A unit believed to be easily the strength of the Sooners defense in the preseason turned out to be pretty average as the season played out. A lot of that had to do with injuries, which is something this team had to deal with about as much as any other OU team in recent memory. Whether it was their unit's leader coming back from an injury prematurely and never really playing at 100%, or their MLB getting dinged up time and time again, or their superstar Roy-back hurting his knee. Yep, it was a tough year to be an OU linebacker to be sure.
Travis Lewis: B-
Final stats: 79 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 INT
This could probably be lower based on his overall level of play, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. Both for what he's done during his time in Norman, but more so for the dedication to this team and his teammates for finding a way back for that FSU game. Yeah it probably cost him a more productive season as he clearly struggled with that toe all year, but at the time it was a huge boost for this team and that shouldn't be forgotten. I kind of get the feeling there are mixed thoughts on Lewis as he gets ready to play his last game ever in the crimson and cream, but over his four years few LBs have accomplished as much as he did.
Tom Wort: A-
Final stats: 66 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT
Coming off the freshman season he had and the considerable amount of criticism he received, it would be virtually impossible not to declare Wort's 2011 season a rousing success. When he wasn't hurt, Wort was a beast at MLB for the Sooners. I still don't think he is an ideal MLB, even less so if we do actually go to a 3-4, but Venables could obviously care less as he's been a fixture in the middle these last two years. It will be interesting to see him play with out Travis Lewis by his side and how well he can lead this defense next year.
Tony Jefferson: B+
Final stats: 67 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks, 4 INT
To finish third on the team in tackles, fourth in tackles for loss, fourth in sacks, first in interceptions, and to have that season considered to be somewhat of a disappointment is pretty hard to believe. It's a testament to just how good a player Jefferson is and how good his freshman season was that this 2011 year could be considered anything less than stellar. He could be looking at a position switch heading into next year, at more of a true safety role, and played well there in the few chances he got to do so this past year.
Corey Nelson: B-
Final stats: 56 tackles, 8 for loss, 5.5 sacks
The expectations placed on Nelson in the preseason were unfairly high after comments from the OU coaches calling him the best player on the defense during practices. Nelson played well for the most part, but never really showed the dominating presence the coaches placed upon him. I also think the coaches did him a major disservice by trying to play him at DE later in the year. Hopefully, they will put him in Lewis' WLB spot next year and hopefully let him develop into a playmaker from that spot.
Final stats: 13 tackles, 1 for loss
Ibby played his usual reserve role and also as usual with our coaches, received very little playing time. Maybe if they go to this 3-4 defense there could be more of a role for him at OLB, but then again he's not really that pass rush threat you typically see in a 3-4. There is a small chance he could drop some weight and move back to safety, but if the Bedlam game is any indication he doesn't seem to have the speed to keep up with WRs.
Jaydan Bird: B+
Final stats: 16 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 1 sack
Bird was really only used in a reserve role (since Venables never subs his LBs), but played pretty well when out there. He's much more of a prototypical MLB and seemed to hold up much better against the run. He'd be a considerable liability in pass coverage if he was in there more often, but a defense that schemes for their LBs to cover WRs was destined to fail from the beginning.