation staff will take a quick hit look at some of the top recruits and storylines facing Oklahoma recruiting for the week.


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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:

  • Why OU isn't out of the picture for a four-star Houston safety.
  • An OU linebacker target who visited for junior day is taking his time and will visit other schools.
  • What the Sooners' newest commit brings to OU's future defense.
  • An in-state tight end is dedicated to becoming great. Will the Sooners offer?
  • Keep an eye on a 2015 in-state defensive back who is working out with elite DBs.
  • More on what went wrong with OU's basketball decommitment.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


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In Mike Stoops' first year back as defensive backs coach, OU got exactly who it wanted at safety for the Class of 2013.

The same can be said so far for the Class of 2014, as OU secured the commitment of three-star safety Vontre McQuinnie (Lancaster, Texas/Lancaster) three months ago at the Sooners' first junior day.

Since then, there has been no question about the level of McQuinnie’s commitment. The question now is who is going to join him in Norman?

Stoops has made sure OU has options. He hasn’t offered any safeties so far during the spring evaluation period. Instead he and the Sooners have focused on maintaining a tight bond with these top targets:


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Cedar Hill (Texas) High cornerback Marcus Green was smiling from ear to ear when he picked up an Oklahoma offer last Monday.

He thought about committing but held off. The plan was to take an unofficial visit to campus May 31 and commit then. But when you know in your heart, why wait? Green committed to OU on Sunday afternoon.

Marcus Green
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas cornerback Marcus Green is the Sooners' second commit of 2014 on defense and the fifth overall.
“Me and my parents felt very comfortable making this decision,” Green said. “There was something in my heart telling me to do this.”

Green had developed a quick bond with OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, but the OU offer was only the start of the week for the 6-foot-1, 176-pound corner.

In the 48 hours after the OU offer, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Houston and North Carolina all entered the mix. But he still felt strongly about OU. More importantly, his parents felt strongly about the Sooners, and his mom had no issue with Green making the decision on Mother’s Day.

“When I got the offer, my parents were like ‘Go to OU,’ " Green said. “It’s still close to home, and they feel really good about what OU offers with football and academics.”

Green called Mike Stoops on Sunday and said Stoops told him the commitment made his day. As of early Sunday evening, Green said he hadn’t talked with OU head coach Bob Stoops yet.

Even though Green has yet to see the campus, he feels 100 percent solid with his commitment.

“When you know, you know,” Green said. “I had no reason to be hesitant about committing. I’m not taking any more visits. I’m done.”

Green is OU’s fifth overall commitment for the Class of 2014 and second on defense, joining strong safety Vontre McQuinnie (Lancaster, Texas/Lancaster).

It has been a disturbing trend with OU and the loaded Texas high school defensive backs class with OU not playing a big factor, but Green could be the start of some positive momentum.

“An OU offer is the top of the line,” Green said. “You can’t beat that. I’m so motivated right now, and I’m just going to keep working hard.”

Green said academics played a big part, too. He is looking to major in health science and physical therapy and said OU has one of the best programs in that department.
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.


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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 three things OU commit Todd looked for when deciding to pledge.
  • OU's top tight end target gets to know his possible future position coach.
  • OU's running back commit is still hearing from the Longhorns.
  • A top in-state target couldn't stay at the spring game long, but he talked to Bob and Mike Stoops before the game.
  • It was a full-court press on Saturday for a top Texas offensive tackle.
  • The Sooners had a lineman from Wyoming at the spring game.
  • Receivers coach Jay Norvell compares a Florida receiver to a former Sooners star.
  • OU is in a good position with a 2015 in-state stud.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


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Oklahoma has never been in a bad spot with ESPN Watch List offensive tackle Ty Barrett (Dallas/Skyline).

Former offensive line coach James Patton was the first coach to start pursuing him. Barrett visited OU last season, and he was offered at OU’s junior day in February.

Patton and former offensive line coach Bruce Kittle, who was also recruiting Barrett and made the offer to him, are gone, and first-year O-line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is the man in charge. Barrett and Bedenbaugh are in constant communication, but Saturday marked the first time Barrett got to meet his potential future coach.


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:

  • Why judgment day looms for the Sooners' top target.
  • A Florida receiver is excited about visiting the Sooners this weekend.
  • An OU signee talks about his first trip to Norman.
  • One of the Sooners' top offensive line targets is making a return trip this spring.
  • Is OU back in the picture for in-state DE Clark?
  • An Ohio target has built a solid relationship with the OU staff.
  • Could another running back be in play for the Sooners?
  • A 2015 tight end committed to another school wants to visit OU again.
  • A 2015 lineman talks about recently adding a Sooners offer.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.


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