Oklahoma Sooners: Tim Kish

[+] EnlargeCorey Nelson
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMISooners linebacker Corey Nelson is preparing for a bounce-back senior season.

NORMAN, Okla. -- It’s a good thing Corey Nelson spent his final summer in Norman working out.

A lot will be placed on the shoulders of the Oklahoma linebacker this season. His future in football, the Sooners’ chances of defensive success and the perception of the role of the linebackers in Mike Stoops' defense could be directly impacted by the performance of Nelson in 2013.

“This is a very big year for me; it’s my last year,” Nelson said. “I feel like I have a lot to prove since last year was a down year.”

Nelson drew a lot of criticism as a junior as the role of the linebackers decreased during Mike Stoops’ first season running the defense after his stint as head coach at Arizona. As Stoops leaned more on defensive backs, questions about why linebackers weren’t on the field ran rampant. Was it a bad decision by OU’s defensive coordinator or was his hand forced by lackluster play from OU's linebackers, including Nelson?

It was probably a combination of both. The linebackers were far from dominant as a whole and Nelson finished with 47 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, as a junior. It was a significant drop in production from his 58 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a sophomore.

Nelson felt disappointment and blame in the weeks following the 2012 season. But that disappointment eventually wore off, thanks in part to conversations with linebackers coach Tim Kish, and Nelson turned his focus toward 2013.

“I really refocused my whole situation,” he said. “I understood the situation could have been worse. After that I was able to accept and buy in to what Coach Kish and Coach Stoops wanted. That change happened instantly. I was able to give everything I had to this program.”

The Sooners hope that what Nelson is able to give is more than they’ve seen from him in previous seasons. Oklahoma's coaches have plans to involve the linebackers much more this season and will be counting on Nelson, the lone senior of the group, to lead the way.

“He’ll have a big role in what we’re doing,” Mike Stoops said.

Nelson is the Sooners’ top linebacker with sophomore Frank Shannon and junior Aaron Franklin set to be key contributors. Add in true freshmen Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans, who Bob Stoops expects to play, and Nelson’s leadership will be critical this fall.

“Corey has been awesome,” Bob Stoops said. “His attitude, and the way he’s been working and speaking up. He is definitely filling that [leadership role] in all kinds of ways.”

The attitude change from Nelson is a sign of mended fences between Nelson and the coaching staff after a few rough moments last season. And the senior is excited the coaches now view him as a core leader.

“They look at me as a leader, one of the guys they have to trust because I’m a senior this year,” he said. “With that comes great responsibility.”
HOUSTON -- For four-star safety John Bonney (Houston/Lamar), camp season has been less about working out and more about building relationships.

The 6-foot, 182-pound prospect, who is ranked 19th at his position nationally, has been making his way around Houston to the different college satellite camps, visiting with coaching staffs of schools that have offered him a scholarship to get a better feel for everyone.

Every Friday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

  • A top target in Texas is visiting Oklahoma for the second time this spring.
  • OU offered a Florida linebacker who hasn't heard much from the Sooners -- but he's interested.
  • More on the Sooners targeting an east Texas high school.
  • An in-state wideout is blowing up this spring.
  • Could the Sooners offer the brother of a current player?
  • An in-state tight end is working out with a former Sooner, trying to improve his footwork.
  • Could the Sooners find a hidden gem in Norman?

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.

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With the addition of Mike Stoops and Tim Kish to Oklahoma’s coaching staff last year, the Sooners have spent more time recruiting in Arizona, and offensive line prospect Natrell Curtis (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe) is another example of the Sooners’ attempts to gain ground in Pac-12 country.

Mountain Pointe defensive line coach Jeff Griffin talked with SoonerNation about Curtis’ strengths, weaknesses and versatility.

SoonerNation: At one point did you realize how special Natrell was?

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Roughly 90 percent of college football programs would be thrilled to win 10 games in a season. Oklahoma is not one of those programs.

Sharing a Big 12 title? That trophy is a whole lot less satisfying when there are seven others waiting in the trophy case since 2000 that weren't shared with anybody.

"Our expectations are different than everybody else. Everybody’s not Oklahoma," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "When you have Oklahoma across your chest, you expect to win championships, and that’s never going to change here."

He knows firsthand. Stoops helped his brother, coach Bob Stoops, win Oklahoma's seventh national title back in 2000, and the Sooners came up short two more times, once losing in the title game with Mike Stoops in 2003 and again a year later with Stoops coaching at Arizona. Without him coordinating the defense, the Sooners gave up 55 points to USC, more points than any team has ever scored in the BCS National Championship Game.

Arizona fired Mike Stoops six games into the 2011 season, and the Sooners' struggling defense needed an offseason jolt, despite winning 10 games that same season. Mike Stoops returned and brought assistant Tim Kish with him to coach linebackers and help coordinate the defense.

"Sometimes change is good, new ideas are good always, and change is good sometimes," Mike Stoops said. "That happens for whatever reason, and whether it’s complacency or just being stagnant, those things occur. Just trying to reinvent ourselves is something we need to do."

In 2012, there were more late-season defensive struggles after a strong start, but yet again, a 10-win season and a shared Big 12 title weren't enough. Losing three games isn't good enough, and nobody wants to hear that all three losses came to teams that spent time in the top five last season. The Sooners want to get back to competing for national titles, and Bob Stoops went the route of coaching changes to help get Oklahoma back there.

Assistant coaches Jackie Shipp and Bruce Kittle were shown the door, along with offensive line coach James Patton. The Sooners scooped up Bill Bedenbaugh from West Virginia to replace Patton and brought in Jerry Montgomery from Michigan to coach the defensive line. Jay Boulware filled Kittle's spot on the staff after coaching tight ends at Auburn. The Sooners' reboot was complete, and they're working toward results in the spring.

"[They bring] a new perspective in some areas, new ideas. They’re not drastic changes," Mike Stoops said. "Obviously, the coaches we had in here were involved and knew our systems well, but there’s always little changes in technique and little things schematically that can help you, so we’re always looking for fresh ideas."

Ten wins tastes bitter when you're used to winning 11 or 12, which can be the difference between proving yourself as a very good team and a great team. Oklahoma won at least 12 games six times since 2000 and 11 games on three more occasions. Ten wins isn't good enough, and a few former players and one famed coach were more than willing to speak up about it, echoing fan concerns.

Barry Switzer started it in September when he told one local paper that the Sooners "just don't have the talent."

"We’re not as good as we have been," Switzer said. "We don’t have the Tommie Harrises or Gerald McCoys squatting down there in the middle [of the defensive line]."

Offensive lineman Jammal Brown, an All-American who played in Norman from 2000 to '04, said he was "mad as hell" about the Sooners' 28-point Cotton Bowl loss to Texas A&M to cap the 10-win season, calling the Sooners "soft." CBS analyst Spencer Tillman, a Sooners running back in the '80s, said Oklahoma lost concentration on what made the program great in the first place.

Considering the Sooners let Shipp go at the end of the season, it's hard to believe Bob Stoops didn't agree in part with what Switzer had to say. As for the rest of it?

"We may not be as skilled at some of the positions as we want to be, but our toughness and pride is what made Oklahoma what it is, whether it was Bud Wilkinson or Barry Switzer or Bob Stoops, I think that’s the common thread that goes to being a great team," Mike Stoops said.

"Some of those, from the outside, may have felt like we didn’t have that common thread between us. I never felt that; I always thought our teams played hard and together. They’re certainly entitled to their opinions, you know. We’ve got to look at ourselves, and if it’s true, we need to change it. The things we needed to change, we’re working on changing, and nobody knows our program like we do.

"There’s areas we certainly need to get better at, and we’re aware of those. Some of those take time. Some of those take adjustments each day to get better."

The Sooners lose a four-year starter at quarterback in Landry Jones from last year's team, along with seven starters from Mike Stoops' defense. The task of winning more than 10 games seems difficult in a Big 12 that's deeper than it has ever been.

"We just need to get better, again, individually and schematically and play better across the board and come up with better ideas and a better scheme. We’re not far off when you look at the big picture," Mike Stoops said. "We had a chance to win 12 games, we lost them all late in the game and down the stretch and didn’t make the plays we needed to, but again, we’re not that far off."
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.

(Read full post)

Oklahoma linebackers coach Tim Kish has been a great help to the Sooners' recruiting efforts in the Pac-12 region. Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton defensive end Qualen Cunningham is another example of a player who might not have been on the Sooners radar without Kish. Hamilton head coach Steve Belles took a few minutes to chat with SoonerNation about Cunningham’s best assets, areas of improvement and overall competitiveness.

SoonerNation: At one point did you realize Cunningham was a special player?

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After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff was finally able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

[+] EnlargeJordan Evans
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comIn-state linebacker Jordan Evans was a late addition for the Sooners.
Norman (Okla.) North linebacker Jordan Evans made play after play as a high school senior. The Sooners weren't sure what position he might end up playing, but he was just too good to ignore and OU eventually offered and signed the local prospect.

"He’s just a great athlete," head coach Bob Stoops said. "He’s got a lot of range in size to him, and we’re like, 'Hey, we’ll find the right spot for him once we get him here.' "

Evans projects perfectly to be a hybrid defensive end/linebacker or he could end up playing either position for the Sooners. Regardless, he brings unique ability to the table as a 6-foot-3, 205-pound linebacker who returned multiple kicks for touchdowns during his senior year.

"He’s gifted athletically," linebackers coach Tim Kish said. "Anytime you have a linebacker that returns punts and kickoffs, it speaks volumes. He’s an excellent defender, so versatile. He has the speed, size and athleticism we are looking for at that position now."

Stoops likened him to former Sooner Dan Cody, who earned all-american honors at defensive end before being selected in the second round of the NFL draft.

"Dan Cody was absolutely the same way," Stoops said. "We kept watching Dan, and what’s he going to play? Once you work with guys daily you find what’s best for them and where they’re going to have the most success."

As the Sooners' defense strives to become more versatile, prospects like Evans become important pieces to the puzzle.

"He’s got the speed, the quickness, the agility to play outside linebacker," Stoops said. "He’s got the size where you’re unsure where he will end up growing to, but that’s good. The bottom line ... when we all looked at him and were watching him over and over is everybody likes him, so wherever he ends up kind of growing to, good."
After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff was finally able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
Sam Khan Jr./ESPN.comThe Sooners like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo's pass rush abilities.
Defensive end signee Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Houston/Alief Taylor) is one of the most intriguing signees in the class. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Okoronkwo doesn't really fit the prototypical description of a Sooners defensive end. But he's a perfect fit for a hybrid defensive end/linebacker/pass rush specialist, a spot that could be useful against the various offenses in the Big 12.

"He’s a a smaller guy," defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright said. "[An] edge rusher, drop linebacker type of guy. He has get off, very physical, very talented, fast and explosive."

Okoronkwo displays terrific pass rushing ability, making it quite possible that he finds his way onto the field this fall if he shows a consistent ability to get to the quarterback during preseason camp in August.

"[He has] great acceleration," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "This is what we need on our defensive front. Guys that can make plays, get off blocks and rush the quarterback. He’s a tremendous rusher that gives us a speed guy off the edge.”

Which the Sooners were sorely lacking in 2012 as OU finished with 24 sacks in 13 games and no Sooner had more than 4.5 sacks. Okoronkwo will be overmatched by most offensive lineman but the Sooners are confident his quickness and relentlessness will overcome any physical disadvantage he faces in pass rush situations.

"Obo is a high motor guy, his motor never stops," linebackers coach Tim Kish said. "He’s going to give us that outside, off the edge pressure that we’re looking for."

Coaches' corner: DE D.J. Ward

February, 22, 2013
After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff was finally able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

Defensive end D.J. Ward (Moore, Okla/Southmoore) could be the most overlooked signee for Oklahoma. He didn't play during his senior year of high school after he was ineligible to play due to transfer rules. Therefore all the buzz and hype he had garnered during his sophomore and junior seasons disappeared.

D.J. Ward
Bob Przybylo/ESPN.comWatch List defensive end D.J. Ward is already on campus at Oklahoma.
Yet, it didn't impact the Sooners coaches' excitement about landing Ward.

"D.J. is a guy that has been dying to play again," coach Bob Stoops said. "He has had a great attitude through it all and has continued to lift and run. You can tell that he looks like he is in excellent shape."

Ward is already on campus as an early enrollee which should help him shake off the rust after missing an entire season. Stoops is confident he can overcome it.

"I believe he will," he said. "He has continued to work out hard and looks great but I guess you do, you miss those snaps on the field.”

Once he does get back in the flow of playing football, Ward could make a difference during his career. He has good size, strength and quickness which gives him the ability to be a every down defensive end who can hold up against the run while developing into a solid pass-rusher.

"DJ is your prototypical defensive end," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

And it could be sooner than expected with OU searching for pass-rushers this fall. The Sooners really struggled to rush the passer in 2012, opening the opportunity to make an immediate impact for newcomers like Ward.

"[He's] another guy who can factor in right away," linebacker coach Tim Kish said. "He’s got tremendous athletic ability, great size, great strength."

LB coach Kish closes strong for Sooners 

February, 7, 2013
NORMAN, Okla. -- Entering the fall, some Oklahoma fans were wondering what in the world first-year linebackers coach Tim Kish was doing.

Kish had made a big reputation as a solid recruiter during his time at Arizona. Several months into the job at OU, and he hadn’t help land any of the top Arizona recruits, had taken too long with many top Texas prospects and had some fans calling for a change.

[+] EnlargeMike Stoops, Tim Kish
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMI Linebackers coach Tim Kish used his connections in California to discover receiver K.J. Young.
Supporters of Kish said give it time, give him an opportunity to build the relationships with recruits and judge him from there.

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Roundtable: No. 1 defensive concern 

January, 17, 2013
Every Thursday, the SoonerNation staff will answer a roundtable question about OU football. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

Today's question: What is OU's biggest offensive concern going into the offseason?

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Three weeks ago, the name K.J. Young didn’t mean much in recruiting circles. That’s how quickly things can change.

Following a stellar senior season at Perris (Calif.) Citrus Hill High, Young, a three-star wide receiver, became a sought after commodity the last couple of weeks.

[+] EnlargeK.J. Young
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comThree-star receiver K.J. Young is the Sooners' 19th commit for the Class of 2013.
But one school was ahead of the pack -- Oklahoma. The Sooners reached out to Young on Dec. 27, and Young confirmed he has committed to the Sooners on Sunday. Initially Young was going to wait. But at the airport, Young called OU coach Bob Stoops and said he was ready to be a Sooner.

“I know this is where I want to go,” Young said. “I didn’t need to wait.”

A move to the slot position paid huge dividends for Young this season and his high school coach, Eric Zomalt, gave OU linebackers coach Tim Kish a call. Kish developed a relationship with Zomalt from Kish’s time at Arizona.

If Zomalt was wrong, then it was just a short period of time for Kish to relay his Sooners' level of interest. But if Zomalt was right, then Kish has just found one of the better under-the-radar prospects nationally.

Zomalt was right and OU believes it has found a gem.

Young had interest regionally and had taken official visits to UNLV and Boise State. But when OU entered the picture, every other school was in an uphill battle.

Schools such as Washington, Washington State, Iowa State and Texas Tech reached out to Young, but every time he was on the phone with Kish, he said he felt like committing.

Young is OU’s 19th commit and third at wide receiver, joining three-star prospects Austin Bennett (Manvel, Texas/Manvel) and Jordan Smallwood (Jenks, Okla./Jenks). He is the second of the weekend, joining three-star defensive tackle Charles Walker (Garland, Texas/South Garland).
Is it possible the last 72 hours have simply been a nightmare for Oklahoma? OU fans would certainly wish that was the case.

When it rains, it pours, and it’s a thunderstorm of bad news for the Sooners right now. The latest misstep is with OU’s junior day.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma's Bob Stoops
Jim Cowsert/US PRESSWIREBob Stoops and the Sooners have postponed their junior day away from this weekend.
Originally scheduled for this Saturday, ESPN Watch List quarterback Justice Hansen (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe) was among several expected visitors to confirm they have been notified that OU is postponing its junior day.

It’s possible it won’t hurt things in the long run, but it does give the perception of the OU program not being very organized. OU picks its own junior day and Bob Stoops and company decided Jan. 12 was the best option. To change now, less than a week before the event, is not a positive sign.

The reasoning makes sense and is logical. The Sooners cannot seriously address the 2014 class when the 2013 class is not sitting pretty.

And this weekend is a big visitors weekend for senior recruits. Five have already been confirmed to be making their official visits, including four-star cornerback L.J. Moore (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and two recruits where commitments seem likely to occur in three-star wide receiver K.J. Young (Perris, Calif./Citrus Hill) and defensive tackle Charles Walker (Garland, Texas/South Garland).

But it has been known for a while that Jan. 11 appeared to be a huge visitors weekend. Other official visitors might be planned, especially after what happened Sunday, which could have played a role.

OU’s defensive class took a major hit Sunday evening when ESPN 300 linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni (Dallas/Jesuit), a lifelong OU fan, flipped his commitment to Texas A&M.

His defection left a gaping hole at linebacker for OU’s class. It would be tough for OU coaches Tim Kish and Mike Stoops to spend the amount of quality time necessary with 2014 prospects when 2013 is not even close to being sewn up.

The trouble, though, is OU looked like it was ahead of the curve with such an early junior day. A constant complaint among 2013 recruits was OU took too long to offer. With an early junior day, some of those problems were being addressed.

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Loss of Mastrogiovanni a big blow to OU 

January, 6, 2013
The first trickledown effect of Texas A&M’s thrashing of Oklahoma has occurred, and it’s a major blow for the Sooners.

[+] EnlargeJordan Mastrogiovanni
Damon Sayles/ESPN.comESPN 300 linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni puts the Sooners in a bind with a month until national signing day.
ESPN 300 linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni (Dallas/Jesuit) confirmed via text message on Sunday night that he has flipped his commitment from OU to the Aggies, giving Texas A&M 35 pledges for its 2013 class.

Mastrogiovanni, who is 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, was the first commit for OU’s linebackers coach Tim Kish, and the Mastrogiovanni family has numerous ties to the Sooners program.

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Stoops, Players Want To Effect Change
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops sits down with Gene Wojciechowski to discuss his team's stand against racism.