Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley broke into a celebration that was captured by program’s media team when Jeremiah Criddell committed to Oklahoma over Oregon on signing day last December.
The four-star defensive back picked the Sooners at the practically last moment. That decision, along with other talent OU has added to its secondary, is even more important to Riley now.
He confirmed Friday that junior defensive back Tre Norwood suffered a season-ending injury in his lower body during a non-contact drill on Monday in practice.
“In some ways, there's probably some silver lining in the fact that it happened early enough that we're able to adjust and able to get a lot of guys reps,” Riley said. “These things are a lot tougher if they happen during the season or right before a season opener. It's given us time to do that.”
Norwood’s absence affects several positions because he has played in several different spots — including special teams. He began his college career at cornerback, helping fortify that position midway through his freshman season.
Ever since he’s been used all over the secondary, at nickelback, corner and safety, while making 19 starts with 20 pass break-ups in two seasons — second behind only senior Parnell Motley (22).
Most recently he’s been at nickel. Riley mentioned Brendan Radley-Hiles, redshirt junior Chanse Sylvie and Criddell as the most notable names being looked at to fill the void.
Out of all the current Sooners, Radley-Hiles might be searching the hardest for a redemptive season. He made 11 starts in 2018, but his playing time decreased over the final three games. He didn’t record a tackle in the final two contests.
"I'm more poised, honestly,” Radley-Hiles said of his development. “I’m just controlled. I'm calm, collected and I'm just playing football. I'm having fun again.”
OU freshmen corners Woodi Washington and Jaden Davis as well as Jordan Parker, who has moved from safety to corner, have become more important for depth at that position.
“They pick up things really fast. I haven’t had to correct them on a lot of things mentally,” OU cornerbacks coach Roy Manning said. “Just more technique, like most of the guys, but you see those guys with the mindset of wanting to come in, play and contribute. I think it’s been really good for our room just adding some bodies to the room.”
Manning was high on Norwood even before the injury, and reenforced the idea that a number of DBs need to be versatile in Grinch’s defense. Riley added that many of them were already trying to become interchangeable.
“For us, a lot of those guys have to do some dual training,” Manning said.
Norwood’s absence is the second major blow to the defense’s starting corps since spring when senior linebacker Caleb Kelly sustained a knee injury that could keep him out all season. Riley has said it’s too early to tell if Kelly can play this year.
Norwood was seen on crutches at Tuesday in what has been a difficult week around the locker room.
“Tough injury, tough for him. Tough for our team,” Riley said. “He's such a valuable guy. Can play so many positions, great experience. Certainly we'll miss him. Not only defensively, but special teams, too. He's a guy that was really a jack of all trades for us.”