NORMAN — Free safety. Rover. Nickelback. Sam linebacker.
Tony Jefferson has gone by many names on the field since arriving at Oklahoma. Is any one of those going to stick in 2012, now that Jefferson is a junior and Mike Stoops is coaching the OU defense for the first time in eight years?
“We'll do what's best for Tony and the team,” Sooners head coach Bob Stoops said Monday as a preface to spring practice.
It of course remains to be seen how Jefferson will be used, but the spring is a time for learning when it comes to the Stoopses and one of their best players.
“He's easy to coach,” Mike Stoops said. “I think great players are easy to coach.
“He understands defense and understands his position on a field.”
Wait a sec. Jefferson has several. Stoops is going to have to narrow that down. Or is he?
Brent Venables, before moving on to Clemson, used Jefferson in a variety of ways – sometimes within an individual game. Perhaps Stoops will follow suit.
Would it help the Californian to settle at one position? Maybe, when it comes to Jefferson's hopes of leaving early for the NFL. Pro scouts could struggle to get a read on him at a spot, if he continues to shift from one to the other and back.
But Jefferson concedes that being a nomad is something with which he has become accustomed. And that likely will not change from Venables to Stoops, considering their schemes are basically the same.
“No, I feel like that's the type of player I am,” Jefferson said. “If they want to bounce me around, then do it. It's better to be versatile than just play one spot.”
Jefferson can trot out the company line all he'd like; he sometimes makes it obvious which position he prefers. He did in January on Twitter. He did this week when asked about his experience in Bedlam and the bowl game at free safety.
“Playing free safety, you're back there, roaming,” he said. “I just feel a lot more comfortable back there.”
He looked comfortable, too. After the Sooners pass defense went leaky against Baylor, Jefferson moving back tightened things up – at least against the pass – when OU went to Oklahoma State.
“He can play high or he can play low,” Stoops said. “He gives you a lot of diversity.”
Jefferson said he's not expecting to get an assignment coming out of the spring, but it could at least provide “a good idea” as to where he'll begin camp and the season.
He's just one of several Sooners who will eventually get a look at multiple positions. When safety Aaron Colvin returns from a shoulder injury, he could slide to cornerback. Safety Javon Harris and corner Gabe Lynn both struggled last season, but they have not been written off, by any means. Four newcomers, including corners Gary Simon and Zack Sanchez, are defensive backs.
In short, there are options. The spring and preseason camp will be a time for Mike Stoops to mix and match, determining the best fits.
“We're trying a little bit,” Stoops said. “Yeah. It's a pretty diverse group. I'm pleased with their athleticism; that's for sure.”
Jefferson was gradually emerging in 2011 as a leader. That seemed to only pick up when the calendar turned to 2012. And leadership is not position-specific.
“The coaches were looking for me to lead,” Jefferson said. “The guys were looking up to me. It's only right for me to step in to try to be a leader.
“I've played here. This is my third spring. I know what it's like, and I know the things we need to fix. We all want the same goals. It's going to take good leadership this year to get over the hump that we've had.”
Since he arrived, Jefferson – as many have at the nickelback position for OU – has received comparisons to college superstar Roy Williams. Many see him, or hoped to see him, as the next “Royback” in the OU scheme.
Well, Mike Stoops was here when Williams was. Now Stoops is back.
“He took them to a national championship. He knows what it takes,” Jefferson said. “I feel like I'm trusting in him and he's trusting in me. He'll put me where I feel like I can be a factor on the field.”