(Editor's note: With the start of spring practice just days away for the Oklahoma Sooners, BH is looking at some of the most pressing questions in Norman over the next month. To start, let's break down the impact of Mike Stoops' return in his area of expertise, the secondary.)
Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops and Brent Venables came up together through the coaching ranks, working together to build the perfect defense. Between their time at Kansas State and Oklahoma, some combination of at least two members of the trio have worked together for the last 19 years.
We're talking about three guys who drink from the same coaching trough. In theory, that suggests that when it comes to defensive strategy, they're all operating under a similar philosophy.
From a 10,000-foot standpoint, that may be true. Execution and emphasis – different story.
Venables based his defense around versatile linebackers who could play every down, including both passing and running situations. On the other hand, Mike, a defensive backs guru, tends to roll with more of a true nickel package as his base defense.
With Venables now gone, the Sooners are certain to experiment with a variety personnel groupings this spring as Mike gets a better feel for what he's working with on defense. Nowhere will this be more important than in the secondary.
Fortunately for Mike, he can avail himself of a bevy of versatile contributors from a year ago. The loss of dynamite cornerback Jamell Fleming hurts, but potential All-Americans Demontre Hurst, Tony Jefferson and Aaron Colvin will still be in the mix. We can take those three as givens in the starting lineup.
While Hurst is a fixture at corner, Colvin and Jefferson give Mike some flexibility. Jefferson's skills playing up close to the line of scrimmage mean he can line up as a de facto linebacker on running downs, then shift back into more of a safety position in passing situations. If Mike wants to run a more traditional 4-3 set, Jefferson can play exclusively on the back end.
Colvin played corner in 2010, backing up Fleming and Hurst and playing some in nickel packages. A year later, Colvin lined up as a first-team safety and was one of OU's best defenders by the end of the season.
Mike will likely mix and match combinations of junior-college transfer Kass Everett, senior safety Javon Harris and Gabe Lynn to find the right guys to fill the other two spots. Should Harris hold onto his spot as starting safety, that would put Everett and Lynn jockeying for the nickel spot. Alternatively, Mike could opt to put Everett opposite Hurst at corner, meaning Colvin would play safety with Lynn at nickel. Of course, maybe Lynn has developed into a must-start. If so, he either plays safety or corner, and the dominoes start falling again.
Luckily, the level of talent in the secondary almost assures that Mike would have to work hard to screw things up. Still, he has a busy spring ahead of him.