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OU football: Alex Grinch talks safety competition, Tre Norwood injury, turnovers and more

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Alex Grinch

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch talks to players during warm up April 1.

Alex Grinch always sounds hoarse.

The first-year Oklahoma defensive coordinator is intense when he speaks, often answering questions in length and looking the interviewer directly in the eyes. That's exactly how he coaches, demanding excellence out of his players by barking instructions at them. 

So it wasn't surprising when Grinch said in a gravelly voice Monday — over a week into fall camp — he isn't pleased with how his safeties are performing. Safety is no doubt the most open position battle on the team this fall, with nearly eight players fighting for two starting spots. 

Similar to the spring, Grinch said sophomores Delarrin Turner-Yell and Patrick Fields are leading the competition, despite neither having ever started a game. Grinch even went on to say Fields has "established" himself at the position.

"Probably not as much competition as I'd like at this point," Grinch said when asked about the safeties. "Credit goes to (Turner-Yell and Fields) in that sense. So there's some positives. The negative side, I don't feel the push from that second level... I'd like there to be more competition on the back end, but those guys have done a nice job thus far in fall camp and continued on from the spring." 

A week into fall camp, Grinch's defense suffered a notable blow in the secondary when head coach Lincoln Riley announced Friday, Aug. 9, Tre Norwood would miss the season due to injury. Norwood, who has started 19 games in two years for Oklahoma, was expected to be the Sooners' starting nickelback. 

"I'm sick for (Norwood). He worked his tail off since we were able to start working together in January. He was kind of our Swiss Army knife in the spring," Grinch said. "In the meantime, it's an opportunity for other guys, for their number to be called. We expect guys to take advantage of that."

Sophomore Brendan 'Bookie' Radley-Hiles was one player Grinch mentioned who could potentially fill Norwood's void, saying Radley-Hiles has taken maybe the biggest leap of any player on the defense this offseason. Grinch also said senior Chanse Sylvie and freshman Jeremiah Criddell have been working at the nickel position.

On top of battles at safety and nickel, Grinch also spoke about his emphasis on creating turnovers — Oklahoma finished 120th in turnovers forced last season with 14. Grinch said the defense has totaled almost 400 "strip attempts" this fall. 

"A true strip attempt is a willingness to get the ball out," Grinch explained. "By the time we play game one, we should be right around 1,000 strip attempts on legit ball carriers." 

Grinch's defense still has plenty of holes to fill from safety to nickel to creating more turnovers.

But with only 20 days until the team kickoffs against Houston on Sept. 1, Grinch is happy with the defense's mentality, which may just be his biggest hurdle.   

"They want to be so much better. God, they want to be so much better," Grinch said. "The buy-in, I can't even describe to you. And that's a credit to coach Riley and his program, coach (Bennie) Wylie in the weightroom and the guys that have been around." 

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I joined The Daily in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore. I've covered the soccer team, both men's and women's basketball, as well as the football team for the past two years. I have been the sports editor since spring 2018.

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