NORMAN — ESPN's behind-the-curtains look at the nation's preseason No. 1 team put Oklahoma's secondary players squarely in the spotlight.
They called themselves the Sharks, a nickname created by reserve safety Sam Proctor.
“Someone tweeted me they read in a paper in Florida there's a high school (team) that says they're the sharks,” said cornerback Jamell Fleming. “It's kind of cool. Everybody around the country has kind of picked up on the sharks.”
OU's defensive backs gained notoriety after they were shown on national television bragging on the sidelines and the training room how they devour wide receivers.
Because of ESPN's entertaining feature, and the way the season has played out, the Sharks will be in the crosshairs the final three games.
The secondary has played well much of the season. Including rover Tony Jefferson, and OU's secondary has compiled nine interceptions, 273 tackles and 23 pass breakups.
But the one blemish is Texas Tech threw for 452 yards to upset the Sooners 41-38, a shoot-out loss that severely damaged OU's hopes of playing in the national title game.
“You can't let guys behind you,” said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “You have to play the wide receiver screen better, play on edge and respect your opponent.”
One variable in the Tech loss was the Sooners were playing without Fleming. The Sharks are now healthy with something to prove.
“I didn't get to play, so I can't speak for the other guys,” Fleming said. “We just have to play better. We had a little stumble, but we'll be ready.”
Two of the final three games are against Baylor and Oklahoma State, two of the top offenses in the country.
“A year ago, going into this stretch run, we had the same questions,” Venables said. “We recognize they're the same teams they were a year ago in their personnel and their execution. And they're running through everybody.
“Nobody has stopped them. Great quarterbacks, receivers, skill (players), systems. Scoring a million points a game, 700, 800 yards of offense every game. It's going to be a great, great challenge.”
The Sharks passed a big test last week. Texas A&M is the most balanced offense the Sooners will see all season.
But OSU is averaging 553.7 yards, throwing for close to 390 a game.
Baylor sometimes gets steamrollered by elite programs. But the Bears have three dangerous weapons. Terrance Ganaway is second in the league in rushing. Quarterback Robert Griffin leads the league in total offense. Wide receiver Kendall Wright is second in receiving yards per game behind Ryan Broyles.
Now that OU's secondary is back to full strength, the final three games will be like a final exam.
Fleming and Demontre Hurst rank among the top cornerback combos OU has had in recent years, according to coach Bob Stoops.
Aaron Colvin, who plugged the cornerback hole when Fleming was sidelined by arthroscopic knee surgery, has returned to strong safety. Javon Harris has played more consistently at free safety. Jefferson also plays free safety. Proctor has been solid in a reserve role.
They're a high energy group. Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said the Sharks/wideouts competition people saw on ESPN is everyday life at OU practices.
“People saw the talk that goes on back and forth between the offense and defense,” Norvell said. “It's competitive. Our guys want to win whether it's a short yards goal-line (drill) or third-down (drill) in practice. There's a lot of jawing that goes back and forth. It keeps practice lively.
“Pro scouts love to come to Oklahoma to watch practice because we really compete. A lot of places aren't like that. The Sharks are just a part of it. It's hard to keep Travis (Lewis) quiet and half those guys. It certainly doesn't make practice boring.”
In ESPN's behind-the-scenes glimpse in early August, one memorable scene was defensive backs holding their hands to their foreheads like a shark fin, accompanied by the music from Jaws.
Naturally, the Sharks were a big hit. Students on campus and fans at Memorial Stadium place their hands on their foreheads as a salute.
“It's kind of cool,” Fleming said. “I like it. It actually helps our defense, having a little swag. Knowing we're going to face two good teams that throw it just motivates us.”