NORMAN — Injured defensive back Tre Norwood had some strong words for Brendan Radley-Hiles and his Oklahoma teammates last week.

“He just told us we have to step up,” Radley-Hiles said Tuesday. “He told me that specially, being at that (nickel) position.

“His presence is still there. His leadership factor is still there. We have to step up and play for him.”

Norwood suffered an apparent knee injury last week that will sideline him in 2019. It’s a blow to the defense. Many expected the junior to be the starter at nickel for OU.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch now has to adjust, and all eyes are on Radley-Hiles.

“I commend Bookie up to this point in terms of fall (camp). I think there are several guys that have kind of taken leaps from their performance in spring, and he’d probably be No. 1 on that list,” Grinch said. “I believe he’d echo that to you in terms just playing more consistently and playing with more technique, fundamentals all those things. I commend him on that. (Chanse) Sylvie’s down there a little bit, and there are a number of other guys.

“We’re kind of by committee. (Jeremiah) Criddell, a freshman, is getting some work down there. But like a lot of spots, it’s kind of a position to be named later in terms of who that guy is. But at this point, I’ve been pleased with Bookie.”

Radley-Hiles’ playing time diminished late last season. He saw limited action in the Sooners’ two postseason games, against Texas in the Big 12 Championship game and versus Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

Perhaps there remain some doubters heading into this fall, but the former five-star recruit out of Inglewood, California, isn’t focused on outside noise.

“I don’t feel like I have to prove myself to anyone but myself,” Radley-Hiles said. “I know what I’m capable of. I know what my full potential is. My expectation of myself is more grand and more high-magnitude than anyone else can put on me.”

Radley-Hiles finished with 39 tackles last season and started 11 of 13 games. Two of those starts were at the nickel position against TCU and Kansas.

He had a career-high eight tackles at Iowa State in his third career game.

What did he learn the most about his freshman season?

“The speed and tempo of college football,” Radley-Hiles said. “A lot of things are sped up. A lot of things happen quickly and fast at certain areas of the field. It’s just understanding where certain players are going to be at certain times and making sure you know what you are looking at.”

Radley-Hiles has a good friend and mentor in Norwood. He will be leaning on his friend in the upcoming months.

“He’s always going to be my big brother,” Radley-Hiles said. “He’s going to make sure that I’m correct. He’s going to make sure that I know what I’m doing.

“He’s a player’s coach for me this year.”

Eric Bailey

918-581-8391

eric.bailey@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @ericbaileyTW

Sports Writer

Eric covers the University of Oklahoma football and men’s basketball teams. A Haskell Indian Nations University graduate, he has been a member of the Tulsa World sports staff for 12 years. Phone: 918-581-8391