OU football: Oklahoma safety Delarrin Turner-Yell eyes bigger role after head-turning spring

Delarrin Turner-Yell (Photo: University of Oklahoma Athletics)

When Oklahoma’s incoming freshmen were still getting acclimated last August, their jersey numbers and made-up tags were easier to remember than names.

Calcaterra just knew that Delarrin Turner-Yell’s was No. 32, and the young defensive back was physical and fast. So teammates called him “Trouble.”

“He’s been standing out,” Calcaterra said.

Turner-Yell missed the first six games due to injury, but lived up to his reputation after getting healthy — mostly in the spring.

A five-tackle game at West Virginia was his best showing in 2018. His strides were more apparent when OU resumed practices in March.

“Big hits, flying around to the ball, a young physical guy,” senior cornerback Parnell Motley said. “This is his second year and I love what he brings in. That learning time has been good for him.”

Motley noticed Turner-Yell’s physicality last fall camp too. He came in as a consensus three-star recruit out of Hempstead, Texas, and though he played in just seven games, they all came on the back end of the schedule. Coaches regularly spoke highly of him as they tried to fix the Sooners’ secondary woes down the stretch.

OU’s safety depth is razor thin, something new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch worked around this spring. With Robert Barnes out due to injury and Tre Norwood’s role up in the air — he started two games at safety last year, but could play nickel or corner — Turner-Yell inserted himself as a contender at safety

After seven spring practices, Grinch went as far as saying Turner-Yell would be a starter if the season were underway.

“Last year was eye-opening. It was a great learning experience for me,” Turner-Yell said. “A lot happened. We transitioned very well during the changes [from defensive coordinators]. It was a big learning experience for me.

“The more reps I got, the easier it got. Once I started to play and see more time on the field, things started to slow down because I got to see more activity from the offense.”

As a sophomore, he’s had the rare experience of playing for three defensive coordinators in a year’s time. Mike Stoops was let go last October before Ruffin McNeill took over in the interim. Now Grinch, who oversees the safeties himself, is leading a defense engineered to play fast and force more turnovers.

“He just allows you to play full speed. If you’re going to make a mistake, go full speed,” Turner-Yell said. “That makes you feel like you can play freely and whenever the play is there to be made, go make it.

“Last year was probably a little bit thinking too much. We had a lot going on.”

He thrived playing fast a year ago and his reputation as a physical enforcer has only grown under Grinch.

“Whenever I have the chance to deliver a blow, that’s exactly what I do,” he said. “I’m not such a young guy anymore. I’ve been in the program now. I’m supposed to make plays.”

Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a 10-part series on potential breakout OU football players for 2019-2020. Next: WR freshmen trio Jadon Haselwood, Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges, June 24.