Oklahoma Sooners: Kellen Jones

A glimpse at the attrition rate at the University of Oklahoma removes the fog hovering over some of the major question marks the Sooners face heading into 2013. OU has had some ill-timed departures, forcing the Sooners to rework their recruiting game plan with the hope of having a balanced roster heading into the upcoming season.

What is OU's biggest need in the 2013 recruiting class?

May, 7, 2012
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Every Monday during the summer, the SoonerNation staff answers a roundtable question. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

Today's question: What is Oklahoma's biggest need in the 2013 recruiting class?

[+] EnlargeStanvon Taylor
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comIn-state cornerback Stanvon Taylor committed to the Sooners late last week.
Mike Stoops said during the spring it was imperative the Sooners signed five "quality" defensive backs in their next recruiting class. In the NFL, top-notch defensive backs are becoming a premium because of the number of proficient passing games that have taken over the league. The same can be said of the Big 12. If you don't have a strong defensive backfield, you're going to get beat, and, as OU found out last season, often more than once. The Sooners added a few promising players this past class in Gary Simon, Eric Striker and Zack Sanchez, but by 2014 Aaron Colvin, Tony Jefferson, Demontre Hurst, Javon Harris, Lamar Harris and Joe Ibiloye will all be gone. Replacing them with "quality" players is of the highest priorities.

- Jake Trotter

Defensive back is a major need for the Sooners. OU's lack of depth in the secondary can be considered one of the primary reasons for losses to Baylor and Texas Tech in 2011 and the Sooners will be looking at losing at least half of its entire starting secondary after this season. And that's if Tony Jefferson and Aaron Colvin return and don't enter the 2013 NFL draft. Mike Stoops said he is looking to sign five quality defensive backs in this recruiting class and the Sooners are definitely going to need all of those bodies with the hope at least two of them can step in and make an impact immediately.

- Brandon Chatmon

Oklahoma was close with a couple of big-time offensive tackle targets in 2012. In not getting Joshua Garnett (Stanford) or Zach Banner (USC), it has made offensive tackle an even bigger point of emphasis for the class. OU is hoping to get three tackles and Bruce Kittle has sought out the guys he thinks will fit the Sooners best. OU picked up one with Dalton Rodriguez (Tulsa, Okla./Union), but he is an unknown commodity at the position. There aren't many elite regional tackles still on the board so Kittle has some work to do in convincing a national recruit to take a chance on the Sooners.

- Bob Przybylo

There's no doubt the Sooners are lacking depth on the defensive side of the ball. But linebacker is the position that's most in need of young talent, especially after Oklahoma didn't sign any 'backers in the class of 2012 (Eric Striker will likely play safety at OU). Earlier this spring, their most-talented young linebacker Kellen Jones, who played some as a true freshman in 2011, transferred to join Brent Venables at Clemson. That leaves OU desperate for young depth with its entire top four being upperclassmen. It's a priority for new assistant coach Tim Kish to find a few playmakers in the class of 2013.


- Dane Beavers
Oklahoma linebacker Frank Shannon has been impressing since he stepped on campus, proving his ability as a standout while redshirting during the 2011 season.

“Frank has always been a good player,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “It’s his time to shine now and I feel like he won’t let the opportunity pass.”

With Kellen Jones’ decision to transfer, Shannon has the opportunity to step up and step in this spring. And the redshirt freshman already has made an impression on his new linebackers coach, Tim Kish.

“Frank Shannon is a young guy who hasn’t played yet but he’s shown me he knows football, he understands it,” Kish said. “He has a good demeanor on the field and I think he has great instincts.”
Jake Trotter answers readers’ questions about Oklahoma football in his mailbag every Friday. Got a question for Jake? Submit it here.

Sean Cowan in Neodesha, Kan., writes: I haven't heard much on running back Dominique Whaley, has he fully recovered? And how well do you think he will do this coming year?

Jake Trotter: Whaley (who fractured his ankle last season) isn’t fully recovered, but he has been doing some light jogging in practice, which is an excellent sign he’ll be ready to go for next season. Initially, I was skeptical about how big of an impact Whaley would be able to make next season coming back from such a horrific injury. That skepticism is washing away.


A.J. in Long Beach, Calif., writes: I saw that Torrea Peterson is on the spring roster. Does that mean he is officially reinstated to the team?

Jake Trotter: I’ve been led to believe that this is the case. Peterson has some work to do before his status is completely solidified. But for now, he remains a member of the team.


Chad in Edmond, Okla., writes: Prediction on starting TE first game? Will Latu at LT? If so, does he start? If not, where does he play and does he start?

Jake Trotter: I think there’s little question that Brannon Green will be OU’s opening day tight end. Tony Jefferson remarked this week that Green has been most impressive of all the newcomers. Lane Johnson is going to be the starting left tackle. Latu could play right tackle if he proves to be better than Daryl Williams or Tyrus Thompson, but my guess is that he’ll start out backing up Johnson on the left side.


Carter in Oklahoma City writes: With the decision of Kellen Jones to transfer, what does this do to OU's depth chart not only this spring but going into the fall at LB?

Jake Trotter: It does very little to the immediate depth chart. Senior Jaydan Bird was going to back up Tom Wort at middle linebacker either way. Kellen Jones could have emerged as No. 2 at weak-side linebacker behind Corey Nelson, but he would have played very little. Where Jones’ transfer hurts is 2014. Wort and Nelson will be gone, and Jones seemed like the most promising of all the young linebackers.
The Sooners are set at linebacker for the next two years. But first-year position coach Tim Kish’s reputed recruiting prowess will soon be put to the test.

[+] EnlargeTim Kish
Chris Morrison/US PresswireTim Kish was known as a solid recruiter at Arizona, and he will need to start off with a bang for 2013.
Kellen Jones, OU’s most promising young linebacker, has elected to transfer and already has been granted his release. Sources say Jones enjoyed his time in Norman, but the coaches he was closest to -- Brent Venables, Willie Martinez and Ryan Reynolds -- left the staff after the Insight Bowl, prompting the rising sophomore from Houston to consider the transfer.

With OU’s top four linebackers all being upperclassmen, it will be crucial that Kish restocks the position with quality in the upcoming recruiting class. Middle linebacker Tom Wort and weak-side linebacker Corey Nelson are both juniors. Joe Ibiloye, who is the favorite to start at nickelback, and OU’s most experienced reserve, Jaydan Bird, are seniors.

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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. Spring practice begins Monday, and here are five players I'll be keeping an eye on: S Bennett Okotcha, WR Trey Metoyer, LBs Kellen Jones and Frank Shannon, OT Lane Johnson.

2. Could Okotcha be OU's answer to its woes at safety? Perhaps. Kameel Jackson raved about Okotcha on Twitter recently, and Okotcha came to OU with big-time credentials. He was committed to Notre Dame until the Sooners got him to flip days before signing day last year.

3. One big key for the offense will be the left tackle position. I believe the Sooners will audition Johnson there this spring, though I find many people disagree with me. My counter is, if not Johnson, then who? Daryl Williams? Will Latu? Johnson's skill set (quick feet, good hands) seem to be an ideal fit for left tackle. I could be proven wrong. It wouldn't be the first time.

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Chat leftovers: Linebacker depth chart

February, 29, 2012
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SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers Monday. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to Jake's mailbag to be published on Friday.

Here are a few highlights from the chat:

Donnie (Oklahoma): Shouldn't we go to the traditional 4-3 instead of the 4-2-5? I always felt the D was better in that formation.

Jake Trotter: 4-2-5 more effectively combats the spread, which is rampant in the Big 12. Why go to a defense that is better suited to stopping an offense (pro set) that nobody runs anymore?

Pete (Tulsa): What is the LB depth chart?

Jake Trotter: Tom Wort and Corey Nelson at MLB and WLB, with Jaydan Bird backing up Wort. Kellen Jones can back up either. Then you have a bunch of other guys like Frank Shannon, Rashod Favors, PL Lindley, Aaron Franklin fighting for time.

camjeezy (okc): Why do so many guys sign with Texas to never be heard of again? Do you think defensive recruits will more likely to sign if the defense has a great year? Does it really mean anything if a recruit verbally commits this year...before their senior season..?

Jake Trotter: Texas' talent problem stems largely from this very thing. The Horns fill out their entire class without even seeing how these kids develop as seniors. The margin for error widens. That's why it's risky to take in so many early verbals.

Adam (Kentucky): Do you think Landry Jones is a first round pick in 2013?

Jake Trotter: Yes. He probably would have been this year, despite a poor end to the season.

Derrin (Plano, TX): Agree or Disgree? Ronnell Lewis could unstoppable in the NFL as a 3-4 OLB, but struggle as 4-3 defensive end.

Jake Trotter: He's definitely a better fit as a 3-4 OLB.

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

Chris in Tahlequah, Okla., writes: Do you think we will have top 10 defenses under Mike Stoops again? Or has the offenses in the Big 12 changed too much for that to happen?

Jake Trotter: Difficult, but hardly impossible. OU had a top 10 defense just three seasons ago. Texas’ defense has ranked in the top 12 in each of the last three years. Big 12 offenses are tough to stop. But they are not invincible.


Josh in Norman writes: I've got a question about the linebackers for next year. I've seen lots of message board talk/rumors that Tom Wort will be moved to the outside and either Jaydan Bird or Kellen Jones will be taking over in the middle. How do you see the linebacker position playing out?

Trotter: I see OU’s two starting linebackers being Wort and Corey Nelson. I suppose that could change with the new defensive staff. But I’d be surprised if it did.


Jeff in Muldrow, Okla., writes: Is Dominique Whaley going to be back in time for the season opener?

Trotter: We really won’t have any idea until the summer. If Whaley is starting to move around by then, I would feel a lot better about his chances of being ready. But it’s way too soon to speculate.


Mike in Dallas writes: Is Mike Stoops going to be under a lot of pressure and scrutiny from the fans and media this season? Meaning do you get the feeling there may be unrealistic expectations regarding the defense? I think Stoops will do a good job, but turning the 2012 defense into that of the ’85 Bears may be extremely lofty expectations.

Trotter: Mike Stoops is a very good defensive coordinator, and should make an instant impact on the defense. But as I have said all along he’s not a savior. And to assume OU will automatically have the No. 1 defense in the country next season is unrealistic, especially with what the Sooners have returning up front.

Loss impact: Linebacker Travis Lewis 

February, 22, 2012
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“Loss Impact” analyzes each outgoing starter or rotation player to assess how much his departure will impact Oklahoma next season.

Travis Lewis was never 100 percent last season. A broken big toe suffered of the first day of full pads hampered him until the Insight Bowl. In that game, we saw the real Lewis, who had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

[+] EnlargeDejuan Miller
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis started every game he played in for the Sooners.
Despite the toe, Lewis still became the first player ever to lead the Sooners in tackles in four seasons. And for the first time since 2008, OU will enter a season with someone else at weak-side linebacker.

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Spring position preview: Linebacker 

February, 22, 2012
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Under Bob Stoops, linebacker has always been a strength on the OU defense. Next season should be no different. In fact, if everything goes according to plan, linebacker might the strength of the entire team.

What Oklahoma has: The Sooners boast a pair of two-year starters, and another linebacker Bob Stoops touted as the MVP of last spring.

[+] EnlargeCorey Nelson
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIJunior Corey Nelson will take over for Travis Lewis at weakside linebacker for the Sooners.
Tom Wort is back after an injury-plagued sophomore season. Wort dealt with an array of injuries, but still managed to finish fourth on the team with 71 tackles. When healthy, Wort was dynamic, underscored by his performance at Florida State where he finished with eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, a sack and an interception. Problem was, Wort was not as dynamic when he was banged up, which was the case much of last season.

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Oklahoma position grades: Linebacker 

January, 30, 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
Had they been healthy all season, who knows what kind of seasons Tom Wort and Travis Lewis would have had. Problem was, they weren’t. Until the Insight Bowl, Lewis wasn’t the same player after suffering a preseason broken toe. Outside Frank Alexander, Wort was as prolific as any OU defender early in the season. But he too was derailed by an array of injuries. Corey Nelson didn’t live up to his spring billing, but still had a nice sophomore season, while Kellen Jones and Jaydan Bird filled in nicely in the middle when Wort couldn’t go.
- Jake Trotter

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Oklahoma's breakout performer for 2012

January, 20, 2012
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The SoonerNation staff is wrapping up Oklahoma's 10-3 season by answering 10 questions, just like we did during the Sooners' bye week in November. Today:

Which Oklahoma player will have a breakout season in 2012?

G Adam Shead
In just a few appearances, Shead made a huge impact on the OU run game and was instrumental in paving lanes for the Belldozer package, before missing the latter part of the season with an MCL sprain. Next season, the Sooners might have to slide veteran Gabe Ikard from to right guard and use three-year starter Tyler Evans as a reserve to make room for Shead at left guard. But that’s how special Shead appears to be. He has the potential to become next All-American on the offensive line.
- Jake Trotter

[+] EnlargeTom Wort
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaOklahoma linebacker Tom Wort will be the focal point of the Sooners defense in 2012.
DT Jordan Phillips
OU needs a young defensive tackle to step up and Phillips could be the guy. All-Big 12 first team offensive lineman Gabe Ikard had great things to say about the redshirting freshman’s play on the scout team.

“He’s going to be the next Gerald [McCoy],” Ikard said while noting it’s probably not fair to put those expectations on a redshirting freshman to an top-five NFL draft pick. “He’s got all-american talent.”
- Brandon Chatmon

LB Kellen Jones
Jones, who didn’t even get to OU until August, has the look of being another big-time linebacker for the Sooners. He had 10 tackles in 12 games and just felt like he was getting more comfortable with each snap he was out there. At 6-foot-1 and 223 pounds, it will be interesting to see what a full year of conditioning is going to do for Jones.
- Bob Przybylo

LB Tom Wort
Can an established starter -- one without a position coach -- be a breakout player? I think so. Wort struggled with injuries in 2011, but was Oklahoma's best linebacker when healthy and could be an all-conference performer next season. He was often swallowed up by offensive lineman when OU played the 3-4 defense, but he should benefit from Mike Stoops' base 4-3 next season and better defensive tackle play. Now that Travis Lewis has graduated, Wort will be the voice of the defense and, if healthy, a star.
- Dane Beavers

What do you think? Which Sooner will have a breakout season in 2012?
Bowl season is the time for younger players to show what they can do in practice.

Who has impressed so far?

“Quentin Hayes is coming along at safety,” said cornerback Demontre Hurst. “He’s been making a lot of plays now. He’s getting in a lot, and the coaches have been dialing in with him about how to prepare. He’s taking advantage of it and improving. I see him getting better.”

Quarterback Landry Jones said he’s liked what he’s seen from freshman wideout Kameel Jackson, who is expected to start in the Insight Bowl with Jaz Reynolds out with a kidney injury.

Linebacker Tom Wort singled out a pair of freshman linebackers.

“I like P.L. Lindley,” Wort said. “He’s big guy, being really physical. Kellen Jones always seems to be improving.”

Running back Brennan Clay said a couple of front-seven defenders have caught his eye.

“Frank Shannon will be a baller. I’m excited to see him out there,” Clay said. “Geneo Grissom. Even though he got to play, I’m excited to see him.”

Position Analysis: Linebacker 

December, 19, 2011
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Oklahoma’s linebackers were expected to anchor the Sooners defense during the chase for the BCS title.

For a few games, they stepped up and accepted the challenge. Against Florida State and Texas, OU’s linebackers helped the Sooners hold both teams -- each ranked in the top 15 at the time -- to less than 2 yards per carry.

But other performances left plenty to be desired. Oklahoma State ran at will against the Sooners, finishing with 278 rushing yards while averaging 8.42 yards per carry, and Missouri rushed for 241 yards while averaging 5.74 yards per carry.
[+] EnlargeTom Wort
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaOklahoma's Tom Wort had a stellar game against Florida State but was inconsistent on the season.
Senior Travis Lewis played the majority of the season hurt after breaking his toe in preseason camp. He missed the season opener against Tulsa but returned to the field against Florida State. And he never returned to the sidelines for any extended amount of time after the win over the Seminoles.

Playing with a broken toe, Lewis finished second on the team with 79 tackles in 11 games to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors. Kansas State and Iowa State were the only games where Lewis recorded less than five tackles. Nonetheless, it was clear Lewis wasn’t himself at times while he played through the injury.

Tom Wort’s play against Florida State was an example of what the sophomore can do when healthy. His interception against the Seminoles was one of the plays of the year as Wort finished with eight tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

The bigger the game the better he seemed to play as Wort averaged more than 6 tackles per game against ranked opponents. The injury bug hit Wort as well, but he was solid for the majority of the year, finishing with 66 tackles in 11 games.

The expectations for Corey Nelson heading into the season overshadowed a solid year by the sophomore. After Bob Stoops called him one of the best players on the team last spring, Nelson finished with 55 tackles and 4.5 sacks but saw his solid play often go unnoticed.

Nelson really came on in the Sooners final four games, averaging 6.25 tackles per game. He is unquestionably one of the Sooners most active defenders and better pass-rushing threats.

Behind OU’s three starters, Jayden Bird was solid in limited action. He had a career-high six tackles against Texas, then stepped in for an injured Wort against Kansas to record five tackles. Bird, a junior, finished the season with 16 total tackles.

True freshman Kellen Jones showed flashes of big-time potential during his first semester on campus. He was active and consistently around the football when given the opportunity to see the field, recording at least one tackle in six of the 11 games he played in this season.

As a group, the Sooners linebackers were athletic and quick to the ball but their tackling was subpar at times, leading to large gains and clutch third-down conversions by opponents. The talent is there, but greater focus on the fundamentals is needed if Oklahoma expects to field one of the best groups of linebackers in the Big 12 in 2012.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- December is always a critical time for Oklahoma.

Not only is recruiting in high gear, but next year’s team starts to take shape during bowl practices as young players begin showing the coaching staff that they will be impact players in 2012.

Here is a look at several Sooners who have the opportunity to impress during bowl practices:

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