What did we think/hope would happen?
Returning starters Corey Nelson and Tom Wort would thrive in Mike Stoops' defense, which would let play like more traditional linebackers – stopping the run and covering short passing routes.
OU would also start to develop some depth by playing backups Franklin Shannon and Aaron Franklin.
What did happen?
The LBs struggled all year long. The lone bright spot was the play and potential of Shannon. Shannon showed speed and power at LB that has not been seen at the position for awhile. In addition, he's shown good coverage skills and run-stopping ability. He was the only LB that could be called a playmaker this season.
Wort is not a Mike LB. He just isn't. He appears to have lost his lateral quickness from his freshman year ACL injury. Straight line, he seems fine, but he really struggles in pursuit laterally, often overrunning plays and finding himself unable to recover. In addition, he's not tackling well, getting out of his tackle lanes and struggling in coverage.
Corey Nelson also struggled greatly, but he seemed to improve his play when Shannon replaced Wort at Mike LB. Aaron Franklin made a decent amount of plays, and shows real potential at WILL.
What went right?
*When the defensive line was effective, the LBs found gaps and made plays in the run game.
*The LBs were often very effective on third down in terms of forcing pressure and getting sacks of opposing quarterbacks.
What went wrong?
*The chain of average defensive tackles, average defensive ends and average linebackers compromised OU's run defense most of the year when spread out. Teams used three wide receivers and the zone read with the QB in the running game to get big plays in November. Both Kansas State and Notre Dame used a power version of this scheme to grind out long drives and keep the ball away from the the OU offense.
*All year long it seemed like the Sooners did not have the right personnel at LB. The super-light LBs of the Brent Venables era were unable to handle the run duties of the new defense. Mike subbed them out against pass formations, going with five, six or even seven DBs (which created another issue).
Where do we go from here?
*Shannon needs to take over as the every-down starting MIKE. Use Wort as a third-down specialist and backup.
*Ideally, Nelson will click with Kish's system and Nelson's talent can just take over in year two of the MiKish regime. Give Franklin every chance to take over at WILL if that does not happen.
*Eric Striker is more of a WILL or maybe even a strong safety. Figuring how to get this playmaker on the field will be an issue that will have to be resolved.
*OU has three LBs in the current recruiting class. Two players (Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander) are going to need to add weight before finding their spots, but tJordan Mastrogiovanni is a big LB (6-3, 225) who could see early playing time. He's the MIKE LB of the future, and if players struggle next year, that timeline could be accelerated.