247Sports asks if the Oklahoma Sooners secondary can step up

Any doubt that follows the Oklahoma Sooners as they get set for the start of spring practice on March 22 is largely due to the losses on the defensive side of the football. Oklahoma lost five starters to the NFL and Pat Fields transferred to Stanford. Delarrin Turner-Yell and Fields’ departures leave a huge leadership void at the back end of the Sooners’ defense.

247Sports reporter Chris Hummer has one burning question for Oklahoma entering the 2022 season: can the Sooners’ secondary step up?

With so much new in Norman this spring, there are a number of pressing questions. Quarterback will be under the microscope. So will the o-line, wide receiver depth and the defensive scheme. But if there’s been a continued weakness for Oklahoma, it’s the secondary. Oklahoma never ranked better than 58th in passing yards allowed per game under Lincoln Riley, and the team dropped all the way to 109th last year after moderate improvements the previous two seasons.

Can it improve next year? Perhaps. But Brent Venables will have to work with rather similar personnel. There are two losses at safety with Delarrin Turner-Yell and Pat Fields moving on. Turner-Yell was probably the best player in the secondary and Fields might have been the worst. As for the returning cornerbacks, they’re all back. There’s also North Carolina transfer Trey Morrison, who projects to play safety, and Wyoming cornerback transfer C.J. Coldon.

Coldon and Morrison are experienced pieces who are near locks for the two-deep. But the ceiling of this room will be determined by younger pieces taking a step. Can Key Lawrence and Billy Bowman emerge as difference makers? Will D.J. Graham and Woodi Washington be better at cornerback after up-and-down debut seasons as starters? Can young players like Kani Walker, Jayden Rowe and Robert Spears-Jennings take a step? Those questions will define the Sooners’ spring. – Hummer, 247Sports.

It’s a fair question to ask. As Hummer points out, Oklahoma plummeted all the way to 109th nationally in passing yards allowed as the Sooners surrendered 261.8 passing yards per game and 26 passing touchdowns on the season. By comparison, the two top passing defenses in the Big 12 last season were Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The Cyclones ranked 11th nationally surrendering just 188.2 passing yards per game, while the Cowboys ranked 36th nationally allowing 210.2 yards per game.

One bit of good news for Oklahoma is that new head coach Brent Venables arrives with the pedigree of producing strong defenses annually. That should provide some form of an immediate boost. Clemson’s defense ranked 34th nationally after surrendering just 209.2 passing yards per game in 2021.

OU has plenty of options on the back end of its defense. Cornerback is boosted by the returns of both starters in D.J. Graham and Woodi Washington. C.J. Coldon comes over from Wyoming where he recorded 68 tackles and 10 pass breakups in 2021.

Key Lawrence showed serious flashes last season at both cornerback and safety. It’s likely he’ll slot in at safety alongside Justin Broiles. Morrison is another interesting option in OU’s defensive backfield. He made starts at both safety and nickel back for North Carolina last year.

Oklahoma also brings back cornerbacks Jaden Davis and Joshua Eaton as well in addition to the signings of Gentry Williams and Jayden Rowe. At safety, the Sooners also return Jordan Mukes and Bryson Washington and signed Robert Spears-Jennings. Defensive back Jamarrien Burt signed with Oklahoma, too.

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