NORMAN, Okla. -- Asked about his individual goals heading into the 2013 season, Oklahoma safety Gabe Lynn answered without hesitation.
“Be a leader to my teammates and make as many plays as I can,” said the fifth-year senior from Jenks, Okla.
Make no mistake, Lynn will have plenty of eyes on him. From Mike Stoops to his defensive teammates to Sooners fans, every step Lynn takes will be noted this fall. As one of three senior starters on the defense, Lynn will need to emerge as a vocal leader and calm presence at free safety.
“I’ve been around here long enough, so it’s definitely something I have to be,” Lynn said of taking on a leadership role on defense alongside fellow seniors Corey Nelson and Aaron Colvin. “I have to be more vocal since I’m in the middle now.”
Adding to the attention is his move to free safety, a position that requires vocal leadership and was vacated when Tony Jefferson, OU’s leading tackler in 2012, left early for the NFL. After playing cornerback and nickelback during his first four years at OU, Lynn might have finally found a home.
“It’s going good,” he said of the move. “It’s very natural, more instinctive.”
Lynn was OU’s starting nickelback in 2012, finishing with 34 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, and three pass breakups. He and Colvin are OU’s only returning starters in the secondary.
Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops didn’t hesitate to tinker with Lynn's role, letting him know shortly after the Cotton Bowl that he would be moving to free safety. In fact, last spring Stoops was already talking about him being a better fit at safety than cornerback. But with Jefferson and Javon Harris at safety, the coach settled for putting Lynn at nickelback. This season, Stoops has slid him into the position Lynn feels is the best fit.
“It allows me to be instinctive again,” Lynn said. “I’m playing with more feel and being able to come up and make plays, I’ll be able to show [my abilities] more.”
Despite playing his third position in three seasons, the move hasn’t been a challenge for Lynn.
“It’s an easy transition,” he said. “I’ve been around here long enough, so I should basically know all of the positions anyway. As long as I can get on the field, it doesn’t matter where.”
The game experience from playing multiple positions could pay big for Lynn this fall, as he should have a great feel for where his secondary mates are after playing multiple positions in the defensive backfield.
“I always knew where my safety help was, so now the only thing I have to work on is run fits,” he said of how playing cornerback will help him play free safety. “Coverage is pretty easy because playing corner, that’s all you do. So cleaning up tackling is the main thing. I’m off more, more involved in the run.”
One overlooked aspect of Lynn’s move is the Sooners’ transition to becoming a more versatile defense, which has been a consistent theme from Stoops since the end of last season. In Lynn, OU will line up a seasoned veteran with cornerback experience at the safety position -- something it did not have in 2012.
While explaining Lynn’s move to safety, Stoops said the senior has great flexibility in his game, and he noted how the safety position has changed in the past decade.
“Safeties aren't safeties anymore,” Stoops said. “They're not as athletic as corners, but they're more of a corners-style than safeties of old in this league. They're out in space, they're not dropping down in the box as much as you would when you play tight ends. In this league you have to be able to play a game that is very isolated and cover a lot of ground in the back end."
Lynn’s coverage abilities should open up options for Stoops as he tries to solidify a Sooners defense that looked ill-prepared for explosive Big 12 offenses last season, the first season of Stoops' second stint as OU’s defensive coordinator.