Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Position breakdown: Linebacker
By Jake Trotter
NORMAN, Okla. -- Today, SoonerNation examines the linebacker position.
Wait, Oklahoma uses linebackers?
That would be the sentiment of anyone who watched the Sooners after October last season. OU went largely with six- and even seven-defensive back sets, which did little to combat the spread offenses the Sooners saw late last season.
Corey Nelson didn't have a big impact in 2012. Will next season be different?
However, 2013 is a new year, and the expectation around the program is that the Sooners will try to implement linebackers into the scheme more than last season.
Whether that scheme is a 3-4 or a nickel, Frank Shannon and Corey Nelson figure to be on the field way more than they were in 2012. Shannon, the only inside linebacker on the entire roster, had a breakout season in 2012. He stole playing time away from incumbent starter Tom Wort, and probably had the best season of any linebacker on the team. You can all but pencil him into a starting role.
Same goes for Nelson, who did not have a breakout season in 2012. If anything, his career stalled as he struggled along with Wort to adapt to Mike Stoops’ gap-oriented defense. Nelson, too, was a casualty of the dime defense, often watching from the sidelines.
If the Sooners want to maximize their potential defensively, Nelson has to play a more substantial role. Just two years ago, Bob Stoops proclaimed that Nelson was the best player on the defense, and “that it wasn’t close.” OU needs its best defensive players to be on the field to have any chance of improving off a lackluster 2012 season.
Another reason why OU has indicated it wants to play more linebackers in 2013 is because of its young players. Aaron Franklin turned a corner as a sophomore and had 19 tackles. Because of his speed, Franklin is valuable against spread offenses, and can either cover or bring pressure off the edge.
Eric Striker is another rising talent. Last preseason, Striker was as impressive as any defensive freshman. As his surname suggests, Striker can hit, and, as a former safety, he can run as well.
No question, the Sooners have talent at linebacker. Whether they choose to finally utilize this talent is something to watch during the spring.