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Sooners Illustrated looks back and grades out Oklahoma, position-by-position

Consistency shines through as Alexander and Evans make big jumps in the middle of OU's defense.

During the next two weeks, Sooners Illustrated will look back on the 2015 Oklahoma football season: Evaluating each possession group, recapping key moments, reliving the biggest surprises and assigning an overall grade for the year.

We’ll start with quarterback play and end with the kicking game.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Summary: Returning two starters – well, three if you count Frank Shannon – was going to bolster the middle of Oklahoma’s defense no matter how much or how little the Sooners improved at any other position. After combining for 201 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year in Jordan Evans’ first year as a starter, he and Dominique Alexander combined for 186 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and another 2.5 sacks – but made far more consistent plays. Shannon even stepped up when he had to make a few emergency starts. It was clear Shannon, who played much of the Orange Bowl with a foot injury, wasn’t going to come back, but Alexander surprised a lot of people by declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season.

Best player: Brimming with potential after his first season as a starter, Evans started to realize some of that this past season. While maybe not as consistent as Alexander, Evans showed athleticism that could take him further than the All-Big 12 second team honor. While he actually finished the season with fewer tackles, fewer tackles for loss and only an increase in sacks and pass break-ups, Evans was better – playing just 11 games all season – and didn’t make too many major errors.

Biggest surprise: The biggest surprise of the season came afterward, when Alexander declared for the NFL Draft. But during the season, Alexander also was a big surprise. Coming off a 107-tackle season and an All-Big 12 second team honor, it didn’t seem like Alexander could get even better, although he still had things to work on. Despite a drop in tackles, Alexander was no longer a drag-tackler this season. As a result, everyone except for the Associated Press named him to the All-Big 12 first team. A model of consistency, Alexander consistently showed more flashes of talent.

Best moment: Shannon’s return to the roster meant a lot to the team as a leader, and his ability to step in as a starter with a smooth transition really helped Oklahoma. The single best moment of the season, though, wasn’t really a moment all together but more of a trend. The drastic jump in consistency that Evans and Alexander showed was a big reason for the improvement. Rarely, were they out of position or missing tackles. Sure, there were a few. But more often than not, the duo saw success.

Biggest weakness: There aren’t many. . . . The lack of size was something that hurt Oklahoma on occasion but never showed its face in the Big 12 Conference, where speed is more important than size. Evans and Alexander are both converted high school safeties but stepped up in run support consistently – only occasionally getting overwhelmed. With Alexander departure, depth becomes an issue too. Well, unproven depth.

Final grade: A-


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