Practice report: Linebackers grade out well

In his first game back as coordinator of the Oklahoma defense, Mike Stoops was pleased with the overall performance. Despite giving up 177 yards on the ground to tailback Nathan Jeffery, the Sooners kept UTEP out of the end zone.

“We had consistent pressure all night,” Stoops said. “Thought we made it very uncomfortable for them.”

Stoops said the “front played awfully well,” despite not having starting tackles Casey Walker (who again wasn’t at practice Monday because of a personal issue) and Stacy McGee, who remains suspended. But Stoops saved most of his praise for the back seven, which didn’t give up a pass for longer than 13 yards.

“The linebackers (Corey Nelson and Tom Wort) are both outstanding players,” he said. “I think (the back seven) can be the strength of this team. Julian Wilson played well (in the dime) -- I’m very pleased with the whole back seven.”

The performance, however, wasn’t perfect. The Sooners allowed UTEP to march down the field on its opening drive before the Miners missed a field goal. Jeffery also broke off a 71-yard run. Stoops, however, put that on the coaching staff and the fact the scheme was rather vanilla.

“That’s the great thing -- we could have dominated the game,” Stoops said. “We went in there with a very limited package and we played well. We can get those things fixed.”

• Because of the change in defensive scheme, some seem to think that middle linebacker Tom Wort had a poor performance. That’s not what the defensive coaching staff thought. Instead they handed him a 93 percent grade -- the highest grade he has ever received wearing an OU uniform.

“I don’t think people understand what ‘Gap Defense’ is,” Wort said. “It’s about playing your gap.”

Under Brent Venables, the Sooners allowed Wort to flow from sideline to sideline making tackles. But in the scheme the Sooners played against UTEP, Wort was responsible for taking on anything in his gap -- leading people watching on TV to think he was getting blocked on every down.

“I’ve heard people saying I can’t get off blocks,” said Wort, who still finished with seven tackles. “But when you’re playing gap, you’re responsible for that gap.”

Weakside linebacker Corey Nelson also graded out in the 90s. Like Wort, Nelson too agreed the new scheme was an adjustment for him.

“It was good, I kind of felt like a role player,” he said. “I didn't make as many plays as I wanted to, but that's how the defense is.

“Me, Tom Wort and Joseph Ibiloye graded out in the high 90s.”

• Senior defensive end R.J. Washington got the first start of his career against UTEP, and performed pretty well. Washington graded out at an 87.

“I got a couple pressures,” he said. “But I got caught upfield (on some of Jeffery's runs). I wasn’t reading the mesh fast enough.”

Washington attributed his over-commitment to rushing the passer to anxiety in making his first start. But he said all of that is correctable going forward.

“I just messed up,” he said. “Wasn’t overly terrible. But not what we need. I can’t be making technique mistakes.”

Washington admitted it was somewhat surreal to be finally starting after four years on the sidelines. It was even more surreal to never come off the field.

“At one point I looked at Chuka (Ndulue) and was like, ‘We’ve been on the field for a long time ...’ ” Washington said. “Last year we rotated people in. I just started thinking, ‘There’s nobody coming.’ But I wasn’t even tired, the work we put in during the winter and the summer led to us being ready for that situation.”

Washington said he played a career-high 62 snaps on Saturday after entering the game with a career best of 34 snaps during his first three seasons.

• Oklahoma senior Jaydan Bird has seen his role expand this season. He’s a backup linebacker, fullback in OU’s Diamond formation and plays on various special teams.

It’s not an easy role to have but Bird is handling it well after one game.

“I enjoy it,” Bird said of a role which requires him to attend additional meetings and switch practice field as he prepares to play offense and defense for the Sooners.

“You have to be in good shape though, I can say that. Running down the field on the 65-yard run then turning right around and running down on kickoff? I was tired.”

Bird made a critical block on Damien Williams 65-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, then had to cover the ensuing kickoff as a member of OU’s kickoff coverage unit.