Sooners sign impact players for 2013

NORMAN, Okla. -- Anyone who watched Oklahoma’s defense in the final four games of the season knows that the Sooners were in dire need of help in the secondary and along the defensive line. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel torched the Sooners’ defense on their way to record-breaking performances, as OU had no answer for the dynamic playmakers.

The Sooners hope they’ve addressed those needs with their defensive line and secondary signees in the Class of 2013 and will see immediate dividends on the field this fall.

“You’re never going to get everyone you want but we feel like we’ve helped ourselves in some critical areas,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

Cornerback Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla./East Central) joins safeties Ahmad Thomas (Miami, Fla./Central) and Hatari Byrd (Fresno, Calif./Central East) as signees who appear poised to step right in and play in the secondary. Taylor, in particular, drew a lot of praise from Mike Stoops while drawing comparisons to All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin from OU head coach Bob Stoops on signing day.

“We’re projecting him to come in and solidify that corner position for us,” Mike Stoops said. “I can’t say enough about this guy, he has all the qualities you want in a superstar.”

Yet those impact signees in the secondary won’t mean much if the Sooners cannot solidify their defensive front. To that end, OU signed seven defensive linemen (four defensive tackles, three defensive ends) on Wednesday, with junior college transfer Quincy Russell (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley) looming as the biggest potential impact player along the defensive interior.

“Quincy will need to [make an immediate impact] and we think he will,” Bob Stoops said. “He’s very powerful, very strong, very physical. And he has the feet to go with it.”

Defensive ends Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas/Katy) and D.J. Ward (Moore, Okla./Southmoore) also could make immediate impacts along the defensive front.

On the offensive side of the ball, a pair of junior college offensive linemen should contribute in 2013 with tackle Josiah St. John (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley) poised to enter the battle to replace Lane Johnson at left tackle and guard Dionte Savage (Flint, Mich./Arizona Western) -- at 6-foot-5, 340 pounds -- bringing a unique physical mentality to OU’s interior offensive line.

“We were looking for an older, mature guy who could play tackle, that was an area of need,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said of St. John. “Lane Johnson was a transfer and Josiah is the same type of guy. He gives us maturity and incredible depth at that position.”

Even if he doesn’t win a starting spot, Savage should provide depth at guard while carving a run blocking role in OU’s short yardage and goal line packages.

“This kid is a full grown man,” Norvell said. “He will give us a real physical presence inside. He should help us in our running game and with our depth.”

One potential impact signee will step on campus at a position that is largely regarded as a strength for the Sooners. Nonetheless, running back Keith Ford (Cypress, Texas/Cypress Ranch) could play immediately. The Sooners’ top signee as the No. 27 player in the ESPN 150 and No. 3 running back, Ford fits the mold of a complete running back and could be poised to make an immediate impact in Norman.

“He’s a very multi-dimensional back,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He can come in here, make an impact this year and compete for a spot.”