The Norman Transcript

October 8, 2013

OU’s Nelson shifts to mentor after season-ending injury

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Every step Dominique Alexander did or did not take Monday was scrutinized. Oklahoma linebackers coach Tim Kish and recently injured linebacker Corey Nelson watched him like a hawk and quizzed him like prosecutors.

“It was like, I can’t mess up,” the freshman said Monday evening following the Sooners’ practice. “I had to be on my stuff and know what I’m doing and they have to feel confident in playing me and putting me in there as a starter.”

Alexander, a true freshman, will be the Sooners’ starting weakside linebacker when they face Texas at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. And there won’t be a defensive player with more eyes on him than Alexander.

Alexander fully grasps that he has big shoes fill. Nelson, who suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in the 20-17 victory over TCU last Saturday, filled many roles for the 11th-ranked Sooners.

Nelson played inside linebacker in three- or two-linebacker personnel groups and outside linebacker when OU used four. More importantly he was one of the emotional leaders along with being one of its most experienced defenders.

The last two aspects of Nelson’s value are not replaceable. Filling that inside linebacker job is the only thing OU’s coaching staff wants Alexander to concern himself with.

“He has to go play football. That’s what he has done since he was 10 years old. It’s not going to change,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

“He has a job to do. He knows what his responsibilities will be on Saturday. End of story. He has to play. Nobody cares how many games you play. If he lines up, he has an expectation and a confident way about him … we’re not worried about him.”

OU will not overload Alexander’s plate this week. He was already playing the weakside linebacker spot when OU used four linebackers. Nelson used to move to one of the outside spots on those occasions. Junior Aaron Franklin will handle that job.

But getting Alexander ready to play has become personal for Nelson. He was originally scheduled to have surgery on the torn pectoral muscle today.

Instead, he’ll be meeting with Alexander at 7 a.m. today to go watch film. Nelson wants to put off the surgery at least a week, so he can help Alexander go through a week long cram session on the position.

“He wants to be out on the field coaching and be around the guys all week,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “You love it. He wants to remain in that leadership role and do all he can to help us.”

How much of that Alexander actually needs is something the Sooners will find out throughout the week. Alexander knows every step he takes — rightly or wrongly — is going to be noticed and quickly validated or corrected.

Monday, the Sooners began installing the game plan for Saturday. The tutoring for Alexander went from the first whistle to the last one.

“Coach Kish was really on me, making sure I knew what I was doing. And (starting inside linebacker) Frank Shannon stays on me a lot, too,” Alexander said. “With Corey going down, someone has to step up. They’re all making sure I’m stepping up and ready to roll. We can’t have a let down in the defense.”

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn