Oklahoma Sooners: Quentin Hayes
Impact thus far: Hayes' impact was minimal until last season. He redshirted in 2010, saw limited duty in 2011 and missed the entire 2012 season. His junior season was a breakout campaign with 75 tackles including 40 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one sack.
Impact in 2014: Hayes should start and bring a veteran presence to the Sooners’ secondary. He’s a proven playmaker who will provide peace of mind for the defensive coaches with his consistent play.
Long-term upside: Hayes has the ability to earn all-conference honors as a senior because of his versatility. He has the ability to make plays in the running game and hold his own in coverage, making him a valuable asset.
Evaluation grade for Hayes: C. This grade could jump to a B with a solid senior season, but the Sooners have only one good year of production out of the four years he has been on campus. That's the only reason this grade is a C. When he's healthy and available, he's an impact player.
Development grade for Hayes: B. The Sooners have done a pretty good job with Hayes' development. The senior safety is the one who took himself out of the equation after his redshirt freshman season with his 2012 suspension. When he has been healthy and available, the Sooners have found ways to use his skills.
Some Sooners will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the 2014 squad. Last week we counted down the most important players on offense with quarterback Trevor Knight atop the list.
This week, we’ll count down the five most important players on defense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production. On Tuesday, we continue the countdown with No. 4.
2013 role: Hayes was an overlooked but important contributor in the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl title run, finishing with 75 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. His versatility in Oklahoma's secondary was key for the Sooners defense as he could be trusted in coverage and make an impact around the line of scrimmage. Hayes easily was one of the most productive players on the roster.
Expected 2014 role: Hayes returns as the veteran anchor of the secondary and appears poised to make an impact with his versatility. He might not lead the Big 12 in tackles or interceptions, but his ability to make open-field tackles and cover opposing receivers opens up options for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to get creative with his schemes.
Why he’s important: Hayes brings experience and production to the Sooners secondary and should be a helpful voice for the young safeties on the roster such as Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker.
One reason the Sooners defense was able to be so active and aggressive last season was the versatility of their secondary. In this era of spread football, safeties are often asked to play in similar roles as cornerbacks. Hayes has proved he can handle many different assignments.
If he was missing: The Sooners would lose a versatile and experienced safety who is the lone proven safety on the roster. If Stoops’ defense lost the ability to trust its safeties in coverage, it could have a negative impact on the overall aggressiveness of the defense. There’s young talent behind Hayes, but nothing teaches as well as game experience, which Hayes earned by starting 13 games during his junior season.
No. 5: CB Zack Sanchez
After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.
BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM
- QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- RB: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- WR: Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- WR: Tony Pierson, Kansas
- WR: Daje Johnson, Texas
- WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- LT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- LG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- C: Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- RG: Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- RT: Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- DE: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
- DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
- DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
- WLB: Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- SLB: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- NB: JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- FS: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- SS: Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- CB: Kevin White, TCU
MAX OLSON'S TEAM
- QB: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
- RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
- WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- WR: Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- IR: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- LG: Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State
- RG: Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- RT: Troy Baker, Baylor
- DE: Devonte Fields, TCU
- DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor
- DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- OLB: Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- ILB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
- OLB: Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
- SS: Sam Carter, TCU
- FS: Terrell Burt, Baylor
- CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM
- QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
- RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas
- WR: Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- WR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- LT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
- LG: Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- C: Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- RG: Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- RT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- Nose: James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- Tackle: Travis Britz, Kansas State
- OLB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- ILB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
- ILB: Paul Dawson, TCU
- OLB: Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- SS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- FS: Chris Hackett, TCU
- CB: Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.
As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.
- 1. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
- 2. OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
- 3. OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- 4. DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- 5. OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- 6. WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- 7. WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- 8. TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- 9. RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
- 10. DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
- 11. DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- 12. CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- 13. SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- 14. FS Chris Hackett, TCU
- 15. LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
- 1. WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- 2. DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- 3. DE Cedric Reed, Texas
- 4. OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- 5. DT Malcom Brown, Texas
- 6. DT Chucky Hunter, TCU
- 7. CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- 8. CB Kevin White, TCU
- 9. OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- 10. SS Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- 11. C Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- 12. LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- 13. CB JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- 14. OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- 15. WR Daje Johnson, Texas
- 1. DE Devonte Fields, TCU
- 2. WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- 3. DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- 4. QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- 5. LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- 6. CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
- 7. SS Sam Carter, TCU
- 8. LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
- 9. DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
- 10. OT Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- 11. CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
- 12. RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
- 13. C BJ Finney, Kansas State
- 14. OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- 15. OLB Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
- Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
- Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
- Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
- Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
- Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
- Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
- Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
- Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
- Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
- Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
- Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
- Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
Offense (projected starters in bold)
QB: Trevor Knight (So.), Cody Thomas (RFr.), Justice Hansen (Fr.)
RB: Keith Ford (So.), Alex Ross (So.), Daniel Brooks (So.)
Ford exits spring as the favorite to start in the backfield, but he didn’t take the job and hide during 15 spring practices. Ross was one of the stars of the spring as he continually made plays during scrimmages, and Brooks was one of the standouts during the spring game. OU has several talented options at running back and is poised to add two top freshman runners in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
FB/TE: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.), Dimitri Flowers (Fr.), Blake Bell (Sr.)
OU uses fullbacks and tight ends in similar ways as both positions spend their meeting time with tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ripkowski is one of the unsung heroes on the entire roster. He played a critical role during the team's strong finish to the 2013 season. Flowers has stepped on campus ready to make an impact with his versatility and football IQ after enrolling in school early. Bell has moved over from quarterback and looks poised to make an impact as a pass catcher with his size and athleticism. It’s a talented and versatile group that is likely to get overlooked this fall but could be the foundation of any success the team has on offense.
WR: Sterling Shepard (Jr.), Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (RFr.), Jordan Smallwood (RFr.), Austin Bennett (So.)
Shepard should be one of the Big 12’s top receivers if Knight continues to develop as a passer. OU badly needs someone to emerge alongside Shepard if it hopes to have a strong passing game to help make the 2014 version of the offense more balanced than the 2013 version. There’s talent on campus but nobody separated themselves during the spring, opening the door for a freshman like Michiah Quick to step on campus and into the lineup this fall.
C: Ty Darlington (Jr.)
G: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.), Tony Feo (Sr.), Adam Shead (Sr.), Tyler Evans (Sr.)
T: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Josiah St. John (Sr.)
Darlington has been groomed to replace All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and could slide into the starting lineup with ease. Nonetheless, adding competition at this position would help the Sooners. OU is fairly deep at guard and tackle which should allow competition for playing time to help everyone improve. Williams is the anchor of the entire offensive line and should be one of the Big 12’s top tackles this fall. The Sooners should have one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.
DE: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), Matt Dimon (So.)
DT: Jordan Phillips (Jr.) or Chuka Ndulue (Sr.), Jordan Wade (So.)
LB: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.), Eric Striker (Jr.), Jordan Evans (So.), Devante Bond (Jr.)
Striker could be the Big 12’s best pass rusher, Alexander has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s best before his career is over, Evans could take a major step forward as a sophomore and Bond impressed as a junior college transfer this spring. If Shannon returns to good standing after missing part of spring due to personal issues, this is a good, experienced group. OU’s linebackers are one of the main reasons its defense could be the most athletic and versatile in the conference this fall.
CB: Zack Sanchez (So.), Julian Wilson (Sr.), Dakota Austin (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)
Here’s where things get interesting for the defense. Wilson returns as the starting nickelback and a productive veteran in the secondary. Sanchez is solid and took his game to another level this spring as he strives to be the type of coverage cornerback that teams don’t want to test. But the Sooners need someone to step up on the opposite side of the field with Austin ending the spring as a starter but remaining untested. No matter who wins the job, they will be picked on repeatedly until they prove they aren’t the weak link of the secondary. Defensive back is one of the few unsettled and unproven spots on the entire roster.
S: Quentin Hayes (Sr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)
Hayes was quietly one of the better safeties in the Big 12 in 2013. He was productive with 75 tackles and solid in coverage. Byrd and Thomas have matured and started to develop as sophomores and should be key contributors this fall. Nonetheless, freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in an earn a role this summer. If Parker is as good as advertised, OU will go two deep with talented options.
Running back Alex Ross: The sophomore made it clear he plans to be a part of OU’s offense this fall. He had a solid spring and was consistently mentioned as a playmaker after Sooners’ scrimmages. It was an important spring for Ross, who was passed on the depth chart by Keith Ford last season and will watch highly touted signees Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon arrive this summer. Ross needed to seize the opportunity to remind people he was a highly touted signee as well and that’s exactly what he did.
“He’s playing explosively,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “He’s just having fun playing. He gets the ball in his hands and he’s down the field real quick. It’s good to watch.”
“He’s stepping up, coming down and making plays,” linebacker Eric Striker said.
Receiver K.J. Young: Fellow redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood has gotten a lot of the accolades but Young looks poised to be a contributor in OU’s offense in the fall. He’s a smooth operator in the slot and can make plays when he gets the ball in his hands. Young didn’t separate himself in the spring game but he has all the tools to emerge as a quality receiving option for Knight in 2014. He’s gets overlooked at times but has the type of playmaking skills that can separate him from the competition.
Linebacker Jordan Evans: The sophomore is poised to provide depth and add athleticism to the Sooners linebacker corps. The Norman (Okla.) native played several positions in high school and his versatility shines through at linebacker. He’s very comfortable in space yet is willing to play physical if needed. If Evans continues to perform like he did this spring, the Sooners could end up having to find a place for him in their defensive system.
“He has played great,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Jordan has really improved and is much more sound and disciplined in schemes and where he needs to be. He has got great range and great athleticism.”
Cornerback Dakota Austin: The sophomore didn’t enter the spring as the favorite to replace Aaron Colvin but the job could be his to lose after a strong spring showing. He’s undersized but competitive and solid in coverage, which helped him surpass Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson, a pair of returning cornerbacks who started games in 2013. Austin hasn’t locked down the starting spot but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him team with Zack Sanchez as OU’s starting cornerbacks for the season opener.
Pre-spring: A trio of Sooners entered the spring set to battle to replace Aaron Colvin. Sophomores Stanvon Taylor and Dakota Austin joined junior Cortez Johnson in the competition. None of the three entered the spring as the clear favorite to secure the spot.
Post-spring: Austin had the best spring of the bunch, taking the field with the Sooners’ first-team defense in the spring game and holding his own. The sophomore is undersized (5-foot-11, 162 pounds) but good in coverage and has a chip on his shoulder. Injuries hampered Johnson’s spring, and Taylor didn’t make the move you would expect from a guy who stepped on campus with lofty expectations.
Summer outlook: Someone needs to seize the opportunity by taking their game to another level. Austin sent a message with a strong spring, but a few incoming recruits, including Tito Windham and Jordan Thomas, arrive in the summer with an eye on stepping up if nobody else makes it their spot to lose.
Pre-spring: Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd each saw action as freshmen in 2013. With Quentin Hayes comfortably manning the other safety spot, letting the Class of 2013 signees compete for a starting spot was the plan.
Post-spring: Both guys look like they could be solid, trustworthy options at the position. Thomas has emerged as a player who should see the field regardless thanks to his versatility and athleticism, while Byrd has progressed as a playmaker.
Summer outlook: Depth, not the starters, is the main concern at safety. Thomas or Byrd could do the job, and Steven Parker arrives in the summer with a unique skill set that could make him tough to keep on the sidelines. Though the name of the starter at free safety remains unclear, the position doesn’t look like a potential weak link in the defense this fall.
Pre-spring: OU returned its two leading tacklers at the linebacker spot with Dominique Alexander and Frank Shannon, along with pass-rushing dynamo Eric Striker. It was a unit full of playmakers but questionable depth.
Post-spring: The depth questions remain and could get worse if Shannon, whose status is unclear after missing the spring game for personal reasons, does not return. Fortunately for OU, Jordan Evans looks ready to step in and fill the void if needed. Additionally, Devante Bond should provide another option for Mike Stoops’ defense, and defensive end Geneo Grissom even spent time at linebacker this spring. Alexander is a terrific foundation and Evans is unusually athletic at linebacker, so developing more depth is the lingering question.
Summer outlook: Shannon’s status is the main storyline of the summer. If he returns it's a big boost for the Sooners. If not, OU will likely turns to Evans, which is another hit to its depth. Incoming recruits Curtis Bolton and Tay Evans might be called upon sooner than anticipated.
Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, defense only, on OU’s spring finale. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my thoughts and observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.
- Linebacker Frank Shannon’s absence is disappointing, but Jordan Evans filled in at linebacker without looking like a weak link, much as he did against Texas Tech during his true freshman season a year ago. Evans is very athletic and comfortable in coverage. If Shannon, who is dealing with personal issues, is unable to return, OU can feel good about Evans’ spring-game production.
- Ahmad Thomas looks like a potential difference-maker. He can play multiple positions in the secondary and he was consistently around the ball. A breakout sophomore campaign could be on the horizon.
- The defensive line should be deep, athletic and productive. This unit could spark a special season if everyone continues to develop. From Charles Tapper to Jordan Wade to Charles Walker, it’s a very solid group of defensive linemen from top to bottom. Games are won in the trenches, so the Sooners should feel good about their chances this fall.
- Cornerback Zack Sanchez is another Sooner who looks as if he’s taken a step forward. If he continues to progress, Sanchez could become a player who opponents think twice about testing. He was competitive and active on Saturday and played like OU's best cornerback.[+] EnlargeMark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsQuentin Hayes is a returning starter at safety, but depth is a concern there.
- Sophomore Dakota Austin looked solid opposite Sanchez, but the search for the other half of OU’s cornerback duo should carry deep into preseason camp. Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson are also in the mix, but nobody has taken the job and run away with it. The Sooners need to shore up this spot, as this concern could be considered the top priority on the defensive side of the ball heading into the summer.
- Linebacker Eric Striker is on the road to making several appearances on "SportsCenter" this fall. The pass-rushing dynamo was terrific as a sophomore and it looks like he could be even better as a junior. He's exceptionally quick off the edge and has a knack for getting to the quarterback.
- The safety position looks like it is in good hands with Quentin Hayes and Hatari Byrd, but the depth behind them is a major summer storyline. Thomas and Julian Wilson, who sat out the spring, could help at the position and incoming freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in immediately. It’s not a problem if OU remains injury-free, but it’s football, so heading into the season without a Plan B is fool’s gold.
- Kicker Michael Hunnicutt has earned his nickname “Munnicutt” and his leg strength has improved. He made two 40-plus-yard field goals, one with the wind at his back and one into the wind. He’s one of the nation’s most consistent kickers, so increased long-range production is a major bonus.
- Final thought: The excitement surrounding the Sooners program heading into 2014 is well-earned. This team could find itself in the College Football Playoff if Trevor Knight is consistent and efficient under center and the defense takes another step forward this fall. But don't lock them into the national title conversation quite yet, as several young players need to continue to develop and take their games to another level and show they are ready to perform at a championship level, week in and week out.
These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.
On Tuesday, we continue with Allstate Sugar Bowl champion Oklahoma.
2. Linebacker Eric Striker: One of the Big 12’s top pass rushers, Striker showed what he can do during his three-sack performance in the Sugar Bowl. His relentlessness on the edge should continue to terrorize quarterbacks this fall.
3. Defensive end Charles Tapper: The former basketball player is coming off an All-Big 12 season, but he still hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential in a lot of ways. He’s continuing to grow as a football player, but his natural instincts and exceptional physical ability to cement himself near the top of this list until he leaves Norman, Okla.
4. Receiver Sterling Shepard: Shepard has been a key piece of the offense since he stepped on campus two years ago. His tendency to play his best in OU’s biggest games, particularly against Alabama, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame, is what makes him a special player.
5. Safety Quentin Hayes: He goes somewhat unnoticed, but Hayes' versatility is a critical piece in OU’s defense. He has the ability to cover receivers yet always remains active and around the ball. This spring Hayes needs to emerge as a leader in the secondary as the veteran in the group.
6. Quarterback Trevor Knight: If Knight can consistently play like he did in the Sugar Bowl, he’ll rise to the top of this list quickly. Even with several stellar performances by teammates, Knight was easily the Sooners' best player against Alabama, but the same cannot be said for the other seven appearances of his redshirt freshman season.
7. Linebacker Dominique Alexander: The Big 12 defensive freshman of the year joins Shannon and Striker to give the Sooners one of the Big 12’s top linebacker units. Alexander had 80 tackles while recording double-digit stops in four of the nine games he started as a true freshman. The sky is the limit for Alexander, who should be even better as a sophomore.
8. Tackle Daryl Williams: Injuries are the only thing that have kept Williams from being productive during his time in crimson and cream. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and should be the veteran anchor of the offensive line in 2014.
9. Defensive end Geneo Grissom: He finally started to realize his upside as a junior, capping it off with an outstanding performance against Alabama. Much like Knight, if he can consistently play at that level, he would skyrocket up this list.
10. Cornerback Zack Sanchez: He stepped up in a big way during his redshirt freshman year. Sanchez had major ups and downs but his competitiveness rose to the forefront on several occasions. He finished with a team-high 13 pass breakups along with 46 tackles and two interceptions. He’ll need to become a leader as a sophomore.
The nation watched with eyebrows raised as the Sooners throttled the two-time reigning BCS champions 45-31 in January then rode the momentum from that victory to a strong finish on the recruiting trail. The win could be a blessing as it showed the Sooners their potential, bringing visions of a national championship run into focus.
The downside? Those same players could hear the praise showered upon them in the offseason while forgetting the little steps and hard work that helped the Sooners overcome their inconsistent passing game to win 11 games.
“Talking to Jerry Schmidt, our strength coach, and all of our coaches who have been working and developing our guys out of season really believe that it’s been our best or one of our best years,” he said. “We’re really excited about the overall attitude and preparation and the way our guys are working.”
OU needs that dedication to continue, as the Sooners could be counting on several young players to fill critical roles in 2014, including sophomore running back Keith Ford, sophomore cornerback Stanvon Taylor and sophomore safety Ahmad Thomas. Those three are just a few signees from the Sooners' Class of 2013 who need to step up if a national title run is realistic.
Those young players get their chance to shine, as the start of spring marks the beginning of an intriguing time of year for Stoops.
“It’s really exciting,” Stoops said. “Probably my most exciting time of the year because you get to see the young guys that we’ve seen in practice now in a more competitive setting and fighting for jobs and making plays.”
OU’s closed-practice policy means those young players start to make their move out of the public eye. Nonetheless, those players who make names for themselves in March and April often become contributors in the fall. Defensive end Charles Tapper’s strong spring in 2013 was a precursor of his All-Big 12 performance as a sophomore last season.
“Not everybody in the outside world gets to see it,” Stoops said. “As a coach, [you] get to see it in scrimmages or when we go good against good, we start to see them make those kind of plays. It’s exciting when guys start to really figure it out and get ready to play.”
Ford, Taylor and Thomas are among several Sooners who played limited roles as true freshman as OU went 11-2 during their first season. But making an impact on special teams and proving themselves ready to become regulars in their second season are two different things. Those special teams duties can give them a taste of performing on the big stage while making them hungry to make an even bigger impact in the future. It’s one reason Stoops expects a hungry team to take the field this weekend.
“It’s always that way,” Stoops said. “Guys who have played a little bit or haven’t played at all are really champing at the bit to show they’re ready for it and that it’s their time now. That’s why it’s always so exciting.”
The Sooners' reaction to last season's success could be a concern because the majority of the roster had never won 11 games or a BCS bowl before last season. Safety Quentin Hayes, nickelback Julian Wilson, tight end Blake Bell and defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue are among several Sooners who were redshirting when OU last accomplished both of those feats in 2010, but nobody had been a core contributor on a Sooners squad that had that type of success before the 2013 campaign.
Yet Stoops seemed unconcerned during his pre-spring media session on Thursday.
“We’ve had probably the best winter we’ve ever had,” he said. “So, they’re not sitting back thinking about that and not doing what they need to do to move forward. I think more than anything, it’s made them hungrier to build on and to keep improving.”
1. TCU: TCU has been tenacious defending the pass since joining the league, and even without potential first-round pick Jason Verrett, that shouldn’t change in 2014. Sam Carter was the only non-senior to earn first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors in the secondary last season, and Chris Hackett was one of the best underclassman defensive backs in the league last year. Derrick Kindred is primed to step into TCU’s third safety spot after playing a key role in the rotation. The Horned Frogs also add the nation’s No. 3 juco safety in Kenny Iloka. Throw in senior Geoff Hooker, and the Horned Frogs have an impressive five-man rotation at safety. At corner, Kevin White was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and will take over for Verrett as the primary corner. The Horned Frogs have several options at the other corner, including incoming three-star recruit Nick Foster.
2. Texas: After playing the nickel role last year, Quandre Diggs will settle back at cornerback in place of Carrington Byndom. Opposite Diggs will be the ultra-athletic Duke Thomas, who was so good in spring ball last year, he forced the coaches to move Diggs to nickelback. Together, Diggs and Thomas could give the Longhorns the best cornerback tandem in the league. Antwuan Davis, who redshirted in his first year, was an ESPN 300 signee and figures to play a big role somewhere in the secondary. Josh Turner (37 appearances) and Mykkele Thompson (12 starts in 2013) each bring a lot of experience at safety.
3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma graduates the heart and soul of the secondary in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who gutted his way through an array of injuries last year. But if the Sooners can find an adequate replacement for him, the Big 12’s best pass defense statistically in 2013 should be stout again. Julian Wilson (nickelback), Zack Sanchez (cornerback) and Quentin Hayes (strong safety) all return as starters, though Hayes could be pushed by Ahmad Thomas and incoming freshman Steven Parker for time. Hatari Byrd, an ESPN 300 signee last year, should step into the vacant spot at free safety. Cortez Johnson will try to fend off Stanvon Taylor, who played as a true freshman, for Colvin’s spot in the only real uncertain area of this secondary.
4. Kansas State: The Wildcats will miss All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman, but his cohort, Dante Barnett, was one of the best young safeties in the league last year. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles and first with four interceptions. Randall Evans also returns after leading the team in pass breakups and gives the Wildcats a versatile defensive back. As usual, Bill Snyder will also be looking for some juco impact. He should get it in Danzel McDaniel, who was the No. 4 juco CB recruit in the country. Cornerback Jesse Mack also could prove to be a key juco signee. If both players pan out, this could become one of the better defensive backfields in the league.
5. West Virginia: The bad news is the Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst pass defense last year. The good news is they bring back three starters. Karl Joseph has started the last two seasons at free safety, though he could slide to the strong side with Darwin Cook gone. Joseph has All-Big 12 potential, and he needs to elevate his game for the West Virginia defense to take another step forward. Veteran K.J. Dillon could be the front-runner for the job alongside Joseph, though Jeremy Tyler and Jarrod Harper will also be in the mix. West Virginia also brings back both starting cornerbacks in senior Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a freshman. The Mountaineers also signed Keishawn Richardson, the No. 8 juco CB, and Jaylon Myers, the No. 9 juco safety, for depth. Cornerback Dravon Henry, an ESPN 300 signee who had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, could play immediately if one of West Virginia’s veterans struggle.
6. Kansas: The Jayhawks return all five starters from their secondary, including last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, strong safety Isaiah Johnson. Returning cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver, were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections and give the Jayhawks one of the better corner duos in the league. Free safety Cassius Sendish started every game and had 12 tackles in Kansas’ only Big 12 victory in 2013, over West Virginia. Nickelback Courtney Arnick started in six games as a redshirt freshman. If this group collectively improves, Kansas could field a solid defense in 2014.
7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who might be selected high in the first round of the NFL draft after a stellar combine performance. The Cowboys welcome back one of the best young corners in the league in Kevin Peterson, who was terrific as a sophomore in coverage opposite Gilbert. Ashton Lampkin has experience, and he will likely fill the other corner spot unless someone else emerges. Lyndell Johnson, who made a transition from linebacker to safety last season, will take over full time at strong safety. The Cowboys will need someone else to emerge at the other safety in place of departed veteran starter Daytawion Lowe. Deric Robertson, Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry, all from the 2013 recruiting class, are possibilities.
8. Texas Tech: How the Red Raiders retool here will be on one of the bigger spring storylines in Lubbock. Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson were thrown in the fire as freshmen last year, and they will be counted on to fill bigger roles. The gem of the incoming recruiting class, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, could be asked – and has the capability – to play right away. The Red Raiders have to replace both starting safeties, including freshman Tanner Jacobson, who is going on a Mormon mission. To compensate, Tech signed six safeties, including Josh Keys, the No. 5 juco safety in the country, who had offers from Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Getting strong safety J.J. Gaines back from a season-ending injury will be a boost, too.
9. Baylor: The Bears are one of several teams in the league that were decimated in the secondary by graduation. Baylor loses four of its five starters, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon. Safety Terrell Burt is the only returning starter, leaving the other four spots up for grabs. The Bears signed juco corners Tion Wright and Chris Sanders to help fill the void. Both are already on campus and will be battling Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tyler Stephenson for a starting job. Orion Stewart, who backed up Dixon as a redshirt freshman, will likely step in his role, and fellow sophomore Kiante’ Griffin will be the favorite to take over at the nickel.
10. Iowa State: Cornerback Nigel Tribune was the only true freshman to play for the Cyclones last year, and he received votes as Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Tribune, however, is the only returning starter. Veteran safety mainstays Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield are gone. In response, the Cyclones will look for Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, the Nos. 6 and 7 juco safety recruits, respectively, to step in immediately.
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.
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's defense was the foundation of the team's drive to the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Mike Stoops' unit finished atop the Big 12 in passing yards allowed and total yards allowed while making sure the Sooners had the chance to win every game they played, even with constant uncertainty at quarterback. The defensive line was surprisingly good, the linebackers were much more productive than in 2012 and the secondary replaced several starters with relative ease.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the Sooners' defense.
Linebackers: A-. OU’s linebackers showed terrific improvement in 2013. Junior Frank Shannon and freshman Dominique Alexander, the Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, finished 1-2 in tackles. Shannon played through nicks and bruises to finish with 85 tackles while Alexander finished with 75 stops after being thrust into the starting role against Texas. Add linebacker/defensive end hybrid Eric Striker to the mix and the linebackers were among the most productive groups on the squad. The versatility of Shannon and Alexander and Striker’s pass rushing skills are one reason the Sooners finished second in the Big 12 and No. 13 among FBS teams in third-down conversion percentage at 32.5 percent.
Cornerbacks: A-. Two-time All-Big 12 performer Aaron Colvin is an “A+++” performer. He showed toughness, leadership and exceptional coverage skills as a senior. With Colvin on the other side, redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez was constantly picked on by opponents but held up well and, most importantly, displayed the competitive nature every cornerback needs to succeed. Behind Colvin and Sanchez, freshman Stanvon Taylor and sophomore Cortez Johnson both made starts and earned valuable experience while providing quality depth. And nickelback Julian Wilson was stellar in his first season as a starter while tying for the team lead with three interceptions. OU led the Big 12 with 198 passing yards allowed per game, largely because of quality play from its cornerbacks and Wilson.
Safeties: A-. As good as the cornerbacks were, the safeties held their own in the defensive backfield. OU’s safeties were better in coverage this season than in 2012 while limiting big plays in the running and passing game. Gabe Lynn and Quentin Hayes weren’t dominant forces in the secondary but they were very good and played key roles while helping the Sooners to their 10-2 record.
ISU’s 2.5 yards per play on third down: Mike Stoops defense was dominant on third down, allowing just 35 yards on 14 third-down plays while holding ISU to 5 of 14 third down conversions. Frank Shannon, Gabe Lynn and Eric Striker each recorded sacks and safety Quentin Hayes grabbed his interception on third-down plays. OU’s defense stepped up in those clutch moments on Saturday.
OU’s 212-yard margin in the third quarter: The Sooners gained 231 yards in the third quarter compared to the Cyclones' 19 yards as OU pulled away after halftime. Brennan Clay had a 63-yard touchdown run and Williams added a 69-yard touchdown run as OU put the game away by averaging 14.93 yards per carry during the third quarter. OU came out of the locker room with a different focus and execution, allowing it to impose its will on ISU in the final half.
OU’s pass defense expected points added: The Sooners pass defense finished with 7.38 expected points added, an ESPN metric which essentially means that OU's pass defense contributed 7.38 points to the win. They rallied after ending the first quarter at minus-3.14 expected points added. They added 2.39 points in the second quarter, 3.35 points in the third and capped it off by adding 4.79 points in the fourth. Playing without All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, the Sooners' secondary was solid with Cortez Johnson and Stanvon Taylor each playing well in Colvin’s absence.
OU’s 3.73 points per drive: The Sooners averaged 3.73 points per drive against the Cyclones, including a game-high six points per drive in the third quarter. OU is averaging 2.21 points per drive this season and the Big 12 average is 2.06. Florida State leads the nation with a 3.84 points per drive average. It was the second-most points per drive for the OU offense this season behind its 4.64 average against Tulsa. Seeing OU’s offense be so prolific with Knight, a redshirt freshman, behind center could be an encouraging sign for the future.