Camp Battle: Free Safety

Young stars highlight competition on the back end on Oklahoma's defense

As fall camp winds down for Oklahoma, there are still a few battles left to be decided. During the next few days, Sooners Illustrated will bring you the six key positions that are still up for grabs. We will break down each candidate for the position, present the evidence and make our best courtroom-like case for the player. At the end, Justin will rule on which player is to be deemed the starter.

It’s time for opening statements.

Free safety

Hatari Byrd vs. Steven Parker vs. Ahmad Thomas

Byrd background: Byrd comes in as the prototypical safety. He’s hard-hitting and has good speed to both sidelines. Last year as a true freshman, he played in five games and totaled three tackles. Hindsight being 20-20, he probably should have redshirted, but the fear of injury was too great.

Case for Byrd: Byrd is exactly the kind of player you want at free safety. He has range all across the field and knows how to lay a hit when it’s in front of him. He saw some action last year, which will make him all the better this year. When Gabe Lynn went down last year, Byrd came in and replaced him – totaling three tackles. The coaches called on him first.

Parker background: Even as a freshman, all reports are that Parker is a step above his other classmates. Bob Stoops called him the best freshmen safety he’s ever had, at this point. He’s the biggest of the bunch and an in-state product from Jenks High School. He was an Semper Fidelis All-American and the No. 1 player in the state of Oklahoma last year.

Case for Parker: Parker has shined in camp, and coach Bob Stoops has even given him a rave review. When Stoops calls Parker “the best safety we’ve ever recruited,” there isn’t much of an argument to be made is there? He has been the best surprise. Give him a chance now, and he’ll pay off as a two-time All-American by the end of it. Baptism by fire creates the toughest armor.

Thomas background:Thomas had nine tackles – one for loss – last season and has shown great speed. He’s probably been the most impressive of the bunch as far as earning a starting spot in considered.

Case for Thomas: Thomas has been the best of the bunch in camp. He’s versatile beyond belief and can play either safety spots or nickel back. He’s the most experienced of the bunch, having played in 12 games last season.

Hite’s verdict: There’s definitely the temptation to go with Parker on this one and let the kid play out his kinks. He’s not included on this list like Samaje Perine. He has a great chance to start from the get – but probably not without a little game action. Before camp, I probably would have gone with Byrd, but Thomas has been impressive according to coaches and players. Oklahoma’s Game 1 starting free safety is Ahmad Thomas.

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