Oklahoma Sooners fans have become well aware of the changes that are taking place at the linebacker position. For most of the 2000's, OU fans witnessed linebackers flowing toward the ball. This allowed them plenty of free range while being able to make a play often resulting in a substantial number of tackles. But, this was under Brent Venables direction as the position coach and defensive coordinator.
Now, Tim Kish has taken over as the linebackers coach and drastic changes are being seen on the field. In an attempt the simplify what the defense is doing, the linebackers have been relegated to gap assignment. This means that the main responsibility is to maintain that assigned gap while stopping the run if it comes through said gap. Up to this point, regardless of how much affect the linebackers have had on the game, they have played their assigned gaps fairly well, specifically Tom Wort and Corey Nelson.
But, this does not mean that they are not going to be criticized. Traditionally, Oklahoma fans are used to seeing the likes of Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman, Curtis Lofton, and Travis Lewis take the field. Compared to these former greats, something seems amiss as the front seven have struggled and Wort has taken a majority of the heat.
Being a three year starter has its perks, but it also comes with expectations. Tom Wort had the burden of not only being a leader on this defense placed upon his shoulders, but also the expectation of being productive. With the major changes this season in defensive scheme and roles, Wort has not seemed like himself. At times, he appears to be a shell of his former self lacking the intensity and physicality he once played with while he continues to struggle covering receivers across the middle.
Even with the struggles and lack of tenacity, Wort has excelled when playing against the Texas Longhorns. As a freshman, this was a kid that was an absolute beast against the Longhorns recording 10 tackles. The following season, he would follow it up with a promising 7 tackles. Maybe it is the stage and atmosphere where it all clicks for Wort enabling him to flip the switch and come alive as a solid defender. But, if it's not, the only conclusion is that Wort isn't a suitable middle linebacker.
The problem is that during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Frank Shannon, a red-shirt freshman, embodied all of the things fans had hoped Tom Wort would be. From flying around the field to being able to drop into coverage while possessing the ability to take on offensive lineman with relative ease...Frank Shannon proved he was up to the occasion. He certainly made the most of his opportunity and stated his case at why he needs more playing time. Mike Stoops had this to say about the predicament:
"Frank played exceptionally well and certainly continues to earn more playing time," Stoops said. "But as of right now Tom is our starter and we just want to bring Frank along and give him more snaps."
Stoops, however, conceded that Wort's linebacking style doesn't always fit against Big 12 attacks.
"That's a really accurate statement, because of the spread offenses," Stoops said. "He's built for more downhill -- a big, physical linebacker.
"But we're going to see a lot of that in this week's preparation, too. Texas can run at you and they're going to try and wear you down, too. I think that's right up Tom's alley, as well." - ESPN
With all that's being said about Tom Wort and his capabilities, it begs the question of "what happened against a run heavy offense in Kansas St. then?"
The Longhorns have proven that they want to establish their identity in the rushing attack. The passing to rushing ratio shows that is the goal and, up to this point, it has been fairly successful. While many may not like to admit it, the fact remains that the team with most rushing yards in the RRS has come out head since 1999.
There is no doubt that both Wort and Shannon are going to play, but I'm asking you to pick your poison this weekend as a clash for the ages goes down in Dallas, TX. Are you going after the experienced Tom Wort or the young but talented and speedy Frank Shannon?