NORMAN — Oklahoma middle linebacker Tom Wort intends to forgo his senior season and declare for the 2013 NFL Draft, coach Bob Stoops confirmed in a statement Wednesday evening.
“We wish Tom the very best as he concludes his time at the University of Oklahoma,” Stoops said. “Tom has earned his degree and has informed me that he plans to declare for the NFL Draft.”
Wort becomes the third Sooner underclassman to declare for the draft; receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson announced Monday they would leave Oklahoma.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin is still deciding whether to join Wort, Stills and Jefferson in the 2013 draft or return for his senior season; underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL Draft.
Colvin tweeted Wednesday, “Congrats to my bro Tom Wort, going to chase his dreams!”
Wort struggled through this season under a new defensive coordinator; he was recruited out of New Braunfels, Texas, by former coordinator Brent Venables.
Wort arrived in Norman with lots of excitement; he chose the Sooners over offers from LSU and Texas A&M, but struggled through injuries during his first few years on campus.
Last January, Mike Stoops returned to Oklahoma, replaced Venables — now Clemson’s defensive coordinator — and installed a new defensive system that asked linebackers to funnel ball carriers to defensive backs.
The result was a dramatic decrease in production from Wort; after recording 71 tackles and 3.5 sacks during his injury plagued sophomore season, Wort’s numbers dropped to 53 and two, respectively.
After the Sooners’ September home loss to Kansas State, Wort was roundly criticized by fans and media for his perceived lack of involvement in the defense. He badly whiffed on Wildcats’ running back John Hubert’s 9-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
A few weeks later, though, Wort forced a fumble in Oklahoma’s 63-21 rout of Texas, and seemed to be finally adapting to Mike Stoops’ system.
“Of course I’ve had my struggles this season,” Wort said a few days after the Texas game. “I think anyone can see that. With the coaching change, and the system, it’s been hard for me.
“But it doesn’t mean I can’t hustle to the football and hit. I can still play football. ... It was good to get that game in, and kind of feel like the old Tom.”
He also said then that he got along “great” with both Stoops and first-year linebackers coach Tim Kish. Wort was then asked if his struggles were less about bickering with new coaches, and more about missing Venables.
“A lot of stuff goes into it,” Wort responded. “You can sum it up like that.”
Over the final stretch of the regular season, when Oklahoma came up against the spread offenses of Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, Stoops often put defenses on the field with one — and sometimes zero — linebackers, choosing instead to play six or seven defensive backs.
Also, Wort lost playing time to freshman Frank Shannon, who started two games and often outperformed Wort in pass defense. Shannon now becomes Oklahoma’s probable 2013 starter at middle linebacker.
Kish indicated a few days before the Cotton Bowl that adjustments were being made for the future that would shift some things back toward linebackers.
“We go in every week knowing that we want to stop the run, but you see these diverse pass offenses, these four-wides and five-wides,” Kish said. “We tried to come up with some wrinkles this year. Again, it was what we thought was best at the time.
“We learned from it, and we’ve kind of come into a happy mix where we’re at today. I think it will evolve a little more toward the linebackers this year.”
Wort’s departure adds another surprising layer to Oklahoma’s linebacker situation moving forward. The Sooners lost their best 2013 linebacker commitment Sunday, when Dallas Jesuit’s Jordan Mastrogiovanni flipped his pledge to Texas A&M.
Mastrogiovanni’s flip came just two days after Texas A&M routed Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl, and left Oklahoma with only two linebackers in its 2013 recruiting class — Tulsa Washington’s Dominique Alexander and Norman North’s Jordan Evans — and both could wind up in different positions at the college level.