Several players will decide the success of the Oklahoma Sooners this fall.
Some Sooners will have more of an impact than others and will be counted on to be the foundation of the 2014 squad. Last week we counted down the most important players on offense with quarterback Trevor Knight atop the list.
This week, we’ll count down the five most important players on defense, taking into account their expected contribution, the quality of their backups and their previous production. On Tuesday, we continue the countdown with No. 4.
No. 4: S Quentin Hayes, senior
2013 role: Hayes was an overlooked but important contributor in the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl title run, finishing with 75 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. His versatility in Oklahoma's secondary was key for the Sooners defense as he could be trusted in coverage and make an impact around the line of scrimmage. Hayes easily was one of the most productive players on the roster.
Expected 2014 role: Hayes returns as the veteran anchor of the secondary and appears poised to make an impact with his versatility. He might not lead the Big 12 in tackles or interceptions, but his ability to make open-field tackles and cover opposing receivers opens up options for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to get creative with his schemes.
Why he’s important: Hayes brings experience and production to the Sooners secondary and should be a helpful voice for the young safeties on the roster such as Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker.
One reason the Sooners defense was able to be so active and aggressive last season was the versatility of their secondary. In this era of spread football, safeties are often asked to play in similar roles as cornerbacks. Hayes has proved he can handle many different assignments.
If he was missing: The Sooners would lose a versatile and experienced safety who is the lone proven safety on the roster. If Stoops’ defense lost the ability to trust its safeties in coverage, it could have a negative impact on the overall aggressiveness of the defense. There’s young talent behind Hayes, but nothing teaches as well as game experience, which Hayes earned by starting 13 games during his junior season.