OU linebackers feel slighted
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
1/01/13 at 5:38 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas - Oklahoma anticipates a prominent role for its linebackers against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. The fact that this is newsworthy is remarkable.
Jerry Tubbs played linebacker for Bud Wilkinson. Barry Switzer coached Rod Shoate, George Cumby and Brian Bosworth. Bob Stoops has had Torrance Marshall, MVP of OU's most recent national title team; Butkus Award winners Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman; and Curtis Lofton, a standout with Atlanta and New Orleans in the NFL.
That tradition, however, thinned out dramatically during the 2012 season.
The Sooners became so consumed with the Big 12 Conference's pass-happy spread attacks that they sacrificed linebacking roles under former coordinator Brent Venables and loaded the field with defensive backs instead. It got to the point that OU went without a single linebacker in sets at West Virginia Nov. 17.
The Sooners defended the pass better under the new scheme, but they also surrendered 911 rushing yards over a three-game November stretch against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, when their linebackers practically vanished.
Looking back, it's easy to say OU went a little overboard.
"That's how I look at it," weakside linebacker Corey Nelson said. "Overall, the coaches may have tampered with the defense a little too much."
"That's a fair comment," said Tim Kish, who replaced Venables as linebackers coach when Venables left for Clemson after Mike Stoops returned as defensive coordinator. "We go in every week knowing that we want to stop the run. But you see these diverse pass offenses, these four-wide and five-wide sets. ...
"We tried to come up with some wrinkles this year. It was what we thought was best at the time. Sometimes it was favorable to us. Others, it wasn't. We learned from it, and I think it will evolve a little more towards the linebackers next year."
That's welcome news for Nelson and Tom Wort, the two starting linebackers due to return for their senior seasons. It's a good sign for Aaron Franklin and Frank Shannon, two youngsters who worked into specialized roles to complement Nelson and Wort.
It does not, however, salve what was a trying season for everyone connected with the position.
"The production suffered because of the system we were in," said Wort, OU's three-year starting middle linebacker. "You look at the number of sacks we had, TFLs (tackles for loss), compared to last year ... We didn't blitz as much. We didn't play as much."
"At times it is frustrating," Nelson said. "When you see big plays happen you say, 'Ah, I wish I was out there. I could have helped out.' "
"For the linebackers, it was not great," Wort said. "Hopefully we'll see some changes."
Coaches, Kish and Bob and Mike Stoops included, have said adjustments will be made. But it isn't like OU will be playing a base 4-3 anytime soon. Do that against the Bears, Mountaineers or Cowboys anymore, it's suicide.
Moving forward, the Sooners must discover a happier medium. Their linebackers must realize the challenges presented by offenses more innovative and wide open than ever, and how that dictates the need for change. Their coaches must restore some faith in the linebackers, or recruit a different breed of player to the position.
"It's just one of those things where it was the first time for us going through the league and seeing what was out there and having to kind of adjust on the run a little bit," Kish said on behalf of himself and Mike Stoops, who has recognized today's Big 12 hardly resembles the one he left in 2003. "We weren't perfect, that's for sure.
"I think it was a learning experience for all of us."
Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
7 p.m. Friday
At Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: OU 'backers feel slighted
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355