NORMAN — Tom Wort opted to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft after last year, when linebackers became largely irrelevant in Oklahoma’s defensive scheme against high-powered, spread offenses.
OU’s linebacker unit doesn’t have much depth at this point, but does have some talented players who are capable of producing if given the opportunity, which defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said they’ll have next season.
Continuing my unit-by-unit look at the 2013 Sooners, here’s a glance at Oklahoma’s linebackers entering Saturday’s spring game.
No.; Name; Cl.; Ht.; Wt.
20; Frank Shannon; So.; 6-1; 230
19; Eric Striker; So.; 6-0; 198
No.; Name; Cl.; Ht.; Wt.
7; Corey Nelson; Sr.; 6-1; 219
25; Aaron Franklin; Jr.; 6-1; 212
Linebacker analysis: This position group felt unappreciated after last season, and who could blame them? Late in the season, a desperate Mike Stoops experimented with making linebackers less important against spread offenses, and the results were often disastrous. After the Cotton Bowl, though, Stoops recommitted himself to the OU linebackers, and the players themselves are feeling the love.
“After the season, we didn’t know what was going to happen to the defense,” Nelson said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen to the defensive scheme or to the linebacking corps as a whole. But when they said that, that they were gonna get linebackers in there, it just brought back that linebacking tradition. It’s just an amazing experience for them to say that and to be a part of that, and for them to keep their word.”
It was widely assumed that Oklahoma would switch to a 3-4 scheme, but coaches seem to have changed their minds and will stick with a four-man front and, usually, a nickelback in place of a third linebacker. OU has worked some this spring in a more traditional 4-3 set, though, with Nelson and Franklin as the two outside linebackers.
Shannon played well at middle linebacker last year against the pass. He was sometimes brought in to replace the now-departed Tom Wort in passing situations.
OU is still thin at the linebacker positions, but the scholarship players it has can still be good with another season of experience, and the increased confidence that comes with knowing they’ll get to play more.
After all, it was only two springs ago when Bob Stoops described Nelson as “the best player out there on defense … In fact, it’s not even close.”
“I think those three linebackers — when you look at Frank Shannon, Aaron Franklin and Corey Nelson — I’ll put those three guys against anybody,” Mike Stoops said. “We feel very strong … It’s one of the strongest groups on our team. It might not be depth-wise, but in this league, the most you can ever play with is two linebackers.”
Here’s a full schedule for the “State of the Sooners” series:
Monday, 11 a.m.: Special teams
Monday, 2 p.m.: Defensive backs
Tuesday, 11 a.m.: Linebackers
Tuesday, 2 p.m.: Defensive linemen
Wednesday, 11 a.m.: Offensive linemen
Wednesday, 2 p.m.: Tight ends
Thursday, 11 a.m.: Wide receivers
Thursday, 2 p.m.: Running backs
Friday, 11 a.m.: Quarterbacks