Oklahoma Sooners: Brent Venables

In January, linebacker Tom Wort stunned everyone from the fans to the Oklahoma coaches when he revealed he was skipping his senior year of college to enter the NFL draft. Wort struggled to adjust to a new scheme and new position coach, as the Sooners de-emphasiszed the linebacker position the second half of the season to try and combat the spread offenses of the Big 12. After OU's pro day Wednesday, Wort spoke with SoonerNation in his first interview since deciding to declare for the draft:

SoonerNation: What went into the decision to leave, how did you make it?

[+] EnlargeTom Wort
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireLinebacker Tom Wort admitted that the 2012 season was tough, but he said it has always been his dream to play in the NFL.
Tom Wort: The fact I graduated was a huge part of it. I came to OU to get a degree and play football. I just thought it was my time to take my shot at the next level.

SN: I don’t think there’s any question last season was an adjustment for you with the new scheme, the new coaching staff defensively. Did that play into the decision at all?

Wort: Somewhat, but for the most part, I just wanted to get to that next level. It’s been my dream. I had the opportunity, I got my degree, so I decided to take it.

SN: When did you make your decision to come out?

Wort: Right after the Cotton Bowl. I took about a week, and then came and talked to coach [Tim] Kish and told him, and then got ready for training.

SN: How did he and coach [Bob] Stoops react?

Wort: I talked to coach Bob Stoops, Coach Kish first. He said he understood and wished me the best.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- After back-to-back three-loss seasons, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is shaking things up again.

Jackie Shipp, Stoops’ longtime defensive tackles coach, will not be returning to Sooners’ staff in 2013, multiple sources confirmed to ESPN.com.

The Shipp news comes on the brink of Monday’s announced departure of offensive line coach James Patton, who exited the OU staff to take an assistant job with Indiana.

Shipp is OU’s fourth coaching change in the last two years. Last year, Mike Stoops replaced Willie Martinez as defensive backs coach, and then after defensive coordinator Brent Venables bolted for Clemson, Mike Stoops’ former Arizona assistant Tim Kish was brought in to coach linebackers.

Unlike Patton, Shipp had been with the Sooners since Stoops’ first season in 1999. He recruited and developed two of the best defensive tackles in Big 12 history in Tommie Harris and Gerald McCoy, who both went on to be first-round draft picks.

But in the last few years, the level of performance at defensive tackle has dipped. The Sooners have had not had a first-team All-Big 12 defensive tackle since McCoy in 2009. And underscoring the defensive tackles’ lack of disruption this last season, the Sooners ranked 94th in run defense and 104th in tackles for loss.
Each week SoonerNation recruiting writers Bob Przybylo and Brandon Chatmon will face off on one issue regarding Oklahoma recruiting.

This week’s question: Of OU’s top 10 #BlueChipBattles, who is the most important target to secure for the 2013 class?

Decisions that defined OU in 2012: No. 5 

January, 14, 2013
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From QB Landry Jones to staying to defensive coordinator Mike Stoops arriving, the storylines were many for the 2012 Sooners. But sometimes, the small decisions turned out to be big ones that defined the season, too. With that in mind, here are the five decisions that probably made the biggest impact on Oklahoma's 2012 season.


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ATH Baker excited for Clemson, OU visits 

December, 7, 2012
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ESPN 300 athlete Adrian Baker (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna) hasn’t decommitted from Florida State, but he’s looking around.

Baker, who is 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, is ranked No. 198 in the ESPN 300 and went through the ringer this week.

Adrian Baker
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comThe Sooners view four-star prospect Adrian Baker as an athlete who could play offense in college.
FSU assistant Eddie Gran was the first to visit Baker on Tuesday. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables followed Wednesday afternoon, while Oklahoma defensive backs coach Mike Stoops closed the show Wednesday night.

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Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. Oklahoma's season-opening game at UTEP on Sept. 1 has been set for a 9:30 p.m. CT kickoff. That's an awful start time for fans, but it does get the players out of the brutal El Paso daytime heat. The Sooners had several night games in 2011 and that trend seems to be continuing in 2012.


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Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. The Sooners offered their third in-state prospect for the class of 2013 on Monday in Tulsa Union's Dalton Rodriguez. At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds, OU assistant coach Bruce Kittle extended the offer as an offensive tackle. The only problem? Rodriguez hasn't played offense since middle school -- he has been a defensive end for the Redskins, who rarely have two-way starters. The Sooners coaches must love his size and athleticism and think he can grow into a solid offensive tackle.

2. One of the most interesting storylines that emerged late in OU spring practice was the inconsistency of junior linebacker Corey Nelson, who didn't start at weakside linebacker during the Red-White game. Most fans assumed he was a shoe-in to replace Travis Lewis in 2012 based on Brent Venables' overwhelming praise, but Nelson apparently didn't have a great spring under the new defensive regime. Nelson is now battling Joseph Ibiloye for the job. If the Sooners want to have a more consistent defense next season, Nelson and Tom Wort have to to be on the field, in my opinion.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma linebacker Joseph Ibiloye kept hearing his coach scream his name.

"Joe! Joe!"

He turned around, heard his coach's demands and applied them to the next play. The problem? At least a few times, it would put him out of position or ruin a defensive rep.

That's what happens when he takes direction meant for cornerback Joe Powell.

Mike Stoops is back coordinating Oklahoma's defense, a job he held in 2000 during Oklahoma's last national title run, and there are bound to be a few mixups as he gets used to his new surroundings.

"He’s calling me Ibi now, so we’ve got everything squared away," Ibiloye said.

Stoops' arrival, after eight seasons as Arizona's head coach, was cause for Sooner-fan celebrations. Last year's defense had high-profile struggles in the secondary in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeMike Stoops, Tim Kish
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI The return of Mike Stoops, bending, as coordinator has brought Oklahoma's defense a simplified scheme.
Stoops' specialty? Defensive backs.

Safety Javon Harris didn't know much about Stoops when he met his new position coach and coordinator, but he knew that much.

"The one thing I knew is when he was here, he put out a lot of All-American DBs and guys who went on to the next level," said Harris, who endured the toughest struggle of anyone in the loss to Baylor, but re-earned a starting position this spring. "I was really excited to know he was coming in here."

The word of the spring for Stoops' new troops was simplification. Brent Venables fielded a whole lot of good defenses before leaving for Clemson this offseason, but the change was welcomed, especially by the Sooners' most scrutinized unit of 2011.

"In talking to some of my other teammates, I think everybody is liking the new defense and knowing exactly what they need to do. One of the things we were lacking last year was just not knowing exactly what’s going on," Harris said. "Now we’re learning those things and we feel one step ahead."

Step one in fixing what ailed the Sooners in 2011? Prevent the big play.

"We’re just trying to get our players in the right positions to be more efficient and more effective players. That’s the consensus of what we saw a year ago. How much we can simplify things, that’s hard to say," Stoops said. "We’re going to do what we need to do to be successful."

Stoops installed most of his defense this spring; the fall will be dedicated to perfecting it. The spring was about finding what the defense did well, establishing an identity, and putting everyone where he needs to be.

"The way he approaches things is easier to learn," Ibiloye said.

The biggest position move? Tony Jefferson is headed to traditional safety after holding down Oklahoma's nickel-back spot the past two seasons, including 2010, when he shared Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors.

"We’re going to have flexibility. Our linebackers give us a lot of flexibility to do some things, and I think we have some secondary guys that give us some flexibility to get our best players on the field," Stoops said. "That’s ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do, is find the best 11, 12, 13 players and then take it from there."

Said Harris: "He wants to get players to know the defense and know their position and be able to play loose and not think as much."

That'll come with time, but Stoops made one thing clear when he met each of his new defenders.

"I’m not going to put you in those positions where, if I’m not sure you can do something, I’m not going to make you do them," Harris said Stoops told him. "That’s one thing I appreciated from him, that I’ll have that chance to come out here and do what I do best."

Players, particularly experienced seniors, had their doubts about the new coordinator, but the comfort level is high as doubts have receded. One place there's no lack of confidence? The top, where Stoops' brother, Bob Stoops, holds down the head job.

"I’ve got great confidence in him of course and what he sees. It’s been great to have him back," Stoops said. "It gives me a strong sense of security that we’re doing things the best way we can."
When Tom Wort came across a picture of Brent Venables wearing orange, he took a picture of it on his phone and texted it to his former position coach with the following message: “I don’t know about those colors.”

Venables quickly replied. “Yeah, I feel you. I’m trying to get used to them, too.”

[+] EnlargeTom Wort
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaLinebacker Tom Wort has taken on a bigger leadership role with the Sooners.
Wort and his fellow linebackers are getting used to life this spring without Venables, who took the defensive coordinator’s job at Clemson two months ago. Venables had been OU’s linebackers coach since 1999, and defensive coordinator since 2004.

“Change is something you have to adapt to and deal with,” Wort said. “Absolutely, it’s been different.”

Wort still keeps up with Venables, who recruited the England native to Norman via New Braunfels, Texas. The two grew incredibly close during Wort’s first three years in Norman. Wort knows Venables’ wife and four young children well, and would always go to Venables household whenever they held barbeques for the players.

“I have been close with all his family members for the last couple of years,” Wort said. “And he got to know us all on a personal level.”

When Venables was considering the Clemson job, he kept Wort apprised of what was happening daily.

“We talked all throughout the process,” Wort said. “I understand it’s part of coaching, you have to leave at times. We have no hard feelings, he’s doing what’s best for him and his family.”

But Wort and Venables still talk weekly -- even though they no longer wear the same colors.

“I’m trying to find out how he’s doing at Clemson, he’s trying to find out how things are going here,” Wort said. “It’s been different here, not quite as loud on the field.”
Oklahoma will be the fourth Big 12 team (TCU, Texas, Texas Tech) to open spring camp when practice begins later Monday.

Here's a closer look and an idea of what to watch for.

Schedule: Oklahoma kicks off the first of its NCAA-allowed 15 practices Monday, leading up to the spring game on April 14. Practices are closed to fans and media.

What's new: The Sooners made the biggest Big 12 offseason acquisition when they brought back Mike Stoops as co-defensive coordinator. He dropped the "co-" after longtime coordinator Brent Venables took the DC job at Clemson after 13 years on Bob Stoops' staff in Norman. The Sooners will miss his presence, but hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize an Oklahoma defense that paved the way for the Sooners' last national title back in 2000, coordinated by none other than Stoops. He was fired by Arizona in the middle of the 2011 season, his eighth at Arizona.

New faces: Stoops is obvious, but Oklahoma is also welcoming six freshman or junior college transfers this spring to get practice time in before the 2012 season. Tight end Taylor McNamara and 2011 signee Trey Metoyer highlight the group. McNamara was the nation's No. 2 tight end and Metoyer was the nation's No. 8 receiver and No. 51 overall prospect in the 2011 class. He enrolled in military school after failing to qualify last fall, and could help boost a receiving corps in need of reinforcements. Junior college transfers Kass (pronounced "KAHss") Everett, Brannon Green and Chaz Nelson join 2011 signee Jordan Wade on campus this spring, too. Tight ends McNamara and Green should have some impact. Oklahoma returns no tight ends from its 2011 team, thanks to injuries and player exits.

Big shoes to fill: Kenny Stills. Ryan Broyles tore his ACL late last season, and the Sooners' receivers disappointed in the absence of the FBS all-time leader for receptions. The offense was punchless in an embarrassing blowout loss to Oklahoma State with the Big 12 title on the line. Especially without Jaz Reynolds (kidney) this spring, Stills need to prove he can be a reliable, top-tier receiver for Oklahoma's Big 12 title dreams to come true in 2012.

On the move: Safety Tony Jefferson. How will Jefferson be used in Stoops' defensive scheme? It's a big question for the Sooners. Jefferson's one of the team's most talented players, but he moved around a lot in 2011, seeing time at nickel back and moving to traditional safety after Javon Harris had some high-profile struggles in the loss to Baylor. Jefferson can play and excel at both spots. What the rest of OU's defense looks like depends on where he plays.

Question marks: What does OU's running back spot look like? Dominique Whaley is still rehabbing after breaking his ankle midseason, an injury that birthed the Belldozer formation. Backup quarterback Blake Bell rushed for 13 touchdowns in the second half of the season, but look for Oklahoma to try and find a way to run between the tackles more traditionally this spring. Who can be the man? Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Danzel Williams are the only healthy scholarship running backs for the Sooners. Will we see fullback Trey Millard get some run, too?

All eyes on: The defense. Quarterback Landry Jones actually played well in a loss to Baylor, but Oklahoma's defense was clearly the weak link in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State that turned a year with national title aspirations into an average 10-3 season that finished in the Insight Bowl. The defense played well in the bowl win over Iowa, but Iowa's offense is nothing like what awaits the Sooners in the always-dangerous Big 12. Mike Stoops' work is cut out for him.

OU position grades: Defensive coaches 

February, 3, 2012
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Before the Sooners' 31-14 win over Iowa in the Insight Bowl, Jake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon analyzed each Oklahoma position group. Now, the SoonerNation staff is giving each position a grade for its performance in 2011.

Grade: B-
The Big 12 is a tough league to defend, but a No. 55 ranking in total defense is unacceptable at OU. The defense had some phenomenal performances (Florida State, Texas and Kansas State). But it will be remembered for how it fared against Texas Tech (41 points), Baylor (45 points) and Oklahoma State (44 points).
- Jake Trotter

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Q&A: Former OU LB Rufus Alexander

January, 31, 2012
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Landing blue-chip linebacker Rufus Alexander was one of the biggest recruiting victories Brent Venables had at Oklahoma. Alexander, who had offers from Texas and LSU, ended up being an All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at OU in 2006.

Alexander spoke with SoonerNation and shared his thoughts about Venables leaving for Clemson, and what it means for the Sooners to have Mike Stoops back on the staff:

Jake Trotter: What did you think of Brent Venables’ decision to go to Clemson?

Rufus Alexander: I figured it was a good move for him. I figured it was time, with all that he had gone through, all that he done here at Oklahoma, which was great. I didn’t want him to go. He and Mike Stoops were great together. But he wants to be a head coach, and this was the move he needed to make. I’m sad to see him go. He was my coach. It hurts to see him go.

JT: Have you had a chance to talk with him since he left?

RA: I haven’t had a chance to talk with him. I’m sure the last person he wanted to talk to was me with the decision he had to make. He had lot on his mind. We kept up during the season, though.

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Triple option: Tyrone Nix or Tim Kish? 

January, 23, 2012
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Three thoughts this morning:

1. Former Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix was in town over the weekend for an interview for the vacant linebackers coaching position. I’d be surprised if Bob Stoops interviewed very many more candidates. Stoops usually doesn’t waste any time filling job openings by interviewing a lot of candidates.

2. There’s no doubt Steve Spurrier gave his stamp of approval to Stoops on Nix, who was Spurrier’s defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach at South Carolina from 2005-07. Spurrier’s approval counts for a lot in Stoops’ book.

3. I still believe that former Arizona defensive coordinator Tim Kish is a leading candidate to fill the job. According to one source, Mike Stoops has already brought over former Arizona secondary coach Ryan Walters to be OU’s defensive graduate assistant. Not only was Kish an assistant there during Stoops’ entire tenure at Arizona, he has a reputation for being the same level of recruiter Brent Venables is.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Brent Venables was a terrific recruiter for Oklahoma.

His recruiting prowess wasn’t his only asset. The Sooners former defensive coordinator, who left this week to take over Clemson’s defense, was superb as a position coach developing of linebackers once they arrived in Norman.

Here are some of the most productive linebackers during Venables' tenure at OU:

Torrance Marshall (1999-2000)

An athletic linebacker who was a key contributor to the Sooners' national championship team in 2000, he finished his career with 202 tackles including 34 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in two seasons.

Originally slated to go to Miami (Fla.) after high school, Marshall came to OU after two years at Kemper Military Academy and Miami Dade Community College and went on to a multi-year NFL career with the Green Bay Packers after being named MVP of the Orange Bowl in the title game win over Florida State.

(Read full post)

Jake Trotter answers readers' questions about Oklahoma football in his mailbag every Friday. Got a question for Jake? Submit it here.

Christopher in Kalamazoo, Mich., writes: Jake, who would be your ideal, reasonable replacement for Brent Venables? I hear a lot about Tim Kish, but if I had my choice of the names being floated around I'd take Randy Shannon. He has tons of experience, a great footprint on Florida recruiting. It just seems like the ideal choice to me.

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