NORMAN, Okla. — Unfortunately a lot of times you find out just how big of a leader a guy is when he can’t be on the field.
Linebacker Corey Nelson won't be able to play in his final Red River Rivalry.
Quarterback Sam Bradford and wide receiver Ryan Broyles come to mind recently, sidelined for the remainder of their final years of their careers at OU.
First, it was Bradford in 2009; then, Broyles in 2011. Two of the most productive players on the field in recent memory, both stayed in tuned to the rest of the season, remained unselfish and helped their teammates out despite not being able to be out there.
Now, senior linebacker and captain Corey Nelson is in the same spot, faced with staring down the rest of his senior year outside the white lines and he’s proving just how huge his leadership is to this team.
After tearing his pectoral the other night in OU’s 20-17 win over TCU, Nelson hasn’t been moping around. He hasn’t been feeling sorry for himself.
Instead, in OU’s initial practice since the injury, Nelson could be found instructing youngsters at the position and getting those stepping in for him prepared to do so.
“It was good,” said Aaron Franklin, who will compete with Dominique Alexander to fill in for Nelson. “He was just back there helping us out and teaching us. He’s still around and he’s just telling, giving us what he knows and giving us the tips on run fits and pass drops and stuff. So, he’s still around here and in good spirits, so it’s good having Corey around.”
Linebacker Eric Striker, leading the team with five quarterback hurries in his edge rusher role, said the same thing.
“I mean, his presence is still felt,” Striker said. “He’s still out there and he’s a great leader. You know, so I mean as far as Saturday goes, he’s not going to be out there on the field, so we’ll see. I don’t know how that’s going to work. We’ll all see at the same time.”
A team captain, Nelson is still around his teammates instructing them heading into the OU-Texas game.
The one thing that is always surprising with an injury like this is the simple fact that, more often than not, players put the team before themselves instead of being selfish and worrying about what could have been for them and how it may affect their future.
And there’s no question Nelson fits in this category, as he hasn’t given up on the team.
“He’s not,” said nickelback Julian Wilson. “Today he was more out there like a coach, like a mentor and I just love the dedication he spends to this game and he’s still going to be with us even if he’s not on the field suiting up with us on Saturday.”
What exemplifies all this is the fact he’s wanting to hold off surgery for another weke so he can travel and be around his team, as well as instruct them for the Red River Rivalry.
“He’s talking and I don’t know what’ll happen, he’s going to visit with the doctors and Scott Anderson,” said OU head coach Bob Stoops. “He wants to hold off till next week because he wants to be out on the field coaching and being around the guys all week. So, you love it. You know, he wants to remain in that leadership role, do all he can to help us. And he’s even talking about possibly trying to get a redshirt year now, being that he hasn’t had one. So, we’ll start going through that whole process with our administration. So, we’ll see where it leads.”
Obviously, the Sooners will miss his production on the field.
Through five games, Nelson is tied for the team lead with three tackles for loss, second with 27 total tackles and he also had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown at Notre Dame.
Nelson additionally has four pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.
As the quarterback of the defense, he’s been outstanding and the senior who finally seemed to put his potential together will definitely be tough to replace.
“Yeah, Corey was,” Stoops said. “He’s being a great leader. I mean, he has all year. He’s really been exciting the way he’s played to this point and he can continue to do that, be the leader out on the field, coaching and helping and really demanding the players in practice that we perform and concentrate and focus the way we have been. It’s really made a difference and we practice a lot better, we seem to have a lot fewer mistakes come Saturday and that’s happened for us.
“And he’s been big on just making sure that’s happening while we’re out there day-to-day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. So, hopefully he can continue to have that kind of influence. Other guys, Frank Shannon, will do it, Dominique, other guys have to do it with the safeties. They’ve got to be able to communicate with each other.”
That will be the challenge defensively when the Sooners take the field this weekend at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas against archrival Texas.
But at least they’re not fully without one of their two defensive captains.
He’s still hanging around.