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August 28, 2013

Sooner linebackers keen to become defensive backbone

NORMAN — Oklahoma had a simple goal back in the spring. After giving up an average of 5.2 yards per carry in 2012, it knew that average was way above unacceptable.

Last season’s defensive-back heavy personnel groups counteracted the deep balls it was afraid of, but was susceptible against the run.

By November, all of its opponents knew it and exploited it at will. Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and then Texas A&M simply spread OU out and rammed the ball down its throat.

One of the reasons OU’s scheme failed: there were no linebackers to get in the way.

That’s the biggest change Sooner defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has made heading into this season. The alteration will get a huge test when No. 16 OU opens the season against Louisiana-Monroe at 6 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field.

The Warhawks have the type of scheme and quarterback that gave the Sooners fits last season. Kolton Browning threw for 3,049 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also rushed for seven more touchdowns.

The Sooners are used to seeing quarterbacks like him once, maybe twice, a year. Now, it seems that way every week.

“That is the tricky part about it is you have to cover so much ground and there’s a lot of run-pass conflicts,” Stoops said. “These teams run it as well as they throw it, and they certainly know how to create run-pass conflicts for everybody.”

OU has seen them throughout the preseason. Its offense is designed to do the same things.

But what have the Sooner linebackers done to make Stoops believe they’re a better option than a year ago?

Well, the coaching staff has told them so.

“They want us to be the leaders of the defense,” weakside linebacker Corey Nelson said. “(Linebackers coach Tim) Kish always talks about us being the core of the defense, quarterbacks of the defense and having to lead those guys and the defense will be what we make it.”

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