NORMAN — Travis Lewis' injury raises several questions. But one question no longer is an issue: Where will Corey Nelson play?
Nelson was being auditioned for the Sooners' hybrid nickelback position before Lewis suffered a broken toe Monday at practice.
With Lewis projected to be sidelined eight weeks, Nelson will fill in for Lewis at weakside linebacker. Tony Jefferson, who was working out at free safety, stays at nickelback. Javon Harris is the starting free safety.
Selected the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis will not undergo surgery. OU trainer Scott Anderson said treatment consists of rest and immobilization.
Lewis has been OU's leading tackler three consecutive seasons, averaging 121 tackles a year. He's projected to return Texas week (Oct. 8). But doctors' estimates sometimes are conservative.
Can Lewis return in less than six weeks for a top 10 showdown Sept. 17 at Florida State or the conference opener the following week, Sept. 24 against nationally ranked Missouri?
While Nelson is as talented as Lewis, he lacks experience. Nelson will make his debut as a starter Sept. 3 against Tulsa. Lewis has a team-high 41 career starts.
There are three additional domino effects:
* Lewis is the Sooners' emotional leader. Who steps up as the defensive leader while he's sidelined?
* Harris, not Jefferson, will fill All-American free safety Quinton Carter's vacancy.
* It impacts linebacker depth. Jaydan Bird probably will back up middle linebacker Tom Wort and Nelson.
Lewis will still be involved in team meetings and can provide advice from the sidelines. But the importance of on-the-field leadership was evident late last season.
OU's defense jelled during a five-game winning streak after middle linebacker Austin Box returned to call the signals. The Sooners will open the season in 24 days without Lewis or Box, who died in May because of a toxic mix of pain pills.
Coaches, though, have raved about Nelson.
How will OU's defense change without Lewis?
Analysis: Lewis injured
Chat Recap: Mike Baldwin