football Edit

Manning finding his groove

Schools are going to use anything and everything to get an edge in recruiting. Although Oklahoma felt good, really good, about the hiring of Roy Manning to take over as cornerbacks coach in January 2019, it opened the door for skepticism.

And boy did it come. Yes, Manning was incredibly popular with his hype videos on social media, but he was taking over a fragile group for the Sooners after the previous two seasons. He was doing so while he himself did not have a lot of experience coaching at the position.

Coming over from UCLA where he was linebackers coach, he was eager for the journey ahead right from the jump.

“I’m really up for the challenge. It’s exciting,” said Manning in his introductory press conference. “In my career, I’ve coached multiple positions and think I’ve had success. I don’t shy away from challenges.”

Oh, there would be challenges in 2019 in recruiting for the 2020 class. Because whenever it felt like Manning was building a bond that could lead to a commitment, you’d start hearing how other schools were highlighting repeatedly his lack of experience at coaching the position.

There was nothing Manning could really say. He was going to have to let his coaching and his corners do the defending for him.

That happened. Parnell Motley resurrected his career as a senior at OU, while Tre Brown had a solid junior season that has expectations incredibly high in 2020.

But it didn’t really happen on the recruiting trail, at least not based on the rankings. OU closed hard to finish the early signing period with defensive backs Kendall Dennis and Joshua Eaton and time will tell if finding those guys late ended up being the right move.

Fast forward to this last month, and Manning was ready to strike. OU was ready to strike. The pieces had been put into place, time to make it happen. OU didn’t explode out of the gates after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but it lined everything up and was time for a summer charge.

The Sooners nabbed three cornerback commitments in a 28-day period to solidify its secondary group for 2021. OU could still look for one more defensive back, and that’s only because the corner situation cleared up so quickly that it will allow OU to go for one last home run.

Start with the big one. Five-star quarterback Caleb Williams dominated the offensive fireworks from July 4, while it was all McCutchin defensively. A one-time Alabama commitment, Manning and the OU staff never threw in the towel with the Rivals 100 prospect. A March 1 visit set the wheels in motion for a silent verbal in the spring and going public in the summer. McCutchin missed his junior season with a torn ACL, but he’s healthy and cleared to make his mark this season.

You want speed for Alex Grinch’s #SpeedD? Then you’ve come to the right place in the addition of Johnson. His recruitment went bonkers in the spring once schools started to verify just how fast he really is. OU made its push in the spring and kept at it throughout the dead periods. There are other recruits ranked higher than Johnson that the Sooners had been pursuing, but OU was ready to close the door on others to make sure Johnson had a spot.

The last of the one-month trio was Harmon, making it official Saturday evening. It’s hard to know exactly if Harmon will end up in Manning’s cornerback room or Grinch’s safety room because he has the versatility to do both. What’s obvious is the work Manning and the staff did to convince a state of Virginia recruit to leave the region and head to Norman. When you land that type of recruit, it gives the staff flexibility as well in how they recruit the rest of the cycle because they know Harmon can handle either spot.

OU has a lot more work to be done, although it is back in the top 15 of Rivals rankings. A lot of realistic dominoes still left to fall, and the staff can focus on making those come together in part because of what Manning and the defense were able to secure in the last month.