Oklahoma Football: Linebackers becoming a concern for OU’s defense


Oklahoma Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops came into the season feeling extremely confident about his defense. Now there seems to be some concerns on the back-end of that strong front seven.

One of the biggest reasons for his confidence was his group of linebackers that looked to be as talented as any in the country.

Their perceived strength is one injury or ejection, as we saw Saturday, from becoming a major weakness for Stoops’ defense.

The Sooners were already playing without their leader in tackles from a year ago–Frank Shannon–due to suspension. Sophomore Jordan Evans stepped into the vacated middle linebacker position and looked impressive until he was ejected from the game in the first quarter due to a targeting penalty.

Bob Stoops was told by Big 12 officiating coordinator Walt Anderson that Evans did nothing wrong in the play and the officials misinterpreted the rule. However, the sudden loss of Evans for the remainder of the game forced the Sooners to put walk-on Caleb Gastelum into action.

Gastelum played fairly well throughout, but he may have a tough time making plays if he is forced into action against teams like Baylor, Oklahoma State or even Tennessee.

More from Oklahoma Sooners

This could pose a problem down the road the way the targeting rule has been called and considering linebackers are among the toughest to keep healthy.

The other options for Oklahoma are all young, unproven or currently playing other positions.

Stoops has been impressed with freshman Tay Evans, who may have a bright future for the Sooners at middle linebacker. However, he is still too young and doesn’t appear ready to step in for Oklahoma.

Senior Aaron Franklin may be the most logical fit to take over if needed, but he is more of an outside linebacker and usually only sees the field on special teams.

None of these options are ideal for a team looking to make a run at a National Championship. The idea of playing a walk-on isn’t something usually contemplated by a championship caliber team at this level.

The Oklahoma Sooners still feel good about their linebackers, and their front seven as a group, but if anything were to happen to Evans, then the linebacker position could quickly go from a strength to a liability.

In 2008, Oklahoma was in a similar situation with a talented, but thin, linebacker group heading into the Texas game. The Sooners looked to be on their way to a win while the defense shut down Colt McCoy and the Longhorns, until linebacker Ryan Reynolds tore an ACL and the Sooners were forced to piece together a defense with linebackers who were not prepared to fill in. Texas went on to win and it was a major weakness for Oklahoma the rest of the season.

In a season where the sky is the limit for this team, it would be a real shame to see it all fall apart because of a thin group of linebackers that was considered one of the best in the country before the season started.

This is why the health of Evans may be one of the most important factors for Oklahoma moving forward if they are to make the four-team playoff.

Stoops has to hope they are able to put Tulsa away early this Saturday so they are able to get Evans off the field and get guys like Franklin and Gastelum some playing time.

Maybe we will all get a surprise and Shannon will be activated soon. If so, you can throw all these concerns out the window and the Sooners would once again be loaded at the position.