NORMAN â€” Viewed as one of Oklahoma's biggest question marks on defense entering the football season, cornerback Jamell Fleming has played so well, he leads the nation in passes defended.
Fleming is tied for the Big 12 lead in interceptions (four), and he has nine pass breakups.
â€œFrom Day 1 when he got here, Jamell had the athleticism of an NFL guy,â€ said safety Jonathan Nelson. â€œFor him to come into his own, and have the kind of season he's having, he's come on in a big way. He's locking everything down.â€
Playing behind veterans Dom Franks and Brian Jackson, Fleming led the Sooners in special teams tackles as a redshirt freshman. He was second last season.
But when Fleming and Demontre Hurst both finally got their chance to start, they struggled at times in the season opener against Utah State.
â€œThat game, we were just a little bit nervous, especially the first time as a starter,â€ Fleming said. â€œWe knew we just had to do what we do in practice.â€
The one-game, knee jerk reaction from fans and media indicated that OU's new cornerbacks might be a weakness. Instead, they're now viewed as a strength, which is why defensive coordinator Brent Venables has blitzed more the past two games.
â€œJamell has played extremely well,â€ Venables said. â€œHe's very competitive and plays physical. He did a terrific job against (Jeff) Fuller the other night at A&M. He's progressed really, really well for us.â€
Having the defensive coordinator call blitzes is the ultimate compliment. Cornerbacks are usually forced to provide man-to-man coverage while linebackers blitz to pressure the quarterback.
â€œYou don't have any safety help or nobody behind you,â€ Fleming said. â€œBut I like that. Without having any pressure, you take stuff for granted. That makes you have confidence in yourself, knowing coaches have confidence in you and your teammates have confidence in you.â€
Coach Bob Stoops said consistent play from the cornerbacks has been one of the biggest positives on defense this season.