Is Tom Wort done as Oklahoma’s starting middle linebacker?
Well, unless OU is playing a pass happy offense.
Backup linebacker Franklin Shannon turned a lot of heads Saturday against Texas Tech. Shannon tied for the team lead in tackles (6) and sacked quarterback Seth Doege to end a Red Raider drive on 4th-down at midfield.
Some see Shannon’s rise as Wort’s fall. But that’s not the case according to defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
“Frank played exceptionally well and certainly continues to earn more playing time. But as of right now, Tom's our starter,” said Stoops. “We just want to bring Frank along and continue to give him more snaps.”
It’s likely Wort will be back in the starting lineup against the Texas Longhorns this weekend in Dallas. Texas features a strong set of running backs, which plays more to Wort’s strengths than Shannon’s according to Stoops.
“He's built for more downhill. He's a big, physical middle linebacker,” Stoops said of Wort. “We're going to see a big part of that in this week's preparation too. Texas is gonna try to run at you. They're gonna try to wear you down too. I think that's right up Tom's alley as well.”
But when Oklahoma goes back to playing the West Virginia and Baylors of the world, Shannon will have a role.
Stoops was asked if it was difficult to play Wort against some of the spread offenses in the conference. .
“I'd say that is really an accurate statement, just because of the spread offenses,” answered Stoops.
Wort has always been a lightning rod for controversy. He came to Oklahoma with one of the most impressive high school highlight reels you’ll ever see. Wort is fiery, he’s physical and he goes after ball carriers with a vengeance.
The problem is those things can put Wort out of position, out of control and out of plays.
Wort has gotten better at being in control as a three-year starter for the OU defense. That will still serve this defense well, even though Shannon continues to develop.
“Tom understands concepts very well. He's played a lot of football,” said Stoops. “He understands where he needs to be. Giving Frank more reps isn't going to hurt Tom's preparation.”
During Monday’s post-practice session, Shannon told the media he feels like he and Wort are now co-starters moving forward.
“I try to learn as much as I can from Tom,” he said. “I like having the older guys in front of me so I can keep learning. He helps me out a lot.”
As much time as Brent Venables spend molding this defense around natural linebackers, it seems Mike Stoops is now spending an equal amount of time reshaping his defense around quicker, more athletic players at that position.
It’s become a game of space.
Now we’ll see if there’s enough of it left for Wort.