Junior Teddy Lehman is fast becoming one of the top linebackers in the country. Back when Lehman was found by the OU coaching staff at one of their camps, it was determined that his unbelievable talent was good enough to start for OU. Since that time, he has been a constant work in progress.
That work in progress continues, but Lehman has now reached the status where he is being talked about in the same breath as Sooner greats Torrance Marshall and Rocky Calmus, who both totally developed under Brent Venables and Bob Stoops.
Lehman's move to weakside linebacker is paying huge dividends and he is currently second on the team in tackles to middle linebacker Lance Mitchell. Lehman has also become the unquestioned team leader of the Sooner defense. He calls all the signals and sets those on the defense that don't know their assignments in the right place.
I had a chance to interview Lehman earlier this week about his new leadership position with the Sooner defense.
JH: Your move to weakside linebacker doesn't look to have been too difficult for you?
TL: "The move hasn't been that difficult for me because it is a lot easier for me to make the move, then say a new player coming into our program. I knew a lot of what to do at weakside just because I was out on the field and I had seen it being played. A lot of it is the same stuff and it really isn't tough at all."
JH: What is the main difference from playing the weakside to the middle where you played last year?
TL: "There is a lot of difference from the physical part of it. You are outside the box more at weakside, while the 'mike' backer is always in the middle and he is always inside the box. When I am outside I get a chance to make more plays on the perimeter."
JH: We always marveled at how good of a tackler Calmus was and this year you have been the same way. Are you a better tackler this year then you were last season?
TL: "Tackling is always going to be an attitude and that is why Rocky was such a good tackler. I have made improvements, but I am still not where I need to be as far as that goes. When you look at Rocky, he never missed a tackle and that is the kind of player that everybody wants to be. Nobody wants to miss tackles and I have some improvement to do there, but I am getting better."
JH: All of us watch the NFL on Sunday and thus far in college football it looks like a lot of teams aren't tackling very well. It can't just be an attitude, there has to be some technique to it isn't there?
TL: "You have to be fundamentally sound, but you have to play defense with an attitude and the desire to put that technique to good use. It's the attitude of when you run at a guy you are running at him saying that I am going to crush this guy, then you get your head across him and you run right through him. When you are running at a running back you are thinking, 'what is he going to do,' that is when you are slowing down, you stop your feet and you don't get your head across where it needs to be. Whenever you are chasing somebody you have to take the attitude that you are going to crush him and that is when you will bring your feel, bring your hips and you will run through a guy. It is all about being determined to make the play."
JH: When you play a running back that is known for making tacklers miss does that change how you might play him?
TL: "If you are out in space you have to make the safe tackle. However, when you are inside you are going to see the biggest tackles come on those kinds of running backs because when you run through them they are still standing there juking you, so you just run right through them. Those kinds of guys are the easiest kind of guys to tackle in the box. However, chasing that guy out on the edge is a different story. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get, maybe make a falling tackle, because what is important is that you were able to bring him down."
JH: Because of your speed you are never out of a play are you? Because you have run down several ball carriers this year?
TL: "If you are always hustling you are going to have opportunities. You never know what is going to happen, so you have to go hard all the time. A guy could cut back and five guys could miss him and you are the only defender left. As long as you keep hustling to the ball, sometimes you are going to make those plays just because you are hustling to get to that play."
JH: You have become the leader of the defense. Does that come naturally for you?
TL: "I guess it is kind of natural. Linebackers are always looked to by other players of knowing where everybody is supposed to be and to get everybody lined up. There is going to be a linebacker that is that guy every year. I guess with Rocky gone the natural progression fell to me."
JH: The change in the safety position has changed the dynamic of your defense. Is your defense as good as the one you played on last season?
TL: "It is still early in the season and right now this defense is still being compared to how last year's defense ended the season. We won't be there for a couple of months down the road. We still have room for tons of improvement in all areas such as tackling, assignments and attitude. Tthat stuff will come with hard work. However, we have plenty of time to get and hopefully we will get there."
JH: What about South Florida?
TL: "They are tough. They won eight games last year and they play with a wide open offense. They have great special teams and they have good athletes."
JH: What about Blackwell, their quarterback? He is a mobile quarterback and isn't that the kind of linebacker that will drive linebackers nuts?
TL: "There is nothing that drives linebackers crazy than somebody who can execute the quarterback run game. When they stack people in the box we will stack them in the box, but when they spread them out we have to spread out with them and we as linebackers have to beat a block. Then you are outnumbered in the box and that is how a quarterback can get you in the run game. That is how they can beat you and every linebacker hates it. Every defensive player on the team hates a quarterback who can run."
The next great OU linebacker?
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