Sunderland’s Arrest Leaves Oklahoma To Find New Free Safety
Lincoln Riley and Mike Stoops are fortunate to return one of the country’s best safeties in Steven Parker. However, the decision making off-the-field by Will Sunderland does leave a void in the back-end of the secondary opposite of Parker now. Replacing Ahmad Thomas did not look like a major issue at the end of the 2016 season, but that has quickly changed.
Ahmad Thomas played more as a “center-field” free-safety during his career at Oklahoma. A difficult position as whoever is playing it is the safety blanket for the entire defense. That safety position is frequently scrutinized throughout a season as one small mistake can lead to big plays or touchdowns. Sunderland looked like he was ready to take that step to not only replace the graduated Thomas, but be an upgrade. This is why this position battle at safety is as intriguing as any other that Lincoln Riley will have this summer and throughout fall camp.
6’1″ 199 LBS
The junior has received one start and has played in almost every game during his first two years in Norman. He has spent time as the back-up safety to Steven Parker and Ahmad Thomas the last two years, playing spot minutes during an injury or in a nickel package. The Waco product looked like the next big-time safety out of high school, but he has yet to reach that point during his time at Oklahoma. The physical tools and instincts are there, it’s all about Haughton taking that next step to be a complete football player.
6’0 195 LBS
Johnson’s role in Mike Stoops’ defense has been tough to decipher. In the 2015 season, the Baltimore native played as Oklahoma’s nickel-back and was crucial to the defense’s success in Big 12 play by shutting down the short passing game in the flats. Fast forward to a year ago, and Johnson was playing as an outside linebacker against Ohio State. His size and role cost him much of the 2016 season as he was sidelined under concussion protocol stemming from that Ohio State game. However, Johnson’s role is ever-changing. Rumors out of Norman suggest he may be a dark-horse as the free safety and his ability to play bigger than his size may be the reason why. His speed may hurt him at that free-safety position, but Johnson is one to keep an eye on.
5’11” 193 LBS
Sylvie showed flashes of his ability during the Texas game a year ago as he was called on after an injury. His role has been strictly on special teams, but he plays with a reckless abandonment that may catch the eye of fans and his coaches. The major question will be if he can grow quickly in understanding the defense over two of his teammates that have had more time in the system. One thing is for sure, Sylvie will definitely get his fair share of opportunities to win this position battle this summer and fall.
6’3″ 194 LBS
When Mike Stoops is looking for safeties to fit his defense, Robert Barnes might be the prototype. At 6’3″ and 194 pounds, Barnes has the perfect blend of size and speed to cover any offense that Oklahoma will face. However, the talented freshman is coming off a broken fibula that he suffered during one of his last football games in his high school career this last fall. Prior to the injury, Barnes played like a linebacker at his free-safety position at Southlake Carroll in Texas. His defensive scheme was eerily similar to what Oklahoma runs, therefore his adjustment may not be as drastic as it could be. If he can get back to 100% health by fall camp, the freshman will push to win this battle.
Experience means everything in college football. Oklahoma will have their choice of players that have that experience, or they can give the nod to a young gun that has yet to even experience a college football game-day. With Ohio State looming in Week Two, Mike Stoops and Kerry Cooks will have to be extra careful to make the right choice.