NORMAN — Not long ago, Travis Lewis was the up-and-comer of the linebacking corps. Now, he’s surrounded by up-and-comers. Of OU’s top seven linebackers, five will be sophomores or freshmen next season. None boast much experience. Ronnell Lewis and Joe Ibiloye played in spurts last year. Jaydan Bird and Daniel Franklin were special teams players. And Tom Wort sat the whole season while recovering from ACL surgery. But the young, inexperienced Sooners can still be strong at the position. Just ask Travis Lewis. "Working out with them, how strong and explosive they are, how fast they’ve developed, it’s amazing to see,” he said. "They’re going to be great players. "They all could potentially be starters.” Those young linebackers, expected to form the core of the Sooner defense in the coming years, will be on full display during Saturday’s Red-White Spring Game. At most, only two will start alongside Travis Lewis next season; but all five will play meaningful roles. Ronnell Lewis, who had a breakout — and bone-crushing — performance in the Sun Bowl, is the favorite to man the strong side. The 235-pound Dewar native claims the majority of OU’s biggest hits from last season and should bring more physicality to the Sooner front seven. "Man, he’s strong. When he first got in here, he (benched) 315, like 10-12 times. The other ’backers, we’re doing 275,” Travis Lewis said. "He already has all the physical traits to make him a special player. Striking people, that’s natural for him. All he needs to do is get in that film room and learn the defense. But he wants to learn.” Wort, who has been cleared for contact the entire spring, is battling Austin Box for the starting spot at middle linebacker. If he hadn’t been injured last preseason, Wort might have seen more playing time than any other true freshman. "Tom is doing well. The knee isn’t bothering him,” Travis Lewis said. "He looks like the Tom of old. Flying around, making plays. He’s looking good.” Ibiloye, a third-year sophomore, is expected to rotate in place of Ronnell Lewis on the strong side in passing situations, while also competing for time at safety. Bird is backing up Travis Lewis on the weak side. And Franklin, who at times is perhaps overshadowed by the other young linebackers, has made rapid improvement over the last six months, and is capable of backing up all three spots. "I’m just trying to show them how to work, how to prepare for game situations; in the film room, getting them to sit up front, ask all the questions that need to be asked,” Travis Lewis said. "But they surprise me every day. In the film room, they want to learn. It’s fun seeing them develop and become good players. "When I leave, I’m not going to be worried.”
OU Red-White Spring Game→When: 2 p.m. Saturday →Where: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman →TV: None →Tickets: Tickets are available for $5 each through Tuesday. After Tuesday, tickets will be $10. Tickets are available online at SoonerSports.com, in person at the OU ticket office or by phone at 405-325-2424 or 800-456-GoOU.