NORMAN — The most significant defensive adjustment Oklahoma showed Saturday was it played the entire scrimmage with two linebackers on the field.
The leading tackler of the day was No. 2 middle linebacker Aaron Franklin. The reason why was OU stayed in a base 4-2-5 alignment regardless of what the offense ran.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said middle linebacker Frank Shannon and weakside linebacker Corey Nelson are two of the Sooners’ best players, and they intend to use them on every down this season.
“We’re trying to adapt our defense to that and playing with your best 11. Who those best 11 guys are, we have to get them on the field,” he said. “Semantically how we set that up is something we do as a staff and whether it’s 4-2 or 3-4, we’ll adjust as we go. We’re a little more diversified when we do that and finding ways to pressure and be good against the things you have to defend in this league. We just have to continue to evolve in the system we’re trying to run.”
The Sooners never had more than one linebacker on the field when offenses had four or more receivers on the field last season. At times they went with six defensive backs.
This spring has served as a test to show the linebackers can handle covering speedy receivers.
“It’s been real good to see the linebackers getting better and better day-in and day-out. We’re becoming more instinctive instead of being more robotic,” Nelson said. “We’re starting to see the ball, we’re starting to run to the ball, we’re starting to see the ball even if our gap is all the way on the left side and we’re on the right, we go to the right because that’s where the ball is at. Just having that type of mentality has allowed us to get better and better day-in and day-out. We’re starting to become real linebackers that you used to see back at Oklahoma.”
Light on returning stars: Oklahoma didn’t have its full personnel on either side of the ball Saturday. All-Big 12 performers cornerback Aaron Colvin, offensive linemen Gabe Ikard and fullback Trey Millard did not play.
Others were limited. Running back Damien Williams only had three carries and Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard only had two catches apiece.
Injury free: The only injury to stop the game was to defensive end Rashod Favors. He had to be helped off the field after taking a shot to the throat in the second half, but OU coach Bob Stoops said he was fine.
QB commits: Edmond Santa Fe quarterback Justice Hansen committed to OU prior to the spring game. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Hansen said prior to Saturday he would show at either OU’s or Texas A M’s spring game and that would be his college choice.
Hansen is a four-star prospect and top-10 pro style quarterback.
Oral commitments are non-binding. If Hansen does sign with OU in February, he’ll become the fourth in-state quarterback to sign with OU during Bob Stoops’ tenure, joining Jason White, Sam Bradford and Kendal Thompson.
Force in the middle: Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips had a productive day with three tackles and one of the defense’s four sacks.
“He had a good day today,” Stoops said. “Like a lot of young players it’s just being more consistent with it and realizing what you’re capable of and doing it every snap. But he has an awful lot of potential. That’s a big man in there that’s 320 or 325, 6-4 and can move. We’ve got to keep helping him learn and find more consistency. But there’s a lot of good potential there.”
Crank up the tunes: One change from previous spring games was that music was played throughout the game over the stadium’s speakers.
“We have music every day at practice, so why not have it during the game, and we thought the people would enjoy it,” Stoops said. “We thought, heck, rather than them hearing everything we’re telling them, they might as well enjoy some music. It added a little bit of atmosphere. You know I’m always thinking of that.”
Ward plays: Defensive end D.J. Ward did play Saturday. He was cleared by the NCAA to participate in practice this week and it was the first he played in something close to a game since his junior year of high school.
“He was anxious. I laughed. They saw him out there and ran the naked (bootleg) on him. There you go. He hasn’t been on the field for a year and a half, and you’re going to run the naked on him. Rotten offensive guys,” Stoops said. “It was good for him. I saw him on one of the pass rushes, they completed the ball, and he turned the corner and had the edge. He ended up slipping before getting to the quarterback, but it was good to see him do that.”
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