The reason why was the versatility he showed. He had four pass breakups that season, but he also had 51⁄2 sacks — the second-best single-season sack total by a linebacker in the program’s history. Nelson showed he could play the traditional spot and rush off the edge.
The Sooners want to start using Nelson in that manner again. However, the first thing that needed to be done was to rebuild Nelson’s confidence — not only in himself, but in the position he plays.
“Last year, I got down on myself. I would say just last year, not playing as much. I kinda got down on myself. I had to rebuild it up. I was able to rebuild it up. It was just an amazing experience for me to be able to build it up,” Nelson said.
OU did not waste any time doing that with Nelson. As soon as winter conditioning started in January, linebackers coach Tim Kish was in Nelson’s ear constantly. There were words of encouragement mixed with making sure Nelson understood he was an essential element of the Sooners’ defensive plans.
“I got it back. I got my swag back, so it just feels good to be able to get it back,” Nelson said.
What exactly that means may be on display when the Sooners conduct the annual Red/White Spring Game at noon Saturday at Owen Field.
The Sooner coaching staff’s play sheet for that scrimmage can usually go on a credit card receipt with room to spare. If OU’s future opponents want to go into the 2013 season thinking Nelson is a tiny part of the defensive plans, no one is going to stop them.
However, Stoops said at the start of spring practice that Nelson along with cornerback Aaron Colvin were the leaders of the defense and the two players he needed to rebuild the defense around.
The faith Nelson lost last season has been restored.
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