It’s a sentiment echoed by middle linebacker Frank Shannon.
“If the linebackers don’t perform, then the whole defense doesn’t perform,” he said. “The linebackers are supposed to be the leaders, and that’s one of our biggest challenges is to step up and be better leaders on the field.”
Leadership is great. Being able to stop running backs at the line of scrimmage and cover slot receivers is more important.
The inability to do the latter kept Nelson on the sidelines more than he was accustomed to last season.
Creating scenarios where they can succeed is the hard part. The Sooners played man defense the majority of the time last season.
Stoops said incorporating the linebackers will cause that to change some. Everyone on the field has to do multiple things.
“You can’t play man if you’re gonna match those guys (linebackers) up on speed (slot receivers),” Stoops said, “so you’ve gotta be more zone-oriented if ’backers are gonna be in the game, because they certainly can’t match up with a great skill guy out there in the slot. We’ll try to implement some of those concepts.”
OU used spring practice and the last three and a half weeks as a test phase. Thus far, the results haven’t sent anyone back to the drawing board.
“There hasn’t been any of that,” Nelson said. “No one has been talking about that — especially the linebackers. We just go out there and play. We understand what the coaches want, so there really aren’t any surprises or talks behind closed doors about whether we’ll be able to play or won’t.”
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