The Sooners’ defense will be a huge question mark this season, just as it was last year when the “D” had many folks scratching their heads. As is the case with the defensive line this spring, uncertainty is the dominant theme at linebacker.
There’s talk that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is going to switch from the 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense. Whatever he does, he will need to get some consistency from his second line of defense. It got so bad with his 'backers a year ago that Mike was throwing out seven-man secondaries that proved useless against mobile quarterbacks.
One of the bigger developments this offseason at the position actually involves someone who won't be there this spring. Middle linebacker Tom Wort seemed lost in adjusting to Mike’s defensive scheme, prompting Wort to leave early for a possible stint in the NFL.
Frank Shannon (6-1, 230, Soph.) showed promise as Wort’s backup and should be a starter when Louisiana-Monroe comes to town Labor Day weekend. He had 40 tackles last season, with 3.5 coming behind the line and 2 sacks. He started twice last year—once on the outside against West Virginia (2 tackles) and the next week in the middle against OSU (7 tackles).
You could argue that Shannon needs to use the spring to solidify his grasp on a starting job, but who would we be kidding? Shannon already has a spot in the middle locked up essentially by default. Here's hoping he uses this camp to develop his skills and increase his comfortability in Mike's scheme.
Veteran Corey Nelson (6-1, 219, Sr.) should be one of the leaders of the 2013 defense. However, he hasn’t exactly shined on the outside. After flashing some major potential in his first two seasons, Nelson regressed as a junior. He recorded 47 tackles that included 3.5 for loss and 1 sack.
The best outcome for Nelson this spring might just be him getting back in the game mentally. Given how Mike has been talking up Nelson the past few weeks, he may realize that.
Aaron Franklin also (6-1, 213, Jr.) played behind Nelson last season and could see a lot of action this year, especially if the Sooners need another ‘backer in the 3-4 alignment. He needs to make a case this spring that he should be on the field if OU converts exclusively to a three-man front.
Eric Striker (6-0, 198, Soph.) falls into the same bucket as Franklin. Striker saw very little action as an outside linebacker in his first year on campus, but he occasionally turned heads on special teams.
Mike Onuoha (6-5, 235), an athletically gifted sophomore who saw limited action as a defensive end last year, offers up an intriguing case study this spring. He is moving from DE to outside linebacker, providing the strongest indication yet of the potential transition in defensive scheme. Onuoha's athleticism could help him grow into a disruptive force coming from the outside in a 3-4.
Others who will get looks at linebacker this spring include P.L. Lindley (6-2, 240, Soph.) and Caleb Gastelum (6-1, 196, Jr.). DE Rashod Favors (6-1, 250, Jr.) played LB in high school and he might be tested at the same position.