Oklahoma Sooners: Jordan Evans

During the summer, ESPN.com is taking a closer look at each scholarship player on Oklahoma's roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we analyze each player's impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall, and his long-term projection. Starting with No. 1 Dominique Alexander, the series follows the roster numerically through No. 98 Chuka Ndulue.

No. 26 Jordan Evans, linebacker, 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, sophomore

Impact thus far: Evans played his way out of a redshirt season, then played in eight games as a true freshman in 2013. He finished with 12 tackles including an eight-tackle performance when injuries forced him onto the field against Texas Tech, earning high praise from OU coach Bob Stoops.

Impact in 2014: It wouldn't be a surprise to see Evans force his way into the lineup. He's one of the Sooners' most athletic linebackers and his knack for making plays could help the defense. One way or another, he should have a bigger impact as a sophomore than he did as a true freshman.

Long term upside: His versatility should help him become a key contributor for the next three seasons. His unique physical gifts could make him an all-conference-type of linebacker before he hangs up his crimson and cream jersey for the final time.

Evaluation grade for Evans: A. It took a while but the Sooners finally offered Evans late in the 2013 recruiting cycle. He didn't really have a set position, but OU decided he was simply too talented to overlook. They got him on campus and then decided where to place him. All early signs point to Evans being a terrific evaluation, particularly after his stellar spring.

Development grade for Evans: B. It was the best move to play him as a true freshman, although the Sooners could have given him a few more snaps on defense to help speed up his development during the first two months of the season. His performance against the Red Raiders in late October was a sign he might have been ready for a bigger role earlier in the year. An injury against Baylor probably kept his role from increasing during the final five games of his first year on campus.

Quotable: "Jordan has really improved and is much more sound and disciplined in schemes and where he needs to be. He has got great range and great athleticism." -- Stoops on Evans after the spring game.

Quotable, Part 2: "I feel like I finally grew into the system. I had to get with the program and that's not the defense growing around me, that's me growing into the defense. The coaches are on my tail everyday. It comes down to maturity more than anything." -- Evans on his improvement in the spring.
Last week, colleague Max Olson crunched the numbers on the total career starts each Big 12 team has coming back for next season.

What Max unearthed was that Texas (by far) leads the Big 12 in career starts returning, both offensively and defensively. TCU’s defense ranked second behind the Longhorns’ defense, while the Iowa State offense placed second. The Horned Frogs could have their most dominant defense yet in the Big 12, and the Cyclones could feature their best offensive attack in years, suggesting both teams could also be in for bounce-back 2014 campaigns.

Yet while revealing, compiling returning starts doesn’t tell the entire story when examining team experience, since the equation doesn’t account for those who played key roles as reserves. TCU safety Derrick Kindred, Texas Tech linebacker Micah Awe and Baylor end Shawn Oakman weren’t starters last year. But they were still valuable players on their respective teams.

To examine returning experience in another way, I’ve tallied up the percentage of tackles returning for every team in the Big 12:

With nine starters back, it’s not surprising the Sooners top this chart. But the number of returning starters isn’t the only reason why Oklahoma is optimistic about its 2014 defense. The Sooners also bring back several key defensive performers that weren’t full-time starters last season. End Geneo Grissom, who notched three sacks against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, only started five games in 2013. Linebacker Jordan Evans thrived whenever his number got called as a freshman. And tackle Jordan Phillips only started four games but was playing at an All-Big 12-caliber level before suffering a season-ending back injury in early October.

On the flip side, Oklahoma State is at the cellar of this list, and not just because it graduated seven starters. The Cowboys also lost several defensive reserves that played a bunch, including linebacker Joe Mitchell, cornerback Tyler Patmon and safety Zack Craig.

Of course, like with returning starts, a high level of returning tackles doesn’t guarantee success. And it doesn’t necessarily preclude it, either.

Oklahoma ranked 119th nationally in returning tackles (40 percent) last season. But by the end of the season, the Sooners were wreaking havoc in the backfield of the two-time defending national champs.

The tackle equation can be an indicator of the defenses that might be formidable. Oklahoma State and Baylor both had 73 percent of their tackles returning from 2012 going into last season. Both wound up being formidable, ranking first and second in the league in both fewest yards per play and points per drive.

That bodes well for the defensive prospects of Oklahoma, Kansas, TCU, Texas and West Virginia, which all have like tackle rates coming back for 2014.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.

2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.

3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.

4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.

5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.

6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.

7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.

8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.

9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.

10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
12:00
PM ET
Kaiden's play was the biggest one of Kansas State's spring game.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring. On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. On Tuesday, we reviewed five questions that remain unanswered. Today, we look at five players who surprised this spring.

Running back Alex Ross: The sophomore made it clear he plans to be a part of OU’s offense this fall. He had a solid spring and was consistently mentioned as a playmaker after Sooners’ scrimmages. It was an important spring for Ross, who was passed on the depth chart by Keith Ford last season and will watch highly touted signees Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon arrive this summer. Ross needed to seize the opportunity to remind people he was a highly touted signee as well and that’s exactly what he did.

“He’s playing explosively,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “He’s just having fun playing. He gets the ball in his hands and he’s down the field real quick. It’s good to watch.”

[+] EnlargeHatari Byrd
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSophomore safety Hatari Byrd looks poised to make an impact in the secondary this season.
Safety Hatari Byrd: The sophomore moved seamlessly into the Sooners’ secondary and looks ready to be a key contributor, even if he doesn’t end up starting. He brings a hungry attitude and a will to succeed to OU’s secondary. Byrd saw limited time on defense as a true freshman but he sure looked at home alongside Quentin Hayes at the safety spot and joins Ahmad Thomas to give OU a pair of quality young safeties to compete for playing time this fall. Byrd’s smooth transition into the defensive system was a pleasant surprise for Sooners’ fans.

“He’s stepping up, coming down and making plays,” linebacker Eric Striker said.

Receiver K.J. Young: Fellow redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood has gotten a lot of the accolades but Young looks poised to be a contributor in OU’s offense in the fall. He’s a smooth operator in the slot and can make plays when he gets the ball in his hands. Young didn’t separate himself in the spring game but he has all the tools to emerge as a quality receiving option for Knight in 2014. He’s gets overlooked at times but has the type of playmaking skills that can separate him from the competition.

Linebacker Jordan Evans: The sophomore is poised to provide depth and add athleticism to the Sooners linebacker corps. The Norman (Okla.) native played several positions in high school and his versatility shines through at linebacker. He’s very comfortable in space yet is willing to play physical if needed. If Evans continues to perform like he did this spring, the Sooners could end up having to find a place for him in their defensive system.

“He has played great,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Jordan has really improved and is much more sound and disciplined in schemes and where he needs to be. He has got great range and great athleticism.”

Cornerback Dakota Austin: The sophomore didn’t enter the spring as the favorite to replace Aaron Colvin but the job could be his to lose after a strong spring showing. He’s undersized but competitive and solid in coverage, which helped him surpass Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson, a pair of returning cornerbacks who started games in 2013. Austin hasn’t locked down the starting spot but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him team with Zack Sanchez as OU’s starting cornerbacks for the season opener.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively injury free and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring, starting with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices.

The defensive line is as good as advertised: Junior Charles Tapper didn't rest on his laurels after a breakout, All-Big 12 sophomore season. He’ll enter the fall as one of the Big 12’s top defensive ends and is a legitimate difference-maker on OU’s defensive front. His strength, speed and athleticism could push him into the fight to be an All-American if his development continues.

Senior defensive end Geneo Grissom appears ready to fulfill the recruiting hype that followed him onto campus, senior defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue is a veteran presence, sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Wade is strong in the middle and junior defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is on the road to recovery after missing the majority of the 2013 season with a back injury. The depth of the defensive line is expanding as well, with redshirt freshmen Matt Romar and Charles Walker bringing competition inside during spring drills and sophomores Matt Dimon and Mike Onuoha adding depth on the outside.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Robin Alam/Icon SMIEric Striker hasn't seemed to miss a beat since his Sugar Bowl breakout.
The defense could be the most versatile in years: The Sooners' savvy decision to tinker with some of their defensive stars and move guys around in the defensive system this spring should pay off in the fall. Grissom spent time at linebacker alongside Eric Striker, who played some nickelback during the 15 practices. Both players will be core members of OU’s defense in 2014 but the spring was spent trying find the Sooners' best 11 defenders for every situation. Challenging its best players to be more versatile will help defensive coordinator Mike Stoops adapt to the various offenses the Big 12 has to offer this fall. Putting its best players in the best position to make plays could make this defense even stronger.

The Class of 2013 is better than expected: It seemed like OU scrambled to put together its 2013 recruiting class, yet the group started showing signs it was better than anticipated last season. This spring, they further cemented that belief with several sophomores or redshirt freshmen fighting to be major contributors. Receiver Jordan Smallwood, cornerback Dakota Austin, safety Ahmad Thomas and linebacker Jordan Evans are just a few of the members of that class who could be poised for breakout seasons in 2014 after a strong spring showing.

Fullback/tight end Dimitri Flowers was the hidden gem of the Class of 2014: We haven’t even reached three months after signing day, yet Flowers already looks like a diamond in the rough. Comparisons to Trey Millard began early in spring practices and increased from that point. While his versatility, size, blocking and receiving prowess immediately impressed, Flowers showed an ability to pick up the Sooners' offensive concepts and operated like a veteran. It's put him on the road to becoming a valuable asset in OU’s offense as a freshman. When they see Flowers for the first time this fall, there’s a chance opposing Big 12 defensive coordinators will accuse the Sooners of trying to get four more years out of the former All-Big 12 fullback by simply changing Millard’s jersey number and renaming him.

Striker is going to make life miserable for Big 12 quarterbacks: The junior picked up right where he left off after embarrassing Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio with three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. He looked active, energetic and quick in the spring game, recording back-to-back sacks early in the third quarter. Striker was going against backup linemen, but there’s a good chance he’s going to be a pest to every Big 12 lineman he faces this fall.

Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, defense only, on OU’s spring finale. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my thoughts and observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.

  • Linebacker Frank Shannon’s absence is disappointing, but Jordan Evans filled in at linebacker without looking like a weak link, much as he did against Texas Tech during his true freshman season a year ago. Evans is very athletic and comfortable in coverage. If Shannon, who is dealing with personal issues, is unable to return, OU can feel good about Evans’ spring-game production.
  • Ahmad Thomas looks like a potential difference-maker. He can play multiple positions in the secondary and he was consistently around the ball. A breakout sophomore campaign could be on the horizon.
  • The defensive line should be deep, athletic and productive. This unit could spark a special season if everyone continues to develop. From Charles Tapper to Jordan Wade to Charles Walker, it’s a very solid group of defensive linemen from top to bottom. Games are won in the trenches, so the Sooners should feel good about their chances this fall.
  • [+] EnlargeQuentin Hayes
    Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsQuentin Hayes is a returning starter at safety, but depth is a concern there.
    Cornerback Zack Sanchez is another Sooner who looks as if he’s taken a step forward. If he continues to progress, Sanchez could become a player who opponents think twice about testing. He was competitive and active on Saturday and played like OU's best cornerback.
  • Sophomore Dakota Austin looked solid opposite Sanchez, but the search for the other half of OU’s cornerback duo should carry deep into preseason camp. Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson are also in the mix, but nobody has taken the job and run away with it. The Sooners need to shore up this spot, as this concern could be considered the top priority on the defensive side of the ball heading into the summer.
  • Linebacker Eric Striker is on the road to making several appearances on "SportsCenter" this fall. The pass-rushing dynamo was terrific as a sophomore and it looks like he could be even better as a junior. He's exceptionally quick off the edge and has a knack for getting to the quarterback.
  • The safety position looks like it is in good hands with Quentin Hayes and Hatari Byrd, but the depth behind them is a major summer storyline. Thomas and Julian Wilson, who sat out the spring, could help at the position and incoming freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in immediately. It’s not a problem if OU remains injury-free, but it’s football, so heading into the season without a Plan B is fool’s gold.
  • Kicker Michael Hunnicutt has earned his nickname “Munnicutt” and his leg strength has improved. He made two 40-plus-yard field goals, one with the wind at his back and one into the wind. He’s one of the nation’s most consistent kickers, so increased long-range production is a major bonus.
  • Final thought: The excitement surrounding the Sooners program heading into 2014 is well-earned. This team could find itself in the College Football Playoff if Trevor Knight is consistent and efficient under center and the defense takes another step forward this fall. But don't lock them into the national title conversation quite yet, as several young players need to continue to develop and take their games to another level and show they are ready to perform at a championship level, week in and week out.
Oklahoma’s linebacker group have been the least talked about unit on the defense this spring.

Yet they were easily the Sooners’ most productive position group in 2013.

OU returns all three starters with Frank Shannon, Dominique Alexander and Eric Striker set to remain key contributors in the Sooners defense this fall. This spring, all three players are a year wiser, a year stronger, a year better and poised to become even more important to the Sooners defense this season.

“They are just playing faster and better,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “The experience is so valuable. As good as those guys are, just playing the whole year in the system they understand it so much better. We have seen a lot of different schemes and hopefully we can react to plays better. I thought in games we were a little slow in adjusting and reacting to things just because we hadn’t experienced them before. Now we have a year under our belt to really dissect the good and the bad of it all and adjusting our personnel to match.”

While the ability to adjust will be key, the overall depth at the position could be better as well. Sophomore Jordan Evans is improving and could be the most athletic of the bunch and was exceptional when thrown into the fire with an eight-tackle performance against Texas Tech as a true freshman. Junior college transfer Devante Bond joins the roster, providing another pass rush threat in the mold of Striker and redshirt freshman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is another young player who could earn himself some playing time if he proves to be a pass rushing threat.

“It is good,” Mike Stoops said. “I like our depth outside, I think we have to continue to gain some depth inside. The new additions, Devante Bond has been good and Obo [Okoronkwo], it has been good to have him back out there. He has a lot to learn, but they are very athletic and very fast. The important part of this whole deal is gaining quality depth and I think we are starting to do that.”
Oklahoma begins its spring football drills on Saturday.

An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national title run in 2014. Yet that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting this spring. This week we’ll make five spring predictions, continuing with No. 2:

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
John Rivera/Icon SMIStanvon Taylor looks ready to make a leap in his sophomore season and become another stalwart in Oklahoma's 2013 class.
No. 2: The Sooners’ Class of 2013 shows signs it was vastly underrated.

Why it matters: OU fans were less than impressed when the Sooners inked ESPN.com’s No. 17 recruiting class in February 2013. While the Sooners coaching staff swooped in to land a few late bloomers and potential hidden gems, OU fans were lamenting the recruits they had missed out on. Now, one year later, that class appears poised to have a significant impact on the program.

What it would mean: First off, it would underscore the value of evaluation and development. Secondly, it would mean the Sooners have a bright future ahead.

Linebacker Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 newcomer of the year, while running back Keith Ford, cornerback Stanvon Taylor, safety Ahmad Thomas, safety Hatari Byrd, receiver K.J. Young and guard Dionte Savage are on the verge of locking up starting spots. Cornerback Dakota Austin, receiver Austin Bennett, receiver Jordan Smallwood, defensive tackle Charles Walker, linebacker Jordan Evans, defensive end Matt Dimon and quarterback Cody Thomas are among several members of the class who could be contributors.

Over half the class appears ready to make an impact (or already has made an impact) heading into their second season on campus. This spring provides the opportunity for the majority of this class to prove they are ready and able to help spark a successful 2014 season in Norman, Okla.

While the class is appearing to develop quickly, OU has its fingers crossed that its development continues. OU’s hopes of competing for a Big 12 title and national title this fall rests on several members of this class. It’s critical for sophomores such as Ford, Taylor, Byrd and Young to become key pieces of the 2014 squad, otherwise the Sooners could be forced to turn to true freshmen.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
3:00
PM ET
As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This will be as deep as any linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. But there’s reason to believe that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.

Grading the class: 2013

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
11:00
AM ET
Oklahoma added several recruits into the fold on Wednesday with an eye on creating the foundation of a future championship squad. Yet recruiting is an inexact science as some projected stars rise to meet those high expectations while others struggle to make a difference.

Thus it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s last five recruiting classes. On Friday we end the series with an early review of the Class of 2013 including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees and complete busts.

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander could be on the verge of becoming Oklahoma's next great linebacker.
After a solid start in the recruiting cycle, OU scrambled to complete its class in 2013 as it came up short on several targets before filling its class with unheralded prospects in the final few months before signing day. The class ended up as the No. 17-ranked class in the nation by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

Linebacker Dominique Alexander: The Big 12 freshman of the year looks like a future star in the Sooners’ defense. His unusual maturity, instincts and hunger to improve should make him one of the Big 12’s top linebackers. He had 80 tackles and two forced fumbles in 13 games (8 starts) as a true freshman. The No. 115 athlete in the nation, Alexander is one of the top hidden gems the Sooners have unearthed in the past five years.

Running back Keith Ford: It went largely unnoticed due to the score but Ford was arguably OU’s featured back during a 36-20 loss to Texas. If fumble troubles had not emerged the No. 27 player in the ESPN 300 likely would have cemented himself as the Sooners’ back of the future as a true freshman, having surpassed Alex Ross on the depth chart. Nonetheless he appears set to have a bright future.

Cornerback Stanvon Taylor: The No. 199 player in the ESPN 300, Taylor started his third collegiate game against Tulsa. He played on special teams in all 13 games and will be in the competition to replace All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin after mentoring under the Sooners’ star for one season.

Linebacker Jordan Evans: Evans stepped in to have an exceptional game against Texas Tech to cement himself as an exciting prospect. The No. 82 defensive end in the nation, Evans could end up being a major contributor for the next few seasons in Mike Stoops' defense.

Bull’s-eye

Guard Dionte Savage: The senior made his first start in the Sugar Bowl and had a solid performance in OU’s win over Alabama. OU signed him to provide depth in case injuries hit and he ended up providing depth when injuries hit, making it an ideal signing.

Defensive end Matt Dimon: The No. 284 player in the ESPN 300 worked his way onto the field as a true freshman and should be in the rotation as a sophomore. He played a special teams role as well including a blocked punt against Kansas.

Defensive tackle Charles Walker: The No. 40 defensive tackle in the nation, Walker redshirted in 2013 but already has been anointed as one of the most impressive redshirting players in the class. Don’t be surprised if he makes an impact as a redshirt freshman this fall.

Receiver K.J. Young: Much like Walker, Young has taken advantage of his redshirt freshman season and seems poised to see the field this fall. He impressed with his ball skills as soon as he arrived on campus but couldn’t play his way out of a redshirt season. Now, with OU looking for playmakers at receiver, Young could make a name for himself this fall.

Completely missed the mark

Tackle Josiah St. John: Junior college players are brought in to play immediately and have an impact in Year 1. The No. 6 player in the ESPN JC 50 did not make an impact despite some injuries at the tackle position.

Overall grade: A

This class has already made a major impact on the Sooners’ program in the 12 months since they signed. Alexander is the star of the class with several other true freshmen consistently seeing the field on special teams. And multiple freshmen who redshirted could earn spots on the field this fall. It’s early but this already looks like a quality class and much better than the No. 17 class in the nation.

State of the position: Linebacker

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
11:00
AM ET
The next few weeks leading into signing day is a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners, as recruiting really heats up during these final weeks before signing day on Feb. 5. On Monday, we take a closer look at the linebacker position.

Starters/contributors: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.)

[+] EnlargeFrank Shannon
AP Photo/Darron CummingsFrank Shannon and the Oklahoma linebackers have a bright future.
Shannon led the defense with 92 tackles and provided a consistent, durable presence in the middle of the OU defense throughout the season, as the faces seemed to change around him with injuries hitting the unit. Playing with injuries of his own, Shannon recorded at least five tackles in nine of 13 games. He was easily OU’s most consistent, durable and overlooked defender in 2013.

Alexander was the surprise of the season on defense. He was thrown into the fire after having to replace Corey Nelson as a starter. Alexander had his ups-and-downs, but his natural instincts and playmaking ability earned Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors for the Tulsa, Okla., native. He finished with 80 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. The sky is the limit for Alexander as a sophomore.

On the cusp: Jordan Evans (So.), Aaron Franklin (Sr.)

Evans' performance against Texas Tech was a glimpse of his tremendous upside. When an injury knocked Shannon out of the game, Evans responded with an eight-tackle performance. It was an amazing game for a freshman who had seen minimal action on defense to that point. His athleticism and versatility will make him a valuable piece at the disposal of the Sooners’ coaching staff in 2014 and beyond.

Franklin has played spot duty for the Sooners for the past three seasons and should provide quality veteran depth as a senior. He has been a core member of OU’s special teams and can fill in at linebacker in a pinch.

On the recruiting trail: Devante Bond (Roseville, Calif./Sierra College), Tay Evans (Allen, Texas/Allen)

Bond is a junior-college signee who can play several spots on OU’s defense. He could fill in at the middle linebacker spots or slide in alongside or opposite Eric Striker as a pass rush specialist in 2014. It wouldn’t be a surprise for the Sooners to use him and Striker on opposite sides in passing situations to terrorize quarterbacks in 2014.

Evans is a solid prospect who probably could use a redshirt season to maximize his impact. He has the good size and athleticism, but the depth at the position provides a roadblock between Evans and immediate playing time.

Overall Grade: A

Alexander and Shannon could be the Big 12’s best duo in 2014. Add Striker and Bond, and OU could have a linebacker group that rivals any in America. Strong starters, good depth and a solid future earns this group an A.

Big 12 primer: Week 12

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
7:00
AM ET
Oklahoma State and Texas will duke it out with Big 12 title implications on the line; Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia will try to bounce back from disappointing losses; Kansas and Iowa State will attempt to get off the Big 12 snide; TCU will hope to remain bowl eligible, and Baylor and Kansas State will look to keep rolling.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch in Week 12 of the Big 12:

Iowa State at No. 18 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): Coach Bob Stoops said he would be sticking with Blake Bell as his starting QB, but also indicated backup Trevor Knight could get more playing time. The Sooners are beat up after last week’s loss at Baylor, with receiver Sterling Shepard, linebacker Jordan Evans and defensive backs Julian Wilson and Aaron Colvin all dealing with an assortment of injuries. Iowa State is still looking for its first Big 12 victory and guaranteed to have its worst record since Paul Rhoads became coach in 2009.

West Virginia at Kansas, 11 a.m. CT (FSN): Despite a deflating overtime loss to Texas last weekend, the Mountaineers are still on track for a bowl berth. But they have to win here. Behind freshman QB Montell Cozart, who is expected to get more playing time if not the start over Jake Heaps, Kansas will attempt to snap its 27-game losing streak in Big 12 games. If the Mountaineers don’t take better care of the ball -- they turned it over five times against Texas -- the Jayhawks just might have a shot.

No. 12 Oklahoma State at No. 24 Texas, 2:30 p.m. CT (FOX): Both teams enter this showdown on a roll. Texas has won six straight while Oklahoma State has reeled off five in a row. The Longhorns, however, will be without running back Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who both suffered season-ending injuries last weekend. This game carries major Big 12 title repercussions, though Texas could still win the league with a loss. This is the fifth time Oklahoma State and Texas have met as BCS-ranked teams. The Longhorns won the previous four meetings.

TCU at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. CT (FSN): K-State is one of the hottest teams in the Big 12, coming off three straight wins and a 49-26 victory at Texas Tech. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been incredibly efficient during the win streak, completing 73 percent of their passes without an interception. Senior running back John Hubert has had the hot hand, too, rushing for more than 100 yards the last two games. TCU has to win this game to keep its slim bowl hopes alive. The good news is that Brandon Carter is beginning to perform like the No. 1 wideout the Horned Frogs thought he would be at the beginning of the season. Carter had six receptions for 93 yards in last week’s win at Iowa State.

Texas Tech at No. 5 Baylor, 6 p.m. (FOX): Baylor is in the thick of the national championship conversation, but remains on the outside looking in on the title game and could use some more style points. The Bears, however, will be without star wideout Tevin Reese, who suffered a dislocated wrist last week. Running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee) are banged up, too, and questionable for this game. Texas Tech is 1-10 in the month of November, and desperately needs a victory to stave off another late-season collapse. That won’t be easily achieved here. The Bears are four-touchdown favorites.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Standing on the letter "O" in Baylor's end zone, Bryce Petty took the snap and play faked to running back Shock Linwood. Just 2.6 seconds later, Oklahoma linebacker Dominique Alexander engulfed Petty to give the Sooners' their first points of the game on a safety and record the first sack of his collegiate career.

The true freshman has come a long way since preseason camp opened in August.

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIFreshman Dominique Alexander made his first start against Texas and has improved steadily since.
The big play was a glimpse of the upside Alexander possesses, as he accelerated around the corner, unblocked, to sack Petty in the biggest game of Alexander's career thus far. The Tulsa, Okla., native has grown immensely as a player since his first start against Texas in the Red River Rivalry.

"I'm playing faster since my first start; I'm seeing things," Alexander said. "My coaches said my vision has gotten a lot better, seeing the whole play. I can see things a lot better with the more games I've played. I have a lot more confidence since my first game."

Alexander has been one of the most productive players on the Sooners' defense since Corey Nelson was injured against TCU. He has stepped into Nelson's role and recorded double-digit tackles in two of the four games, including an 11-tackle effort against Baylor last Thursday. He ranks third on the squad with 51 tackles.

"For a guy who has not been in the system at all until this summer he has shown great maturity on and off the field," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "He's a guy we can lean on and will be a strong player in this system."

Alexander has been a shining light during some cloudy days for the Sooners, who have lost two of their last four contests. And he isn't the only reason for hope for the future on the defensive side of the football.

OU entered the season with an inexperienced defensive unit, yet thanks in part to strong contributions from young, inexperienced players like Alexander, the defense has emerged as the strongest unit on the team. Alexander, linebacker Eric Striker, cornerback Zack Sanchez, defensive tackle Jordan Wade and defensive end Charles Tapper are among several freshmen and sophomores who have shown they can be the foundation of the Sooners defense in the future.

"All those guys show signs of building for the future," Stoops said. "I'm excited about all of our young players."

Striker is the Sooners' top pass rusher and has been terrorizing quarterbacks throughout the season. He has proven very difficult to block with one blocker in passing situations, and the sophomore is tied for the team lead with seven quarterback hurries to go with his 2.5 sacks.

Tapper has looked like one of the best defenders on the team at various times during his sophomore season. His strength, athleticism, quickness and speed could make him the nest great defensive end in Norman. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss along with his seven hurries to tie Striker.

Sanchez has had ups-and-downs during his redshirt freshman campaign but has displayed the competitive nature that many stellar cornerbacks possess. He went from afterthought to starting every game of his first season on the field and should be a key contributor for years to come. He has been picked on throughout the season and has responded with a team-high 10 pass breakups.

Wade has stepped in for Jordan Phillips, who was lost for the season with a back injury. The redshirt freshman hasn't been the anchor or disruptive force that Phillips was becoming, but he has shown signs he could be a quality defensive tackle for the Sooners during his career. He has blocked two kicks and recorded one sack this season.

Several other youngsters, including cornerback Stanvon Taylor, defensive end Matt Dimon and linebacker Jordan Evans have had their moments, as well, during their true freshmen seasons and look like they could become the foundation of what the Sooners hope can be a championship defense in the future.

"I couldn't be more excited about what we are doing with a lot of these guys," Stoops said. "They show a strong desire to want to be good. They show a very competitive element. There's a lot to build on."
NORMAN, Okla. -- At this time last year Jordan Evans was doing it all for Norman (Okla.) North High School. He was returning kicks, playing defensive end and linebacker and generally making plays from sideline to sideline for his high school team.

In a matchup of top-15 teams on Saturday, Evans was a savior for Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeJordan Evans
William Purnell/Icon SMIJordan Evans had eight tackles for Oklahoma in the win over Texas Tech.
Evans stepped in after linebacker Frank Shannon was injured, recording eight tackles and one pass breakup in Oklahoma’s 38-30 win over Texas Tech. Alongside Evans, fellow true freshman Dominique Alexander, who has replaced injured senior Corey Nelson, finished with four tackles and one quarterback hurry.

“Compliments to two true freshmen out there at linebacker playing the whole way,” coach Bob Stoops said on Saturday. “Jordan Evans knocked some balls down and really did a good job as did Dominique [Alexander]. I thought those guys, again, young true freshmen in a big game like this, did an excellent job.”

Watching those guys excel had to be encouraging for Stoops and the defensive coaching staff. Not only because they’re still in the baby stages of their OU careers but also it was a sign that the increased emphasis on recruiting versatile defenders was paying off.

Evans played so many positions in high school there was uncertainty about where he may fit best in the Sooners defense. Alexander played multiple positions at Tulsa (Okla.) Washington, including safety.

And that versatility was one of the most intriguing aspects of signing Evans and Alexander last February. When the duo signed, Bob Stoops joked about Evans, saying “we’ll find a spot for him when he gets here.” Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Alexander, “Originally we were looking at him as a safety.” The word versatile was used to describe what intrigued the Sooners about both prospects.

Stoops entered the offseason wanting to make his defense more versatile to handle the spread offenses in the Big 12. Players like Alexander and Evans help achieve that goal, thus it’s no surprise they have risen up the depth chart in a span of months.

Their skill sets are a far cry from the normal linebacker of recent memory. Both can make plays in the open field, are athletic and comfortable in pass coverage. While the Sooners were late to offer both players, OU deserves credit for recognizing and projecting that Evans and Alexander would be terrific fits for the changes they were going to make this season.

Yet the surprising part of their early impact has been how quickly they’ve adapted to playing linebacker full time. Early in preseason camp Bob Stoops was already praising both freshmen.

“They have looked great,” Stoops said in early August. “Linebackers and safeties shouldn’t have to be told much. The really great ones just feel their way. They feel where the ball is and they show up at the ball. In a few days, these guys are showing that.”

Clearly it wasn’t just idle talk. Both players showed up on special teams in September before the injury bug hit this month and forced them into increased roles. Add Jordan Phillips’ injury and the introduction of Jordan Wade, a redshirt freshman, into the starting lineup and the Sooners’ defensive middle is full of first-year players.

“It doesn’t get much tougher from a defensive perspective when you’re playing with three freshmen right in the middle of your line,” Mike Stoops said. “There aren’t many people in America doing that. To beat a team of that caliber says a lot about those kids, and it says a lot about our team and our depth.”

And it also says a lot about the Sooners' evolving priorities when they evaluate players to recruit and bring into their defense.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

#AskSportsCenter With Paul Finebaum
Paul Finebaum answers fans' questions about college football, including which four teams will make the College Football Playoff and Florida State QB Jameis Winston's chances of winning another Heisman Trophy.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video