Without question, Oklahoma’s cornerbacks will play better in 2018.
How often can you say that about a unit that graduated a preseason All-American from the prior year? Probably about as often as a player falls apart the way Jordan Thomas did in 2017.
The Sooner defense had a litany of problems last season, but none was more curious than Thomas’ unraveling. He returned to Norman for a senior campaign in which he was expected to elevate himself into consideration for an early selection in the NFL draft. He finished it on the bench, supplanted by scrawny true freshman Tre Norwood.
The outlook is brighter for OU's cornerbacks this year – largely because it would be hard for them to play much worse. Yet, Thomas’ downward spiral didn’t reflect well on secondary coach Kerry Cooks and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. The idea that the CBs will get better “just because” deserves ample skepticism until proven otherwise.
Parnell Motley’s return offers one clear reason for hope. The redshirt sophomore had his share of ups and downs last year, leading to a benching of his own in the middle of the season. He buttressed that stretch with strong starts and finishes to the season, though.
On the whole, Motley played well when called upon to lock down opposing receivers at the line in physical, tight man coverage. Motley might have been at his best playing off coverage. He can close quickly when the ball is in the air, and he tackles particularly well in those situations.
On the other side of the field, Jordan Parker’s move to safety suggests that Norwood has all but locked up that spot. He didn’t stand out after replacing Thomas last year. Nevertheless, Norwood was solid down the stretch.
The fact that he was able to swim in the deep end of the Big 12 as a freshman when pressed into emergency service should give Sooner fans reason to be bullish on Norwood’s future. He has added 10 pounds to his frame this offseason, mitigating some of the concerns about his ability to hold up for the entire year.
Sophomore Tre Brown will see some action throughout the season as the top backup at corner. Like his classmate Norwood, Brown filled in admirably in the middle of the year in 2017. He could push for playing time if either starter stumbles, and his speed might turn him into a special teams ace.
After those three, the situation starts to get dicey (assuming Parker has made a full-time position change).
As an early enrollee, freshman Miguel Edwards played corner in the spring game. Speculation persists that he may translate better as a safety. Meanwhile, blue-chip freshman Starrland Baldwin carries plenty of promise, but he doesn’t appear ready from a physical standpoint.
Finally, the presence of Brendan Radley-Hiles looms over every decision made regarding secondary personnel. According to the coaching staff, the diaper dandy defensive back can play corner or safety. It seems logical that he will start off as a safety or nickel back in light of the lack of proven commodities there.
Make no mistake, however: Bookie could move to CB and probably be OU's best cover man from the jump.