Spring Review: Linebackers

Lehman takes over for Rocky; Mitchell, Ingram impressive and much, much more...

At linebacker the Sooners will be good again and actually sport more depth than they had a year ago. However, to say they will be as good without Rocky Calmus and Brandon Moore may be a stretch.

Calmus is one of the most instinctive linebackers ever to play at OU and his uncanny ability to make plays will be missed.

Teddy Lehman was successful in making the move from his old middle linebacker spot to the weakside linebacker position where Calmus dominated. The nature of the position perfectly suites the skills of Lehman, who still can run a sub 4.5 forty and yet can bench press the world.

As an athlete, Calmus can't match-up with Lehman, and to come to think of it, he couldn't last year either. However, Lehman doesn't have the instinctive feel for the game that Calmus was born with. Maybe to compare Lehman with Calmus isn't fair, but that is the nature of sport and Lehman will be a good player in his own right. In his first year at the position he probably won't be Calmus and probably won't be great, but he will be one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 conference.

Middle linebacker was interesting this spring as heralded junior college transfer Lance Mitchell found himself in a battle with redshirt freshman Clint Ingram. Nobody expected Ingram to make it close, but after showing up big in the first two scrimmages Ingram received quite a bit of work with the first unit. Now this is not to say that Mitchell isn't going to start, because he is.

Mitchell was the top junior college linebacker in the country last season at National Champion San Francisco Community College and the Torrance Marshall look-a-like has NFL written all over him.

Mitchell brings great instincts and was super inside the tackles. Defending the run game is not going to be a problem for Mitchell. However, defending in the Sooners complicated pass defense will take some getting use to. It's not that Mitchell can't cover, because he is athletic enough to do well in the pass game. Right now Mitchell has to think through most of his pass defense assignments and that slows him down a little bit.

Ingram played well in pass defense and proved to the Sooner coaches that he would strike people at the line scrimmage.

"I would say that Clint was our biggest surprise of the spring," said Sooner co-defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Brent Venables. "It was no secret that Clint was a great athlete, but we just didn't know if he would get physical with people. He proved to us this spring that he will bring his hat and lay it on somebody."

"I feel really good about our middle linebacker spot, because Lance was everything we thought he was going to be," Venables continued. "He is very instinctive, an excellent tackler, is good negotiating his way through traffic, has a good first step, gets off blocks and has excellent quickness to get to the ball carrier in a hurry. The fact that Clint played so well this spring, gives us confidence in another middle linebacker we can now mix into our defensive packages."

The only question among the linebacker corp is at strongside linebacker where Pasha Jackson and Russell Dennison battled for playing time. At the moment, it's hard to declare anybody a winner.

Both were so inconsistent at times that the Sooner defensive coaches are meeting this summer discussing whether to go with a strongside linebacker in their basic defense or to primarily use five defensive backs fulltime in their base defense.

Jackson will be the guy to get the call at the strongside spot. And to his defense, he struggled at times this spring because he was trying to learn two positions. The Sooners have no depth behind Lehman on the weakside, thus the strongside duo were learning both on the run.

When Jackson played his natural strongside spot he was very good, but struggled on the other side. In the fall when the Sooners have more depth Jackson will get even better at strongside and the Sooner coaches will feel even better about their original base defense.

Dennison didn't have a good spring and that disappointed the Sooner coaches. Dennison has the ability to get to the play and looks good getting there, but he doesn't finish. For all his natural ability, Dennison doesn't make many tackles and when you consider that he seems to always be around the ball it's amazing he doesn't come up with more tackles. Dennison will have to decide that he is going to be a playmaker before he sees any major playing time on anything but special teams.

Linebacker is a position where a true freshman or two will find some playing time.

Incoming freshman Zach Latimer might play strongside linebacker if he can't get his weight up to 230 pounds. However, Latimer has indicated that he was would love to redshirt his first year anyway, which may take him out of the picture.

Rufus Alexander, another incoming freshman from Baton Rouge, is a player that really impresses the Sooner coaches. Alexander plays mature well beyond his years and if he can pick up the Sooner defensive scheme early he might backup Lehman at the weakside.

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