football Edit

Biggest questions for OU linebackers entering 2023

There were highs and lows when it came to Oklahoma’s linebacker play in 2022.

Danny Stutsman, DaShaun White and David Ugwoegbu were three of the most productive players in the Big 12 last season, but the Sooners’ lack of depth at linebacker caused inconsistency issues late in the season. All three players played over 900 snaps last season, with Stutsman playing a team-high 992, according to Pro Football Focus. Only one other player on the entire defense played more than 700 snaps (Woodi Washington, 889).

The linebacker depth issues were a significant talking point for OU coach Brent Venables over the course of the season, and the Sooners are still looking to develop depth there particularly with the departures of White and Ugwoegbu.

Here’s a look at the biggest questions facing the Sooners’ linebackers:

1. Can Stutsman be the leader the Sooners need?


Statistically, Stutsman was the most productive defensive player for the Sooners in 2022. He led the Big 12 in total tackles (126), adding 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

But Stutsman acknowledged there were times last season when he needed to step up.

“I think that consistency needs to be there more,” Stutsman said during spring practices. “Looking up to DaShaun and David, I kind of sat back in the backseat. Later on in the year, I kind of took that transition. I think this year I'll really take those strides.

“As a veteran now, I've got to keep making strides in a leadership role. Sometimes I was quiet. I've got to improve upon that. That's just self growth. I'm ready to recognize that and ready to keep making strides for this team. I'm just ready to go.”

The Sooners will need Stutsman to make those strides in 2023. He’s one of the most experienced players on the roster. He and Shane Whitter are the only upperclassmen linebackers.

Stutsman should have no problem claiming his starting spot in the fall. But given the linebacker youth, the Sooners will need a career-best season from Stutsman.

Does Dasan McCullough take over at cheetah?

With White gone, the Sooners’ starting cheetah position is up for grabs.

McCullough is a good candidate to take it.

The Indiana transfer, a former four-star prospect, totaled 49 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in his lone season with the Hoosiers. McCullough also played the seventh-most snaps on defense, per PFF.

The 6-foot-5 linebacker offers size and speed at the cheetah position, which blends both linebacker and defensive back responsibilities. McCullough moved around across different positions during spring practices but found his rhythm at cheetah.

“I love how much it moves around,” McCullough said during spring practices. “You can go from playing in the post to lining up on the edge to playing right in the box at middle (linebacker), so I like the versatility aspect of it a lot.”

Justin Harrington saw backup reps at cheetah last season and could also push for playing time. But McCullough has the best chance to be the starter next season.

Who replaces Ugwoegbu?

The Sooners have a few options.

Jaren Kanak is a prime candidate.The sophomore appeared in all 13 games last season, totaling 24 tackles and a forced fumble. He showed his potential when he saw more snaps against Nebraska, leading the Sooners with 10 tackles and four quarterback pressures.

“It was a good experience, getting a little taste of it and it motivated me more,” Kanak said about last season. “I know I can be better than I was last year, obviously. It just motivated me more to come out here and work towards being a better player.

There should be some other young guys in the mix, too. Kobie McKinzie was one of the standouts during spring practices along with Kip Lewis, and both are former four-star prospects who’ve been in the program for a year. Phil Picciotti, a three-star prospect in the 2023 class, also impressed during his first spring as a Sooner.

The Sooners also have two other linebackers coming Samuel Omosigho, Lewis Carer and Taylor Heim. They also just added Konnor Near from Ferris State.

It’ll be interesting to see how the playing time shakes out.