By Bruce Campbell Staff Writer

NORMAN -- Eric Bassey might be the face of criticism facing the Oklahoma secondary.

Bassey started the Sooners' first nine games at cornerback before being replaced by true freshman Marcus Walker while Texas A--M quarterback Reggie McNeal was burning the OU secondary.

His senior year may give him a chance at redemption, provided he can hold off a challenge by sophomore D.J. Wolfe, who has reportedly impressed Sooner coaches early in workouts.

"It was definitely motivation,'' Bassey said of the in-game benching. "It will do nothing but motivate me. I pride myself in going out there and playing hard and doing what I'm supposed to do."'

Cornerbacks, Bassey said, have to have short memories. Being burned occasionally goes with the position.

"When someone hits a deep ball, it's always going to look like it's the cornerback,'' he said. "It's just the nature of the position. I understand that. I use that as a positive now. The main thing is to keep your focus."'

Bassey's goal is to start. He doesn't know if he'll be a starter or be used in nickel and dime packages. He played in only one more game after being benched.

"I'm glad to be out there, taking another shot,'' Bassey said. "We'll see who's there at the end of camp. Everybody will have the same opportunity to play. Whoever pulls away late on in camp will start."'

The competition is another motivation for him.

"Football is competition,'' he said. "Why not have it in practice. It will make you a better player and help you perform better."'

Bassey couldn't have been blamed for Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart throwing for five touchdowns in a 55-19 massacre of the Sooners in the Orange Bowl.

Three of the four secondary starters have moved on to the NFL. That has caused many to say the secondary is the weak link for OU in 2005.

"The secondary last year had our ups and downs,'' he said. "This year we have to prove we're one of the strengths. We're focusing in and zeroing in more this year. Hopefully, it will turn out better for us."'

Bassey is more comfortable this year with Bobby Jack Wright moving over to replace Bo Pellini as the Sooner co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. It's more the system used by ex-OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops

"We have played this before,'' he said. "It will make us a better secondary. I'll have more of a chance to mix things up. The focus on us will make us a better team."'

Bassey's first priority will be improving his coverage of deep balls.

"It's a matter of turning the right way,'' he said. "It's a mental part of the game."'

Bassey started every game at safety in 2002. His big moment was returning a fumble 45 yards for a score against Alabama. He had interceptions against Missouri and Texas A--M and forced fumbles against Tulsa and Colorado.

"I'm looking forward this year to making more plays like that,'' he said.

He jokes his hobby is football.

"It's my passion,'' he said. "I spent all winter and summer getting ready for it."'

The positives have outweighed the negatives for Bassey. He's played in national championship games and been part of two Big 12 Championship teams. OU has played a BCS bowl (Rose, Sugar and Cotton) in every season of his career.

The only thing he lacks is a national championship ring.

"That will cap my senior year for sure,'' he said. "We have a lot of good players. We can play with anybody. We just have to get out there and do it. I see a lot of similarities with 2000 (OU's last national championship). We'll see what happens."'

He hopes to get a shot with the pros next season.

But first he wants to put 2004 behind.

"You're always remembered by your last game,'' Bassey said. "We didn't come through it. That doesn't take away from what we did."'

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