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Looking Ahead: Linebackers

It’s fair to say that the play of the linebackers this season was “poor”. In a defense that finished 64th in the country, the overall play of the linebackers was very inconsistent, and sometimes even non-existent.

Corey Nelson will enter his senior season next year.

Here’s what you can expect to see next year at the linebacker position.

When you look at what the Sooners have coming back on defense next season, the linebackers will be the most experienced unit returning. The returning starters will be Corey Nelson and Tom Wort, if he elects to return for his senior season. Wort is a three-year starter with 189 career tackles. His 52 tackles this season was the lowest output of his career.

Nelson is a two-year starter with 124 career tackles and 45 on the season. Before the start of the 2011 season, coaches were raving about his performance during spring and summer workout. Since then, he’s been a disappointment on the field considering all the hype he received. Fans have been waiting for his “breakout” season, but he has still yet to deliver.

This season, there wasn’t a lot of production from Wort and Nelson. To be fair however, the scheme of Mike Stoops’ defense didn’t give them a whole lot of opportunities to make plays. In the West Virginia and Baylor game, they were hardly even on the field. That’s the nature of defending the spread offense in the Big 12. With the Sooners electing to man-to-man defense this year, a lot of times there was only one linebacker on the field while trying to defend the four-wide formations. This limited their abilities to make plays.

Other contributors returning next year are Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin.
Both showed promise this year, and gave glimpses that they could be big-time players in the future. They’ll both need to continue to improve in the offseason as both should see significant playing time next year. A redshirt-freshman this season, Shannon finished with 38 tackles on the year, 2 sacks, and was inserted into the starting lineup twice. There’s a good possibility that he will be a full-time starter next year, especially if Wort elects to leave.

Franklin had 19 tackles on the year, one sack, and one tackle for loss. Expect to see Franklin play more significantly, and be a larger part in the defensive game plan. Franklin will be a junior next year.

Other players who have the opportunity to contribute, are youngsters, Eric Striker and P.L. Lindley. Both will be given the opportunity during spring and summer workouts to compete for playing time in the upcoming season.

After Jordan Mastrogiovanni’s decommitted last night, the Sooners only have one linebacker on the commitment list in Jordan Evans. Don’t expect Evans to make an immediate impact next year at linebacker, as he still needs to put on weight to play the position.

Tom Wort's future at Oklahoma is uncertain.

One thing is for certain, the linebacker play has to be more effective next year. In 13 games this season, seven opponents rushed for over 200 yards. That stat alone is glaring, and something the Sooners cannot allow to make into a trend. Obviously better defensive line play will prevent that, but it also comes down to the linebackers making plays as well.

For the first time in the Stoops era, there wasn’t a linebacker who made the first or second team All-Big 12 list. Great linebacker play has been a fixture during the Stoops era, and they desperately need to get back to that.

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