2020 Position Preview: Safety
John. E. Hoover
As badly as Oklahoma played pass defense in 2018, the Sooners’ last time out in 2019 wasn’t near representative of how they improved last year.
With two of the three starting safeties out, and trying to defend the best passing offense in the history of college football, last year’s 63-28 College Football Playoff loss to LSU should be considered an outlier in Alex Grinch’s first season at OU.
The Sooners improved from 129th and dead last in the NCAA pass defense rankings (294 yards per game) in 2018 to 58th (222.0) – last season.
That ranking was even better before Delarrin Turner-Yell was injured ahead of the Peach Bowl and Brendan Radley-Hiles was ejected and Heisman winner Joe Burrow threw for 493 yards and seven touchdowns.
If anything, it was an indictment of the Sooners’ startling lack of depth, although with as many warnings as Grinch gave throughout the season, even the staunchest Sooner fan should have seen it coming.
Turner-Yell and Pat Fields got almost all the snaps last year – a higher percentage of snaps than any other position (except maybe quarterback) – because Grinch said, almost every week, no other safeties were stepping up. He and defensive backs coach Roy Manning apparently gave everyone ample opportunity, but it never happened.
So, fast-forward to 2020.
Is the depth better? Or will Turner-Yell (5-10, 193), Fields (5-11, 199) and Radley-Hiles (5-9, 186) play because, well, they have to play?
Manning and Grinch would like to see more progress out of Justin Broiles, who started the Peach Bowl for Turner-Yell and was picked on relentlessly by Burrow and his receivers.
They’d like to see more out of Woodi Washington, who gave it a shot last year in Atlanta (career-high 10 tackles) but, as a freshman, was also picked on and was limited.
They’d like to see more out of Chanse Sylvie, a former starter who’s made plenty of headlines this offseason in the area of social justice, but now wouldn’t mind making headlines again on the football field.
And Grinch and Manning would most certainly like to see what they have in Tre Norwood, the former starter at cornerback who moved to safety and then nickel and seemed to be ahead of Radley-Hiles last year before injuring his knee in training camp.
Norwood, now a junior after redshirting last season, might have some options: he could slide into Parnell Motley’s old cornerback spot opposite Tre Brown (he’ll need to beat out Jaden Davis, who showed great promise as a true freshman), or he could jump back in at nickel, where Radley-Hiles had a solid 2019 but still struggled in certain situations. Or he could rotate in at one of the safety spots – if he can take snaps from Turner-Yell or Fields.
Sophomore Jeremiah Criddell could earn some playing time here, and even true freshman Bryson Washington – at 6-2, 196 pounds, apparently the wave of the future at the safety position at OU – is talented enough to demand reps right away.
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