In the weeks leading up to the Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position-by-position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the linebacker position.
Highlights: Frank Shannon was one of the stories in the 41-20 win at Texas Tech. Replacing veteran Tom Wort at middle linebacker in the first half, Shannon was a menace on the Red Raider offense, both against the run and covering crossing routes across the middle. With OU leading 24-13, Tech elected to go for it on fourth down with the ball in Sooner territory. But Shannon exploded between blockers on a blitz to sack Seth Doege, giving the Sooners back the ball, and the momentum for good.
Lowlights: This unit had a few. In the beginning of the season, they were exposed covering the pass. Kansas State sealed its win with a completion across Wort for a fourth-quarter first down. Later in the season, Mike Stoops simply abandoned using linebackers altogether, for fear the better pass offenses of the Big 12 would abuse them. All four of OU’s starting defensive backs finished with more tackles than any of the linebackers.
Surprises: After starting last season and most of 2010, Wort figured to be a cornerstone of this defense. Instead, he spent much of the season on the bench. After the first quarter at Texas Tech, Wort either split time with Shannon or rode the bench altogether.
Grade: D+ No position had a worse year than the linebackers. It was so bad, in fact, that the Sooners have to rethink how they recruit the position. If the defensive staff believed in the position, they would have not gone with the disastrous 4-0-7 alignment late in the season. Wort, Shannon, Corey Nelson and promising sophomore Aaron Franklin all return next season. It will be interesting to see what role they play.