NORMAN — At first glance, Cortez Johnson doesn’t look like the typical defensive back. The Oklahoma sophomore’s dimensions point toward him being something else.
He’s tall enough to be one of the Sooners’ over-the-top deep threats at wide receiver. In fact, he’s tall enough to be one of OU basketball coach Lon Kruger’s guards. At the very least, you’d think he’s someone OU expects to grow into another position.
But, no, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Johnson is right where the Sooner coaching staff wants him — cornerback.
“I know I’m big,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, that really doesn’t mean anything. If you don’t have technique, you can’t really do anything with your body.”
The ability to do things with their bodies that most humans can’t makes the cornerback spot one of the few where a small man can still defend. The spot puts a premium on the ability to backpedal and then swivel the hips and turn into a full sprint.
Few can do it. Those who can are highly sought. Those who can do it and still stand nose-to-nose with big receivers are at a premium.
But getting defenders like Johnson is the reaction to the spread offenses that have engulfed the Big 12 over the years.
Many liken the spread offenses to basketball on the football field. The analogy is accurate. A good quarterback is like a good point guard. He finds open receivers the way a good point guard pinpoints open shooters.
Basketball coaches figured out years ago the way to counteract a spread was with lanky defenders who could cover a lot of space. Johnson, and others like him, will give the Sooner secondary that same look on the football field.
“He was just a guy that has a chance to be a really good player. With the size and range he has and the speed, all of it together, it will just come down to how mentally disciplined and strong he can be to really make himself play at a high level,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “If he does, he has a big upside.”
It’s an upside that fell right into the Sooners’ lap.
The only thing they needed to do to get Johnson was hire OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Johnson is his guy and vice versa.
The New Orleans native started two games as a true freshman in 2011 at Arizona. That was Mike Stoops’ final season as the Wildcats’ head coach. When he returned as OU’s defensive coordinator in the spring of 2011, Johnson was ready to pack for Norman.
“When he first recruited me, he came to my school. Then he came to my house, sat in the front room and told my daddy, ‘No matter where I go, I’m taking him with me.’ And he stuck by his word,” Johnson said. “I love Coach Mike to death.”
Johnson had to redshirt last season due to NCAA transfer rules. He spent a year on the scout team perfecting the technique to go with his physical skills.
OU hasn’t named him a starter yet. In truth, they haven’t named anyone since there’s no published depth chart. But players with Johnson’s attributes have been what OU has coveted in recruiting the last two years.
They want big, physical defensive backs that can beat up receivers and shutdown passing windows. Johnson fits the part. All he has to do is deliver.
“Cortez Johnson’s a guy that gets his chance, he’s gotta step up and be a player for us,” Mike Stoops said.
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