NORMAN, Okla. -- The importance of Jamell Fleming to Oklahoma's defense cannot be understated. When the departed cornerback missed OU's game against Texas Tech, the Sooners' defense was torched for 452 yards through the air in a 41-38 loss to the Red Raiders at Owen Field.
Replacing Fleming could be one of the keys to the team's defensive success this fall. Demontre Hurst returns at the field cornerback position for his senior season, solidifying one side of the field, while the competition for the boundary spot is wide open.
"It's a big challenge for our other corners and myself," Hurst said of replacing Fleming, who started for two seasons. "Coming in, with the new coaches, we're competing already, just two days into practice."
Gabe Lynn, OU's third cornerback in 2011, was inconsistent in that role. He was solid in some games but terrible in others, most notably against Texas Tech. He'll have to raise his level of play to earn a starting role as a junior.
Junior Joe Powell, who has bounced back and forth between offense and defense during his first two seasons, has excellent athletic ability but has taken a while to become a viable option at cornerback.
Senior Lamar Harris is a lanky, athletic prospect who was listed on OU's two-deep last fall but has never made an impact at cornerback.
All three players were on campus in 2011, when OU's lack of depth at cornerback crippled the defensive coaching staff's options in the secondary and on the defense as a whole.
Colvin was one of the Sooners' top defenders, and one of the conference's most underrated players, last season. He tied for the team lead with 84 tackles despite bouncing from safety to cornerback at times during his sophomore season. In 2010, Colvin held his own at cornerback, even starting against Texas during his freshman season.
When asked about replacing Fleming, safety Tony Jefferson immediately mentioned his fellow class of 2010 signee.
"Aaron Colvin, ever since freshman year, he's done a wonderful job [at cornerback]," Jefferson said. "But it's up to the coaches where they put him."
Colvin would be a terrific option to replace Fleming -- he's strong in coverage, a solid tackler and an effective playmaker -- but moving Colvin would leave a gaping hole at strong safety.
"He's strong, real athletic and he can move," Hurst said. "He has all the tools to be a good cornerback."
One of the things that helped separate Fleming from other cornerbacks was his willingness to be physical on the perimeter. During his first few weeks on campus, Everett has displayed similar traits.
"Kass Everett is real strong, he benches a lot," Jefferson said. "He's a real good press corner, so we're looking at him pressing [receivers in bump-and-run coverage]. He's a corner that can make big hits."
No matter who ends up opposite Hurst, Sooners fans can only hope that player seizes the opportunity and wins the job instead of the coaching staff being forced to mix-and-match in the secondary like they did in 2011.