NORMAN, Okla. -- With four practices in the books and spring break upon us, spring football is in its early stages at Oklahoma.
Already, however, there are murmurs of a spring star emerging in Norman for the Sooners.
“Cortez Johnson has been a big surprise,” cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright said. “I love the way he’s been working, his work ethic has been great. He’s a guy that wants to be good, he listens, he pays attention and tries to do everything we ask him to do.”
A transfer from Arizona, Johnson brings unique size to the cornerback position at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds. Johnson has been impressive early this spring, making it known that he plans to be a major contributor on OU’s defense.
With Demontre Hurst completing his eligibility after starting the last three seasons at cornerback, Johnson is staking claim to the starting spot opposite returning All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez and walkon Brandon Young have been battling Johnson for the job but neither player has ignited the rave reviews from teammates and coaches like Johnson has.
“He’s made more plays and batted more balls down, just in four practices, than we’ve probably had around here the past two years,” Wright said.
Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, has a combination of ball skills, long arms and overall athleticism which could help him be up to the task if he wins the starting job and opponents decide to test him instead of challenging Colvin.
“Cortez is a big, physical guy,” Colvin said. “He’s really strong at the line of scrimmage.”
Sophomore receiver Sterling Shepard, who battles Johnson regularly in practices, has become a believer during his one-on-one matchups with the transfer.
“He’s a great corner,” Shepard said. “Cortez has long arms. He can break up some stuff you don’t even think he can break up but his arms are so long, he’ll end up getting it.”
With Wright transitioning from coaching defensive ends to coaching cornerbacks, he sees Johnson as a player with tremendous upside if his work ethic remains high. Otherwise, the Sooners have multiple newcomers, including February signee Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla/East Central), who could amp up the competition opposite Colvin and seize Johnson’s opportunity to start at that spot.
“He’s got the physical stature,” Wright said of Johnson. “What he has to do now is continue [improving] his technique.”
As teams will undoubtedly be hesitant to test his side, Colvin knows the Sooners defense is going to need a quality cornerback on the other side of the field. And what he’s seen from Johnson leads him to believe the lanky cover man can be the guy.
“He’s been really good,” Colvin said. “I’m probably the hardest on Cortez. And he probably doesn’t like that sometimes, but he’s going to be special.”