Demontre Hurst, Jamell Fleming stepping into starting roles on OU defense
NORMAN — Oklahoma will have two new starting cornerbacks this season. In the spread-offense era, how successfully the Sooners fill those slots could determine whether OU will once again feature one of the nation's top defenses.
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Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst, special team standouts last season, opened fall camp with the first unit. They're small in stature but are being asked to fill big holes replacing Dom Franks and Brian Jackson.
Like many cornerbacks, Fleming and Hurst often are matched against receivers that will own a size advantage. Fleming is 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. Hurst is 5-9, 178.
"They're both very competitive guys," said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "They both can run. They have coverage skills. They're competitive. They're confident. They want to be good. They want to be coached. They're scrappy guys who like to throw their bodies in there. That gives you a chance."
Cornerback is a position where mistakes are magnified. Get beat and everyone in the stadium knows it.
"It's kind of nerve wracking a little bit," Fleming said. "But once the ball is snapped you're in your own little world. You get used to it a little on special teams. On a punt you're kind of our there on an island."
Fleming, in his fourth year in the program, led OU with 18 special teams tackles his redshirt freshman season. He finished second last season.
Hurst, a sophomore, gained similar experience last season on special teams.
Venables said the biggest challenge is having a short memory. Even the best cornerbacks like New York Jets' star Darrelle Revis don't win every battle. Venables said Fleming and Hurst have displayed the mental toughness to not let previous plays affect them.
"Demontre helped us last year if for no other reason than he was fearless," Venables said. "He wasn't overwhelmed. He still thought he was playing West Mesquite (High School). He doesn't get real high or get real low which can be a really good quality at corner.
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