The recent knee injury to starting weakside linebacker Ryan Reynolds has moved the spotlight at linebacker this spring to junior Curtis Lofton. The Kingfisher native has not disappointed as he has had a great spring working as the starting middle linebacker before move over to the weakside during the last practice.
This also opens up a great opportunity for junior college transfer Mike Reed, who has frantically been trying to learn the defense. Reed will now get a chance to learn on the fly as he moves into the starting middle linebacker spot with Lofton now starting on the weakside. Senior Lewis Baker continues to run with the first unit strongside. But before the injury, Reynolds was having a great camp.
"He has played very, very well," said OU Defensive Coordinator and linebacker coach Brent Venables. "He has been extremely physical, always in the right place and he has been very good technique and fundamental wise. He always has tremendous focus, Ryan cares, He likes to play, likes to compete and cares a lot about the game and how well he plays. When you are also a pretty good player, it is a great group of intangibles to have. He is very instinctual and he doesn't get lost out there. He feels the game very well."
Reynolds missed last season with a torn ACL and even last week struggled through a banged up shoulder. Now, he will miss the spring with a minor injury, but Venables is not worried about Reynolds' bad luck with injuries at this point in his career.
"Rocky Calmus didn't go through a practice without getting hurt. You thought he was next to dead the way he carried on," said Venables. "However, he was really tough and he never missed practice. Ryan has some of those same qualities and traits and you hope the guy is not injury-prone. I don't believe that is the case, but he is extremely tough-minded."
Finding some depth at linebacker is also a priority this spring and the back-ups are beginning to play better
"I was really pleased with our two's today (Wednesday)," said Venables. "I thought our two's looked a lot better today than from what we have looked. We had Demarrio (Pleasant) at the SAM, Lamont Robinson at the MIKE and Brandon Crow at the WILL. I thought they looked really good and consistent, and they played with good effort. They were very physical."
Following practice, OUInsider.com had a chance to catch up with Lofton to find out how he felt spring practice was going thus far.
JH: You have played all three linebacker positions so far during your career at OU, and it looks like you have been playing middle linebacker mostly this spring. How is that working out for you thus far?
CL: "It is going pretty good. I started off at MIKE (middle linebacker) and I feel very comfortable there. So I have been playing that a lot. When Zach went down I got a lot of experience last spring playing MIKE. Then today Ryan got hurt so I jumped over and played WILL. So everything is going pretty good for me."
JH: Do you feel more comfortable at one linebacker position or another?
CL: "I feel more comfortable at MIKE, because that is what I came here to do and is the position that I have been playing the longest. Once I get in there and get a couple more reps at WILL (weakside linebacker) I will be fine."
JH: What do you like about playing the MIKE?
CL: "The MIKE is really like the quarterback of the defense. You have to get the personnel, you have to line everybody else up, you have to be in the run fit and then you have to get into the pass coverage. So, really it is a pretty tough job."
JH: You also have to get those funky signals from Coach Venables. I mean, sometimes a look is a signal right?
CL: "Sometimes he looks in a signal and sometimes he tries to be sly and tries to cover it up. Sometimes he gets me confused, but he does a good job of getting the signals in."
JH: For the past two years you have earned more and more playing time, but this year you have a great chance to crack the starting line-up. How important is this spring for you?
CL: "It is very important. I am just trying to learn the defense and get more comfortable at playing MIKE. I want to be able to help everybody else out there on the field."
JH: How is the defense as a whole coming along?
CL: "I think we are gelling together real well. We have guys rotating in and out. It is going pretty good right now."
JH: What are your thoughts on the offense that you have been going up against in practice?
CL: "I think this is going to be one of the best offensive lines that OU has ever had. They are all above 300 pounds. We have a great set of running backs and the quarterbacks are doing real well. The past couple of days they threw a couple of picks, but other than that they are doing pretty well."