They made the most of it because they didn’t have any other choice. The redshirt freshmen could very well be the future of OU at inside linebacker, but the present isn’t going away anytime soon.
Returning starter Dominique Alexander missed the spring recovering from wrist surgery, while Frank Shannon’s one-year suspension ends next month. Before Shannon was suspended by the university, he was the team’s leading tackler in 2013.
Add in Jordan Evans and depth really shouldn’t be a concern for OU with its inside linebackers going forward. But that month was huge for Tay Evans and for Bolton.
“At first it was a little hard, but Dom and Jordan are real good about helping me and Tay out when we have questions,” Bolton said. “I call or text them and they answer whatever questions I have. It was a little rough at first trying to figure it out, but I feel like I’m coming around with the playbook now.”
It’s definitely been a change in roles for the linebackers. Both knew pretty early that the 2014 season was going to be a redshirt year. It wasn’t a shock. Their goal last fall was to help the offense in any way they could in preparation.
The mentality is changed now. One of those ways is physically. Jordan Evans is sort of the poster boy for weight gain for OU’s linebackers right now. Bolton has gone from around 215 pounds to now closer to 230.
“Playing inside backer, you have to come up and fill holes with these fullbacks and these big linemen pulling,” Bolton said. “The weight, I can see the weight on Jordan when he comes in and fills the gaps. It’s definitely a good thing and important in the development progress.”
Bolton and Tay Evans each made some big plays during the open scrimmage for OU students and then the following day at OU’s spring game. They delivered some hits and showed they could drop back in coverage as well.
It was his first real taste of Owen Field for Evans, who has seemingly been groomed for this moment. His father, Bobby Joe Evans, played basketball at OU and his younger brother, Bobby Evans, was a mid-year enrollee for OU’s 2015 class.
Evans felt at home.
“It was all the same, just doing the same stuff as practice with a bigger crowd,” Evans said. “It was really exciting. We haven’t gotten to see that excitement for a while. Getting a lot of reps is giving me that chance to get experience.”
And building that bond with Bolton isn’t hurting matters, either. Jordan Evans and Dominique Alexander have always been lumped into together. They were the two in-state kids not heavily recruited that ended up signing with OU and being moved to middle linebacker.
Now that next duo is Bolton and Tay Evans. In contrast to the 2013 class teammates, Bolton and Tay were both considered natural linebackers. Jordan and Dominique fed off each other their freshmen seasons just as Bolton and Tay are doing now.
“Yeah, because we do ask each other a lot of questions,” Bolton said. “It’s not only me going to Jordan and me going to Dom, it’s me and Tay going back and forth. What did you do on this play? It helps us out.
“We’re kind of close off the field, too. We hang out in our spare time so it’s good to have somebody there that redshirted with me and is going through the same thing because when I’m having a bad day, I can go kick it with him. If he’s feeling alright and everything’s good with him, it brightens my mood.”
That relationship has been crucial for Bolton, who had zero ties to the program when he signed for the 2014 class. Being from California and not playing, Bolton said he was homesick for a little bit but hasn’t felt that way for a while. His relationship with Tay is a reason why.
No longer worrying about anything off the field, the focus is squarely on things on the field. Remains to be seen if Bolton or Tay end up making an impact for the Sooners in the 2015 season, but they’ll be ready if their name is called.
“I’m just trying to make all my weaknesses my strengths at this point,” Bolton said. “As I go, I kind of go to practice to practice and save all my notes and go through my notes and see what I’m messing up with on the film room and make it better.”