Is Corey Nelson the next great OU linebacker?
I think it's pretty safe to say when you think OU football and linebacker, the first name that comes to mind for pretty much everyone is The Boz. For good reason obviously, the guy had a personality like few others and was more than able to back up what came out of his mouth with his play on the field. While not quite as flamboyant, current OU LB Travis Lewis has become somewhat of the modern day Boz. If you've seen even one interview with the young man, you can easily tell he possesses an incredibly dynamic personality and others are drawn in when around him. Also much like The Boz, Lewis has been able to back up his talk by recording record breaking seasons and becoming the leader of the OU defense.
However make no mistake, while Lewis is likely (I'll get into that "likely" here in a minute) the unquestioned leader of the defense, he will not be lacking for support from his fellow linebackers in 2011. The Sooners, much like many other positions, are absolutely loaded up with talent at the linebacker spot which is easily the deepest position group on the defensive side of the ball. Heck, if you've listened to the coaches at all this spring you already know the guy they consider to have had the best spring practice isn't even a full time starter. I'm not breaking any news whey I say that clearly Lewis coming back for his senior season was huge for this defense, but at the same time OU should be well prepared for his departure after this coming season with all the young talent they have behind him. So enough with the build up, we'll get in-depth regarding all that young talent after the jump.
Travis Lewis - No real need to go that in-depth here with The Mouth of the South as he's known amongst OU coaches. I think we know what we get with T-Lew, but that said I think him coming back for another year really did show that he still has facets of his game that he thinks he can improve upon. We heard both he and Coach Venables admit as much last year. Lewis was open and candid about his feelings regarding the 2010 season and that he didn't think he played as well as he could have. Statistically it was another very good season for him, but this is a kid that strives to achieve greatness and by his standards he did not achieve that.
I think the benefits that we as OU fans will reap having him on the field for another year are obvious, but what I think we'll really benefit from is his leadership off the field. He's a guy that will prepare those around him for what to expect and push them to be ready once their opportunity presents itself. I think that is a testament to him as a man and as a teammate and I think Sooner Nation will reap the rewards not just this year, but in the years to come as well. Obvious unquestioned starer and a fixture for the Sooners at the WLB spot.
Austin Box - Box joins Lewis as the only other senior at the LB position so that only emphasizes my point of the young talent OU has surrounding them. Box is an interesting kid in that he was an Oklahoma kid who came in with a bunch of hype, has struggled mightily with injuries, but when on the field has made a very noticeable impact. You can't help but wonder just how good he might have been had he been able to avoid just a couple of those serious injuries. However what's done is done and while he might never have reached his full potential that doesn't mean he hasn't been a valuable player for OU.
As I mentioned before, when the guy is one the field he just has a knack for making plays. He brings one of those indescribable aspects to the defense where he isn't the best athlete out there, but when there is a play to be made you can pretty much guarantee he's going to be right there. And that's kind of what I meant by that "likely" comment above. I don't doubt that Lewis is the vocal leader of this defense, but I feel like Box is kind of 1A in an emotional leader type role.
This spring some talk came out that he actually considered giving up the game and passing on his last year of eligibility. So it wasn't a shock to read about the coaches holding him out of a lot of the drills, no reason to risk another injury and if you've followed this program at all you know this is very common occurrence in the spring among OU upper classmen. Projected as the starter at MLB, it is very likely that he'll split time again much like he did last year. Both to prevent him from wearing down late in the season and to allow those behind him to get some more experience for when Box graduates after this season.
Tom Wort - Few players have taken as much criticism in their first year on the field as Wort did last year. To his credit it was simply because he is so talented and was such a highly regarded recruit. Then Sooner fans likely remembered how much Venables talked about him heading into last season and expectations were set at an unrealistic level. So when he struggled early, it was not met with much patience despite the fact the kid was playing in his first ever college football games. What I doubt those critics could deny is that despite his early struggles, he improved throughout the season with more playing time. So there is no reason to assume that now in his second year, that progression doesn't continue and he becomes the player Sooner Nation expect. I'm still not fully convinced he's a true MLB, but I also know better than to question Venables as a position coach. While he certainly has his critics as a defensive coordinator, there aren't many out there who would question his skills as a LB coach.
Corey Nelson - I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't think of another time where a player has drawn as much praise during the spring as Nelson did in recent weeks. The coaches are clearly in love with his ability and OU fans are chomping at the bit to see him in action during 2011. The problem is how do the coaches work him into the mix? He's the primary backup and heir apparent at WLB to Travis Lewis, who obviously isn't coming off the field any time soon. So while they make it sound like he's way too good to keep off the field, will the coaches be able to design a scheme to maximize his abilities this season? It's the million dollar question for a defense looking to capture #8 and a play maker like Nelson could be the icing on the metaphorical cake. Those close to the program believe that Nelson's ceiling could be even higher than what Lewis has become, which is high praise no doubt.
Joseph Ibiloye - The prototypical Stoops/Venables hybrid LB/S, Ibby brings a unique skill set to the Sooners defense. We saw in the Texas game two years ago just how good he can be when given the opportunity, but it's the opportunities that have been lacking thus far. Things don't appear to be much better in 2011 with OU basically eliminating the SLB position from their defense, which is where a guy like Ibby had been used in the past. He's capable of playing that Roy-back role that Tony Jefferson typically plays, however, no knock on Ibby, if you're an OU fan you want Jefferson on the field at all times. So I'm not entirely sure where I see significant snaps, barring injury, for Ibiloye on this 2011 defense. I hope I'm wrong, but not because some one else gets hurt, because I do think he's a talented young player and Venables finds a way to work him in.
Daniel Franklin - A guy who is heading into his fourth year in the program, but has yet to see really any time aside from special teams. He played quite a bit in the Sun Bowl two years ago against that power run Stanford team, but we just don't see very many teams with that kind of style in Big 12 play. He really is a prototypical SLB for this system, but as we said earlier that position basically doesn't exist in this system any longer. So he's worked mostly at MLB instead and as we established earlier, that's pretty much a logjam.
Jaydan Bird - Bird is another guy who has played mostly on special teams, but according to reports this spring was really starting to come on. Of all the LBs on campus, I think he has the best frame to handle that MLB role. At 6'2" 245 pounds, he's the biggest LB on the roster and with that size he's capable of taking on blockers in the run game. Word out of Norman this spring was that he was working exclusively at MLB and legitimately pushing for playing time. With Box not participating in most of the spring drills, the opportunity was there for Bird to make a name for himself and by all accounts he did just that. If Box were to get dinged up again this year, don't be surprised if Bird is the guy who steps in to replace him in the likely rotation with Wort.
Rashod Favors - Favors is an interesting kid if you followed his recruitment. texass fan would have you believe OU only offered him because he was good friends with current massive underachieving whorn WR Darius White. So when White didn't commit to OU, those same
dummies people expected OU to pull his offer. Clearly that didn't happen and now the Sooners appear to have reaped the rewards in a talented young LB who could player in the middle or on the outside. Most project Favors to be a MLB and if his first year on campus is any indication, the kid is not afraid to put in the work off the field. He has visibly transformed his body since his arrival in Norman and if he continues to bulk up at this pace MLB is definitely he most likely final destination.
Aaron Franklin - Franklin is a kid who drew raves from Stoops both last spring and this more recent one. He was also a kid who suffered a serious knee injury later in his high school career, which caused a lot of schools to back off him. Stoops knew better and now thinks they have found another diamond in the rough kind of like they did with Aaron Colvin. Before the injury, Franklin had blazing speed for a LB so now nearly two years removed from said injury should be fully recovered and regained that sideline-to-sideline speed. He will likely be a fixture on special teams and could even work his way onto the field at times this season.
Londell Taylor - Taylor is a kid who had several offers coming out of high school, but chose to take some money and go the MLB route. Now he's come back to OU, they originally offered him out of high school, to see if he can make a career out of football. Obviously being away from the game for several years, he is more than a little raw as a LB prospect. However the coaches have talked about how well he has picked things up in such a short time. It seems odd for a guy his age, but he is technically considered a freshman so they could choose to redshirt him next season so as not to rush him into action. If he does play in 2011, it will very likely only be on special teams.