NORMAN — The revelation that junior linebacker Eric Striker is working at nickelback this spring was met with some confusion. Why experiment with one of the best pass rushers in the country, especially only a few months after he tormented Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron?
OU coach Bob Stoops sought to clarify this week, saying the move is designed to give Striker more opportunities to rush the passer. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said Thursday that Striker is “probably one of the top-five athletes on our team when you look at the totality of running, jumping, covering, rushing.”
The nickelback position is still sometimes called “Royback,” referring to versatile superstar Roy Williams, who more than 12 years ago turned a fourth-quarter blitz in the Cotton Bowl into one of college football history’s most memorable plays. Since he left campus, OU has yearned for the next Roy Williams.
Have the Sooners potentially found him in Striker?
“There are a lot of similarities with Roy,” Mike Stoops said. “It’s a fair comparison. We obviously rushed Striker more than we ever rushed Roy, but they have that innate ability to find the football and make plays. That’s where their similarities lie.”
Senior-to-be Julian Wilson played nickelback last season, but he is sitting out this spring after an offseason shoulder surgery.
Striker and sophomore safety Ahmad Thomas are the two players working the most at nickelback this spring, and the biggest adjustment for Striker, he said, has been an increased responsibility in man-to-man coverage.
“I feel like I fit right in,” Striker said of the nickelback spot. “There’s nothing too hard. There’s nothing I can’t do. I can do it all. Repetition, that’ll be the best part of anything. If I keep getting reps, the better I get.”