When word of Austin Box's recent back injury began to make its way out of Norman, one couldn't help but wonder how that might affect OU's LB rotation. Naturally, your first thought might be that Tom Wort had just assured himself the starting MLB spot against Utah State and you would probably be right. Box and Wort were, by most accounts, in a dead heat for who would earn the starting MLB job and now Box would be forced to come back from yet another injury.
The think to keep in mind is this injury didn't just affect that one spot on the OU defense. See, Wort is coming off a torn ACL in 2009 and while he has said he's 100% and participated fully in spring and summer practices there is a natural concern as to whether or not his knee will hold up all year. Given that fact, LB coach and defensive coordinator Brent Venables will need to have at least one if not more capable backups behind Wort. Third year sophomore Daniel Franklin has been the other player working at the MLB spot this summer and now figures to be the primary backup to Wort. However, Franklin has seen limited action during his time in Norman thus far so true sophomore Jaydan Bird has also now been moved over to get some reps at MLB as well.
By shifting Bird over to the MLB spot, even temporarily, creates an opportunity for someone to focus on the primary backup spot to superstar WLB Travis Lewis. Bird had been holding down that spot up until now, so this injury appears to have created an opportunity not just at MLB but at WLB as well. This is where true freshman Corey Nelson comes into the equation.
Those of you who pay attention to recruiting will probably remember Corey, but for those of you who do not allow me to explain. You see, for quite some time Nelson had been verbally committed to Texas A&M. At one point he was even quoted as a self proclaimed "Mr A&M" while reaffirming his commitment during an interview. Despite his apparent loyalty to the Aggies, Venables continued to maintain his relationship with Nelson and the two kept in touch throughout the recruitment process. Obviously Coach Venables reaped the rewards of preserving that relationship with Nelson chose to switch his commitment on signing day and commit to becoming a Sooner. Needless to say, this did not go over very well with A&M fans and Nelson took quite a verbal beating on some of their message boards.
Now it would appear that Nelson made a very wise decision as he has drawn plenty of compliments from Coach Venables throughout summer practice and will almost definitely see the field this year despite being a true freshman who has only been a campus a couple months.
"Between teams and backing up, Corey has played really, really well and he has picked up the defense really well," Venables said. "I anticipate him to get into a rotation."
OU has had a pretty good run with kids who have switched their commitments late during the recruitment process. All world WR Ryan Broyles switched back and forth between OU and OSU multiple times before finally settling on the Sooners. Projected starting CB Demontre Hurst also chose OU late over OSU. Nelson was just as highly regarded a recruit as Bryoles and Hurst, if not more so, so there is no reason to think that tradition cannot continue in 2010. If Nelson can continue his progression in the OU system, expect him to make a name for himself on special teams this year at a minimum. In addition, the experience he'll likely get this year will make him a primary candidate to replace Travis Lewis at WLB in 2011 when he likely will declare for the NFL draft.