|| Full Nelson
No returning OU linebacker owns more career tackles than Corey Nelson (126). In fact, among returning defensive players for the Sooners, only cornerback Aaron Colvin (179 career tackles) boasts more stops than Nelson. Not surprisingly, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops cites Nelson and Colvin as the "go-to" performers in terms of veteran leadership on defense for the Sooners in 2013.
"Corey (Nelson) is our other leader," said Stoops in reference to the senior duo of Colvin and Nelson. "Corey and Frank Shannon I think both played really solid football for us throughout the course of the year. Those two guys have to be really big players for us in what we're trying to do."
"It's a big role," Nelson admitted when informed of Stoops' comments. "I do embrace it out there on the field. It's very important and pivotal that Aaron and I do lead them because we're seniors and senior are supposed to lead by example."
While the wide-open offensive styles played by many Big 12 teams limited the snaps the OU linebackers took in 2012, don't be surprised to see plenty of Nelson and Shannon working in tandem regardless of what opposing offenses throw on the field in 2013. Shannon saw increased playing time down the stretch and finished the 2012 campaign with 40 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks and a fumble recovery.
"Our scheme did a little bit of an injustice to our linebackers a year ago," Stoops continued. "In this league, again, I sound redundant, but I don't know how else to say it. When you play four wideouts 70 percent of the game, that's extraordinary and it limits some of the great things these guys can do. But we're going to try to keep two linebackers on the field as much as we can in each situation."
|| Kish Gets Comfortable
Last spring, Tim Kish was making his debut on the Oklahoma practice field as he and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops got to know the defensive personnel on the Sooners' roster. This year, Kish is back for year two in Norman and like Stoops, has no doubt who the ringleader of his linebacker unit will be.
"Last year when they (Stoops and Kish) came in, they were testing the waters," observed Nelson. "I feel like after a full year working with them, we have a better idea of what they expect. It's great to have that kind of connection with your coaches and I'm glad that they're back working with us again."
No question, the feeling is mutual for Kish, who has a great deal of respect for the talents of both Nelson and sophomore Frank Shannon.
"It's a big plus to have Corey (Nelson) back," Kish said. "He's obviously got the most experience of anybody in our group. Having him is a huge positive for us. Frank Shannon got on the field down the stretch, but we've got some guys who we're also going to find out about in the spring."
Among those players seeking to stake a claim to more playing time with a strong spring include junior Aaron Franklin, who played in every game a year ago, racking up 21 tackles. Sophomore Eric Striker totaled a career-best six tackles against Kansas last season, while Londell Taylor returns to the roster after playing baseball in the Detroit Tigers minor league system. Caleb Gastelum should also see plenty of practice snaps.
"We're a six-man unit in the spring," Kish said. "We're the smallest group on the field in terms of numbers, but hopefully we'll make a big impact. We'll have some more guys joining us in the fall, but we're going to work hard to get better every day."
The linebacker group will be bolstered during fall practice by the additions of a pair of Oklahoma-grown linebackers in Dominque Alexander (Booker T. Washington HS - Tulsa) and Jordan Evans (Norman North HS).
According to head coach Bob Stoops, both Alexander and Evans possess the athleticism and versatility necessarily to play linebacker in today's Big 12.
"Dominique Alexander is a great athlete when he's out in space running and covering, all of that," said Stoops. "He's powerful, strong, tackling, and Jordan is the same thing. He's really athletic out there, so definitely those are the kind of guys, but they still have to by physical and tackle, and these guys do that, but definitely the athleticism they have is a plus."
With Evans owning an OU pedigree as the son of three-time All-Big Eight defensive tackle Scott Evans, it will be hard for Crimson and Cream loyalists not to pull for this second-generation Sooner to get on the field this fall. While it's uncertain if his long-term future may be at linebacker or defensive end, Stoops saw enough of his skills at Norman North to know he's capable of contributing at this level.
"He's got the speed, the quickness, the agility to play outside linebacker," said Stoops of Evans. "He's got the size where you're unsure where he will end up growing to, but that's good. The bottom line when we all looked at him and were watching him over and over is everybody likes him, so wherever he ends up kind of growing to, good. He's just a great athlete. He's got a lot of range in size to him, and we'll find the right spot for him once we get him here."
|| Aggressive Approach
Dating back to Bob Stoops' arrival in Norman in 1999, the Sooners rank second among BCS schools with 410 takeaways. No doubt, making more momentum-changing plays would be near the top of Mike Stoops' defensive wish list in 2013.
"Sure, we have to be able to create more big plays," the veteran defensive coordinator said. "We have to be able to create more negative yardage plays and that's concerning for us when you look at it a year ago, the amount of big plays that we didn't give up a ton but we didn't get a ton, either."
Both Nelson and Shannon registered 3.5 tackles for loss last season, but a more aggressive defensive approach could bolster the big play numbers of OU's fleet-footed linebackers.
"So being able to be in a position to be more aggressive defensively I think is what you have to be and not sit back and react to everything like I think we did probably a year ago," Stoops continued. "At times I think it hurt us schematically and we didn't have the right stuff on to properly defend some of the things we had to defend."
That sort of aggressive defensive posture unquestionably has gotten the attention of Nelson
"That's music to our ears," said the senior linebacker. "If we get to blitz more and have more pressure packages, that could help us out tremendously if that's what Coach (Mike Stoops) has in store. I'd look forward to being more aggressive if that's what he wants to put in."
The Sooners continued spring practice inside the Everest Training Center on Sunday. Check out our coverage:
Photo Gallery (61 photos)
Spring Practice Report No. 2
Mic'd Up: Coach Tim Kish
Senior LB Corey Nelson
RS Sophomore LB Frank Shannon
Oklahoma breaks huddle with "Sooners" prior to its second practice for our spring Instagram Photo of the Day. Check us out at @ou_football:
TOP RETURNING LBs
Senior Corey Nelson | Bio
Played in all 13 games (11 starts) in 2012
Finished second among LBs and sixth on the team with 47 tackles in 2012.
Added 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack and two PBU last season.
Has played in 40 games (22 starts) played in his career.
Has 126 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, and six PBU in his career.
Junior Aaron Franklin | Bio
Played in all 13 games in 2012, racking up 21 tackles, including 1.0 sack.
Led team with career-high six tackles vs. Florida A&M (9/8/12), adding 1.0 TFL.
Has played in 23 games, posting 25 tackles in two seasons.
RS-So. Frank Shannon | Bio
Played in 12 games with two starts in 2012 after redshirting in 2011.
Totaled 40 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks and a fumble recovery last season.
Posted a career-high eight tackles and 1.0 sack vs. Baylor (11/10/12).
Sophomore Eric Striker | Bio
Played in all 13 games last season, tallying six tackles.
All six tackles came against Kansas (10/20/12).
Senior Corey Nelson
"As small as we are, Coach Kish has told us we need to be the leaders. We're trying to go out there and show people that we can lead, that we can play and that the linebackers are what holds the defense together. The linebackers are the core of the defense and that's what Coach Kish wants us to accomplish this spring."
Track all of our spring football content from analysis to video and photos in Spring Football Central, as well as a practice schedule:
Spring Central | Schedule
OU will return to the field on Tuesday afternoon with selected offensive players and coaches slated to speak with the media afterwards.
DE Rashod Favors and DB Quentin Hayes have swapped jersey numbers - Favors will wear #29 and Hayes is now wearing #10.
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