Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Travis Lewis is expected back before the Red River Rivalry
As an All-American and the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, big things were expected from Travis Lewis starting from the first game of the season. All of that changed when Lewis suffered a fractured bone in his foot during fall practice. The Sooners turned out not to require his services against Tulsa, but the coaches sure would have liked to have had their star LB back for the Florida State game.
As with other things in life, this was a disappointment as the weakside linebacker will sit on the bench for that major out-of-conference contest. However, when he does return the offensive squads facing the Sooners may well be sorry to see No. 28 across the line of scrimmage, ready to pounce on their players.
In the meantime, there will still be linebackers Tom Wort and Corey Nelson ready to take up the slack. Both are part of the impressive freshman class that made so many waves last year. Now as true sophomores with each playing in all 14 games last season, that experience places them in good position to make major contributions for defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Wort played so well in 2010 that he started in nine games and was named as a second-team All-American. He showed an ability to cover passes, take down ball carriers, and to even have a terrific knack for sacks and tackles for loss. Corey Nelson had a fabulous first game of the year as he had a sack, participated in three tackles for loss and had eight total tackles. While there is room for improvement, Wort and Nelson showed they are truly ready for the big-time games to come.
Helping to fill in the gap caused by the loss of Lewis is the versatile defensive back Tony Jefferson. Playing in the famous "Roy" position (named for the great player that Roy Williams was at OU), Jefferson could be the very example of multi-tasking. He can cover downfield in the passing game, yet can use his speed to blitz in both the run game and pass game. Because of this, the Sooners can man-up for rushing defense or drop back into a nickel package without having to change personnel. This allows Venables and crew to run any type of pass coverage they desire without tipping off the opposing QB prior to the snap of the ball.
Offensive coaches playing the Sooners may want to keep some ibuprofen around while they watch tapes of the OU defense when creating their game plan!
The defensive line appeared to be a question mark at times during the summer, but as the defensive tackles have progressed the Sooners got some excellent news when Ronnell "The Hammer" Lewis was cleared to return to the lineup. Tackles Casey Walker, Jamarkus McFarland, Torrea Peterson and Stacy McGee proved they can be a presence to block up the center of the line for both rush defense and in pressuring the QB in the pass defense.
The defensive ends looked very good with a rotation of Lewis, Frank Alexander and David King. Alexander looked like a monster with six tackles, a quarterback hurry, a sack, two tipped passes and an interception that he returned for 27 yards.