So much has been made already of Oklahoma’s renewed depth and talent at the defensive back position coming out of spring football practice, but one important element can be easily overlooked.
Senior Pat Fields, a three-year starter, is coming back, too, when the season gets here in 116 days. He missed spring practice after needing a “clean-up” surgical procedure.
But Fields’ absence became a good thing for the Sooners. In addition to giving a seasoned veteran time off to fully heal his body, it also cleared a spot for defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to see what other players he has that can contribute at OU’s multiple safety spots.
“It definitely opened the door,” coach Lincoln Riley said.
Senior Delarrin Turner-Yell, another three-year starter, got to play both the strong and the free safety with Fields gone. Turner-Yell is one of the Sooners’ most reliable DBs, but this spring he got to expand his game because his running mate was healing up. And senior Justin Broiles, Riley said, had the best spring he’s had as a Sooner.
Others players benefited, too — at multiple positions.
“It gave some guys some great opportunities,” Riley said, “whether it was a guy who played a lot like Delarrin and then a chance to move him around defensively. It gave us a chance to move Broiles to a lot of different places. I thought he had a very strong spring.
“It gave some of the young guys, like Bryson Washington, Key Lawrence and Jordan Mukes, an opportunity to get a lot more reps as well. It was a good thing for us in a lot of ways.”
And the snaps those players got this spring allowed for other moves, like switching Justin Harrington from safety to cornerback, which looks like it could pay big dividends.
Bob Stoops used to say he didn’t need to see what guys like Adrian Peterson or DeMarco Murray could do in spring practice, so they often sat out. That allowed other players a chance to develop. Riley has the same approach.
“If you are going to have somebody that’s not able to participate in spring,” Riley said, “you’d love for it to be a guy like that – not that he doesn’t need work and need to improve, he does – but he’s played a lot of ball around here as well.
“Certainly for those young players, the added reps made a big difference for those guys.”