NORMAN — Jamell Fleming collected another national award Wednesday. This time it was the Jim Thorpe Association that named the Oklahoma cornerback its national defensive back of the week.
For those counting, it was the third player of the week award the senior received since recording 13 tackles, forcing a fumble and returning it 56 yards for a touchdown in the third-ranked Sooners’ romp over Texas last Saturday.
Fleming isn’t keeping track.
“It’s always good when anybody notices anything I do on the field,” he said, “but I haven’t been keeping up with it.”
He doesn’t have time. Kansas awaits the third-ranked Sooners at 8:15 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan. There’s always another opponent to prepare for and another week to try to get better.
But what Fleming did against the Longhorns and what he’s done over the last two seasons shows he’s a cornerback with an immense repertoire of ability. He’s stuffed run plays and receiver screens. He’s run stride for stride with speedy receivers on go routes. Above all else, he’s tackled like a veteran linebacker.
He’s been a lot more than just a cornerback.
“At the boundary corner you have to be physical,” Fleming said. “It’s kind of like playing outside, outside linebacker. That’s how we scheme up our stuff. That’s what’s expected of me and that’s what I try to do.”
When OU has a cornerback who can do all those things, it opens up a lot for others.
Both Fleming and field cornerback Demontre Hurst have displayed an ability to take away a section of the field. Their success is a big reason the Sooners have been able to attack offenses from all angles this season.
For Hurst, it’s mostly covering deep passes. It’s the nature of the position. Throws are longer to the wide side of the field. Fleming’s side sees more runs right at him. Sometimes, he has to blitz along with covering some the Big 12’s best receivers.
The Sooners are always looking for cornerbacks who can handle all the chores.
“He needs to have a physical nature to him,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Some years have been better than others. It fits Jamell pretty well.”
OU coach Bob Stoops was asked if he’s ever had a cornerback the spot seemed to fit as well as Fleming. He didn’t think very long.
“We’ve had some really good ones. Derrick Strait, Andre Woolfolk,” Stoops said.
Strait was the Bednarik Award winner in 2003. The award goes to the best defensive player in college football. Woolfolk was a first-round draft pick in 2003.
“We’ve had some pretty good ones, and Jamell’s right in that category with those guys,” Stoops said.
What does he have that puts him that group?
He brings a different element to the position. Speed and coverage skills are the essentials for cornerbacks. Two-hundredths of a second in the 40-yard dash can be worth millions in the NFL at the position. But when you find one who can run and punish receivers as well, his draft stock skyrockets.
Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez didn’t want to project where Fleming’s stock would end up.
“It’s very attractive when you have a kid that size who can run and cover,” Martinez said.
Even better, the Sooners get to enjoy it for the rest of the season.
John Shinn 366-3536 email@example.com