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Sooners will find ways to get linebacker Corey Nelson on the field

BY JAKE TROTTER, Staff Writer, Modified: April 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm •  Published: April 24, 2011

NORMAN — More than once this spring, Bob Stoops called sophomore-to-be Corey Nelson “the best player” on the Oklahoma defense.

And that at times, “it wasn't even close.”

Problem is, Nelson isn't a starter. And the man he backs up at weakside linebacker — Travis Lewis — might be the preseason pick for conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Said defensive coordinator Brent Venables, “That's got to be the best first- and second-teamers at that position anywhere.”

Nelson, however, won't continue being just a second-teamer.

The Sooners have been hinting at different ways they might get Nelson on the field next season.

"We're going to get him on,” Stoops said. "We'll find those opportunities — for sure."

Here are four possible ways the Sooners might utilize Nelson defensively in 2011:

1. Bring back the “Hammer” role

Last year, OU faced a similar predicament with defensive end Ronnell Lewis — how to get a young, talented backup on the field?

Before Lewis suffered a midseason knee injury, Venables found him a role. On third down passing situations, the Sooners inserted Lewis in the game and subbed out a defensive tackle. In this role, Lewis basically had one responsibility. Pick a gap and get after the passer.

Venables could do the same with Nelson. In fact, the Sooners showed some of this in the spring game, with Nelson coming off the edge as a fourth linebacker.

A blitzing Nelson, who notched four tackles and a sack in the spring game, could be treacherous for opposing quarterbacks on third-and-long next season.

2. Role out the odd-man front

Not even Stoops could have predicted how wildly successful OU would be switching its base defense to an odd-man front — comprised of three defensive ends and one defensive tackle — the final three games of last season.

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