The general consensus on Oklahoma’s cornerback picture was that OU has two experienced, dynamic, and reliable playmakers Woody Washington and DJ Grahamand everyone else is a backup.
But to hear Brent Venables tell me, there might be an unexpected contender in the position that will make it through to the 2022 season.
“I love a guy like Josh Eaton‘ Venables said.
The Sooners freshman-year head coach expressed his appreciation for the Sooners’ junior cornerback at a press conference at the Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, TX last week.
The question related to the corner group in general and the luxury of having two guys back that Venables knows he can trust in the position.
But Venables was happy to offer an exploration of Eaton’s previous journey in Norman.
“If you said, ‘Okay, how was my 10,000-foot view of Josh?’ — and I shared that with him and his family: he was just too dumb,” Venables said. “He wasn’t serious about his future. You know, great boy. You know, it’s fun to be here. But wasn’t focused and serious about being great. And he will be the first to tell you that.”
The 6ft 1,182lb Eaton came to OU as a consensus 4-star recruit from Aldine MacArthur High School in Houston. ESPN ranked him as the No. 25 cornerback in the 2020 class while Rivals had him at No. 3 and 247 Sports ranked him at No. 33. When Eaton preferred the Sooners to Georgia, LSU, Texas and others, OU fans thought he was an instant star — and certainly a perennial starter.
Instead, Eaton played in just five games as a true freshman and then made it in 10 games as a student. He has a total of seven tackles over two seasons and has one game left in football.
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But Venables and new cornerbacks coach Jay Wallai could be just what Eaton needed to jump-start his career.
“Man, I’ve seen this amazing growth,” Venables said, “and hopefully, you know, if I get an opportunity to play and contribute, it will bear fruit. I’ve seen tremendous growth, just in his mindset, in his buy-in — and that leads to his work, and then it leads to his production, and then it leads to trust, and then, now off, the teammates start him to believe. Now he walks around with a little edge and a swag.”
Venables and his staff have made a personal commitment to the players they have only recently met. Not that previous coaches haven’t invested, but players say they are now connecting on a more personal level than before.
Maybe someone who was “silly” just needed someone to tell them it’s okay to be serious.
“That confidence comes from the work you do,” Venables said. “And I don’t want any of our guys walking around with fake bravado. Like “We OU” or whatever that means. I don’t buy this. You know, your confidence and the edge and the swag come from the work you put into it and the scars you got.
Oklahoma’s defenders have left many scars in recent years. Ex-Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch used to talk about the scars players had in secondary school when he was hired.
But maybe those scars really do heal.
“Man, I was so looking forward to this group,” Venables said. “And the depth we added. But I’m also happy about guys who are here and make a living. Just a few seeds of faith, man, what that can do to people. You can talk about life and death. The power of the tongue is a very real thing, and speaking positivity and great results into these guys and helping create a vision for them is a very real thing.
“Getting the buy-in and the trust, all those things, has to put them in the right place. We said: ‘How you think will determine whether you will be successful or not.’ So[it’s about]letting our guys believe in themselves, the scheme, their fundamentals, their technique and their skills, and then and then ask them to do things they’re good at.”