There is little doubt senior Jonathan Nelson will be a starter somewhere in the Sooner secondary in 2010. The only question is whether that position will be safety or cornerback. All signs point to Nelson maintaining his hold on one of the starting safety slots this fall. But his versatility means the OU secondary has options heading into the season.
Nelson broke down the play of the secondary and their development under new coach Willie Martinez during his talks with the media on Wednesday.
Q: Jonathan, talk about the secondary this year and how the most experienced part of the team a year ago is the most inexperienced now.
Jonathan Nelson: It's funny when a team loses a couple of its starters and all of the sudden there's a concern. But in reality, it's not about experience. It's about whether or not you're clued in everyday during practice and during film sessions. All the guys that have come back are competitors and I don't feel like we're dropping off any. I don't expect any type of drop off whatsoever.
Q: There's been a lot of talk about this freshman class, mostly on the offensive side. But there's a lot of noise about one young guy on defense in Tony Jefferson.
Nelson: Physically, Tony is ready to play with anyone on this team no matter how old they are. Physically, he's right where he needs to be. He's fast, a great tackler and always right on the point of attack. He's learning the defense everyday and he comes to film session everyday ready to learn and ready to absorb everything that Coach Martinez and Coach Stoops throw at him. He should be just fine, but I think all of the other young guys are coming along as well.
Q: You mentioned Coach Martinez. How much of a change is it playing for him now as opposed to Coach Wright?
Nelson: Well they're both really animated (laughing). They both have different coaching styles and they both get the job done in very different ways. I don't know specifically how to say it, but Coach Martinez really gets the point across and he'll get you going 100 miles an hour. He's helping out the secondary really well.
Q: You grabbed a starting role late last season, how much will that help you for this year?
Nelson: Well I think there are two types of players during the season. There are the ones who start, and then there are the ones who play back up, but still get a ton of playing time. I think whether or not you're starting or you're playing the majority of the game, to me, there's not a lot of difference. I think way back to the Baylor and Texas A&M game. I didn't start, but I played a whole lot, and I'd say that helped me out as much as anything. At this point, as a senior, it's more about being a technician and trying to lead by example. You can't just talk and I'm trying to walk the walk.
Q: Do you feel different though, today, than you did a year ago, knowing that you're a starter heading into the season?
Nelson: I don't want to say that it was different because you have to have the same mentality like you're starving. You have to feel every year that you've got something to prove. In my opinion nothing is solidified. So I wouldn't say that there's any kind of difference because I'm still going out there with the same mentality that I had as a back up last year. I want to be a big key to this defense.
Q: Is there an aspect of the defense you guys are focusing to improve on here early?
Nelson: I just think we want to make sure that we eliminate all big plays and account for as many turnovers as possible. There's a whole bunch of things I can get into as far as technique, like keeping your eyes up where they need to be. But as far as the bigger picture, I think right now we're focusing on limiting the big play. If that happens, I think we'll have a great chance to be a great defense.