The Oklahoma linebackers seem to take on the personality of their boss, defensive coordinator Brent Venables — loose and laid-back away from the field, giving way to hardcore intensity when there's work to be done. Tom Wort and Jaydan Bird have been through the wringer at OU since arriving in January 2009, and they're even closer friends because of everything they went through together. But all the fun and games are over once a guy goes and gets married.
What are linebacker meetings like?
Wort: There are times we can laugh and joke around, but for the most part, it's serious and down to business. We're pretty serious in meetings.
Bird: Coach (Brent) Venables will let the jokes go pretty far, but it just depends on the day. Some days, he'll cut it out pretty quick.
It seems like all the linebackers here are pretty tight. Is that the case?
Wort: To play linebacker at Oklahoma, you've got to be a different type of person. All the stuff we go through together — workouts and meetings and practice — you have no choice but to form a close group.
You guys came to OU at the same time. Do you have a different kind of bond because of that?
Wort: We came in early, went through all the workouts together. Me and Jaydan were walking around crunched over because our abs were hurting so bad.
Coach Venables made us work out the first day we showed up and we couldn't walk the rest of the time. Coming in early and learning everything together, that's someone you lean on. But now our boy Jaydan went off and got married. So there's not much late-night going out with us anymore. He still gets away from the wife at times.
Jaydan, how long have you been married?
Bird: Since May 29. They tease me and they nag me about it, but it's all fun and games. I'm kind of a chill guy who just lets it happen, because I'm above that.
I'm above the humiliation of other people. But I'll get them back. One of these days, it's coming. It's building up.
DUO THEY MOST RESEMBLE
Jake and Elwood (The Blues Brothers)
Jayden Bird is the outgoing partner, a rascal like John Belushi's character Jake. Tom Wort is the down-to-earth complement, Dan Akroyd's character Elwood. Their conversations might not be that different than the Blues Brothers' most famous exchange.
“First you traded the Cadillac in for a microphone,” Jake said. “Then you lied to me about the band. Now you're going to put me right back in the joint (jail).”
“They're not gonna catch us,” Elwood responded. “We're on a mission from God.”
FROM THE COACH
Linebackers coach Brent Venables on OU's linebackers
“We're not real deep but there are some good players. It's a group likes to play, likes to compete. They're physical. They're instinctive. And they have really good chemistry. We've been fortunate to have guys like Travis (Lewis) who have been incredibly successful. Tony (Jefferson) has a real knack and a chance to be a special player. The development that Tom (Wort) has had this year compared to last year is not even close. Corey Nelson loves to work and always is around the ball. Joseph (Ibiloye) has length and can play multiple positions.”
OU LINEBACKERS DYNAMIC DUO
George Cumby and Daryl Hunt, 1977-78
Hunt came to OU as a heralded recruit out of Odessa Permian and lived up to the billing, playing as a true freshman on the 1975 national championship team. Cumby came to OU as an unheralded fullback the same year, was moved to linebacker in 1976 and was a star by 1977.
For two seasons, Hunt and Cumby were defensive terrors together. Both made all-American in 1977; Hunt made it in 1978, then Cumby made it in 1979 after Hunt went to the NFL.
Both were three-time all-Big Eight picks. They finished their careers No. 1 (Hunt, 530) and No. 3 (Cumby, 435) in total tackles.
A deep unit suddenly is thin. Travis Lewis, the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, is sidelined early with a broken toe. Austin Box tragically died in May. Coaches say middle linebacker Tom Wort is much improved. Talented Corey Nelson fills in for Lewis. Nickel back Tony Jefferson delivers big hits and played well as a true freshman. Joseph Ibiloye, a versatile backup, received rave reviews in fall camp.
WLB Travis Lewis
MLB Tom Wort
SLB Tony Jefferson
WLB Corey Nelson
MLB Jaydan Bird
SLB Joseph Ibiloye
Unit grade: B
The grade improves to an A-minus when Lewis is healthy, an A if Wort matches expectations.