NORMAN — Just before signing day, Sooners safety commitment Hatari Byrd made headlines when he said Oklahoma's coaches told him he'd start as a freshman.
Whether it was a promise or a premonition doesn't much matter six months later. Either way, though, the freshman from Fresno, Calif., is making a serious push for playing time early.
Through just the first three days of practice, Byrd moved around between corner, nickelback and dimeback, learning a variety of responsibilities so he can be used — somewhere — this season.
“His ability to impact the game, I think, to learn the whole system is going to help him,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “He's a guy who can play a lot of different positions. He's the guy we'll probably lean on the heaviest (of the freshman defensive backs).”
With the Sooners losing last year's starters at safety — Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson — there should be plenty of playing time for a player like Byrd, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds.
The measurables don't tell the whole story on Byrd, though. One member of Oklahoma's support staff that came across Byrd over the weekend was stunned that he was a freshman.
Defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue applied the same tag on Byrd that former defensive lineman R.J. Washington gave to David King.
“He looks like a beast,” Ndulue said. “For a DB, I don't know if he's 6-3 or, like R.J. said about David, ‘prison swole.' He looks like he's prison swole. That kid is big.
“He reminds me of Q(uinton) Carter but like, fully developed Q. Carter. Is he a freshman? Yeah, he's huge.”
By the time Carter was fully developed, he was a consensus All-American at safety for the Sooners and was a fourth-round pick of the Denver Broncos.
Byrd's bright future goes far beyond his physical build, though.
“He's very knowledgeable,” Stoops said Saturday. “He's easy to coach. He wants to be great. His maturity level is one of the highest I've seen this early on in his career. His maturity physically, we know what he looks like, but his maturity mentally and athletically, it's a very unique set of tools to work with a kid this young.
“He may be the biggest fastest guy that we've seen at this young of an age. Again, he possesses a lot of the intangible qualities, but again, it's only been three days. So far, so good.”
Ndulue has seen evidence of those qualities through the few days.
“Just his size and anticipation — that's a lot of what the DBs are known for around here, anticipating where the ball is going to be,” Ndulue said. “He has that quickness, if he can just develop those skills and listen to Coach (Bobby Jack) Wright and Coach Mike, he's going to be a great player for us. The guy just stands out.”
Once again, with the continuing proliferation of four-wide offenses in the Big 12, the Sooners defense will feature plenty of six defensive back sets.
“That's the way we've built this package, having five or six DBs at all times,” Stoops said. “He's still got to work his way. He's still got a long way to go, but with a month to go before the season, I think he'll be a positive addition to our secondary.”