State of the program: Linebacker

After grading the performance of Oklahoma’s linebackers in 2012, it is the perfect time to take a closer look at the linebackers on the roster or the commitment list as SoonerNation evaluates the future at the position for Oklahoma. Here’s a look at one player who could be next in line to make a major impact, one player to keep an eye on and one current commitment who could be the future.

Next in line: Frank Shannon. Shortly after Tim Kish arrived at Oklahoma last spring, the Sooners linebacker coach began heaping praise upon the redshirt freshman linebacker. Kish spoke highly of Shannon’s natural instincts and playmaking ability. This fall, Shannon has lived up to the hype after a breakout game against Texas Tech on Oct. 6. His versatility and instincts should make him a cornerstone of OU’s defenses over the next few seasons.

Keep an eye on: Eric Striker. Although the Sooners will return Shannon, Tom Wort, Corey Nelson and Aaron Franklin, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Striker earn a role in the Sooners defense as a sophomore. He has pass rushing skills and versatility, which could make him a key contributor in 2013.

On the trail: Jordan Mastrogiovanni (Dallas/Jesuit). One of the top linebacker prospects in the nation, Mastrogiovanni is a good fit for the middle linebacker position in OU’s defense. He combines run-stopping ability with solid zone coverage skills and the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline. He could play early if he shows the same playmaking ability in college that he’s shown in high school. That’s a huge if, however.

Summary: While OU has a lot of depth at the position, it could use more playmakers. The Sooners defense isn’t designed to free linebackers to make plays so, thanks to its depth, OU can simply allow its linebackers to compete, and the best playmakers to play. Linebacker is one of the deepest positions on the roster, so OU just needs to allow them to compete, then put its best competitors in positions to make plays in 2013 and beyond.