Jefferson gets shot to replace All-American Carter
NORMAN, Okla. (AP)
Sophomore Tony Jefferson, the Sooners' starting nickel back for most of last season, is experimenting with a move to the back end of the defense early in training camp as defensive coordinator Brent Venables tries to identify the best combination to put out on the field.
Jefferson was chosen by coaches as the Big 12's co-defensive freshman of the year last season, when he started nine games and finished with 65 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. He could be stepping into bigger shoes if he ends up as the successor to Carter, who was picked to The Associated Press All-America team last season after recording 95 tackles and four interceptions.
''Tony's already proved a year ago he's a guy that makes the tough plays,'' coach Bob Stoops said. ''We're seeing if that'll continue at that spot as well.''
Jefferson's potential move would also create an opening for sophomore Corey Nelson to get onto the field in the hybrid outside linebacker/nickel back role. Nelson was a highly regarded freshman but couldn't get playing time on occasion last season because there wasn't a spot for him.
''What we're looking for more than anything is to find ways to get players that over the last year have shown us a knack for showing up at the football and making plays. They're instinctive guys,'' Venables said.
''They're good football players and I think we'd be negligent not to find ways to get them on the field, to find what they're comfortable with.''
For now, the move is only a tryout. The Sooners donned pads for the first time Monday and are more than three weeks away from the season opener Sept. 3 against Tulsa. So, Jefferson is also continuing to take snaps at his familiar spot in case he needs to move back.
Junior Javon Harris and senior Sam Proctor, who started 10 games at strong safety in 2009, are also in the running for Carter's old spot.
''Quinton Carter was an All-American last year for a reason,'' Venables said. ''More than anything else it's consistency, showing up at the football, making plays on the football in both the throwing and the running game.
''It's a high-stress position, so ... I think it really shows how we feel about Tony looking at him at that position, and the trust we have in him.''
Venables said the free safety faces a unique dilemma as ''a last line of defense position but it's also an incredibly big-time playmaking position.''
''We rely on that guy in a number of different ways, but he's got to show up, make 75 to 80 tackles and a few interceptions. We're going to blitz that guy,'' Venables said.
''It's a playmaking position for us and it's an incredibly important position. That's got to be as consistent of a position as we have on our whole defense.''
Jefferson isn't new to the position. He played safety at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., outside San Diego, and was selected to the U.S. Army All-American game. The Sooners already had two senior safeties last season in Carter and Jonathan Nelson, but found a role for Jefferson after an impressive training camp and started him in the season opener against Utah State.
''I can go down a list of guys that we take a great player at his position and move him to another position and take a risk of him being not so great. ... I wouldn't call him great at his position yet either,'' Venables said. ''At the position he was at last year, he did really well for a true freshman but there was a lot that he needed to get better at.''
Stoops said the worst-case scenario is having Jefferson return to nickel back with some knowledge of how to play safety in case he's needed there because of injuries during the season.
''It's the right thing to do and how it ends up we'll see,'' Stoops said. ''But that's an important position at the middle of your defense and those safety spots.''