NORMAN — Tony Jefferson believes a short memory can be essential for defensive backs.
Mike Stoops wishes his aggressive free safety would be more mindful of his mistakes, so as to avoid repeating them.
Jefferson's talent is apparent, and his ceiling is high; ESPN.com ranks the junior as the No. 5 safety prospect for next April's NFL Draft were he to skip his senior season at Oklahoma.
But before he can reach that potential, Stoops said, he's got to work on perfecting the little things that separate good players from great ones.
“He does some things that really aggravate you, but he comes back and does so many good things,” said Stoops, Oklahoma's defensive coordinator.
“He has a chance to be special, and getting him to understand the little things — the finer things that make players great — has always been my struggle with Tony.”
Jefferson developed his reputation as Oklahoma's premiere defender over the last two seasons as the Sooners' nickel back, a hybrid position that requires a linebacker's toughness and a safety's pass-coverage skills.
Enter Stoops; upon his January arrival, he moved Jefferson to a more traditional free safety position.
The change initially appeared to improve Oklahoma's defense.
Jefferson's athleticism — combined with the increased freedom his new position allowed — made him a force in both run and pass defense.
But over the past few games against high-powered offenses and their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooner defense has struggled. Jefferson hasn't been an exception, and he knows it.
He didn't speak to reporters after Oklahoma's 50-49 win at West Virginia two weeks ago, but tweeted an apology to fans for his performance.
“I could barely walk; I felt sick,” Jefferson said of his performance in Morgantown, which he called “horrible.”
Many of Jefferson's issues have stemmed from his aggressive nature. On the first play after halftime in Bedlam last weekend, Jefferson bit hard on quarterback Clint Chelf's play-action fake. Jefferson's brief hesitation left him chasing Josh Stewart, who caught Chelf's pass over the middle and raced for a 75-yard touchdown.
“A good DB knows how to forget bad plays,” Jefferson said.
Oklahoma plays its regular-season finale Saturday at TCU. With a win, the Sooners clinch at least a share of the Big 12 championship and stay alive in the hunt for a coveted BCS bowl berth.
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin has demonstrated an ability to make plays with his feet; such signal callers have given Oklahoma fits of late.
Stoops said Jefferson needs to be patient and more mindful of the other defenders on the field. On Stewart's 75-yard touchdown grab, for example, Jefferson wasn't at all responsible for run defense.
“That's what's so frustrating,” Stoops said. “That's a young, immature mistake, and he's not a young, immature player.”