OU has options at middle linebacker

Sooners newcomer Frank Shannon pushing starter Tom Wort for playing time

Updated: October 9, 2012, 1:33 AM ET
By Jake Trotter | SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- During Monday's film study of the Texas Tech game, defensive line coach Jackie Shipp kept getting sidetracked.

Blame redshirt freshman middle linebacker Frank Shannon.

[+] EnlargeTom Wort
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTom Wort has made 25 career starts for the Sooners, but might see less playing time against teams that pass more than they run.
"It was literally like, 'What's David (King) doing on this play, what's Casey (Walker) doing on this play -- now, where's my man Frank Shannon?'" said defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland. "Frank was flying all over the field, taking on linemen like they were running backs, getting tackles that weren't even supposed to be his.

"The guy put a show on."

After he replaced three-year starter Tom Wort in the second quarter, Shannon delivered maybe the best performance by an Oklahoma linebacker this season in what essentially was his collegiate debut.

"He had a big-time game," King said. "Outside of going over our mistakes in the [defensive tackle film] room, we spent most of the time talking about how he was out there flying around and taking those big guards on headfirst and still making plays."

Shannon finished with a team-high six tackles, and produced one of the turning-point plays of the game. OU held a 24-13 lead, but the Red Raiders took the opening drive of the second half to the OU 36-yard line where they elected to go for it on fourth-and-5 with momentum about to swing either way.

But before Tech quarterback Seth Doege could find a receiver, Shannon slashed between the guard and running back on a blitz and tossed Doege to the turf. The Sooners took possession of the ball and scored seven plays later to take a 31-13 lead. The next time Tech had the ball, Javon Harris returned a Doege interception 46 yards to put the game away.

"I knew when my time came, I had to go out there and make plays," said Shannon, who attended Dallas Skyline High School and grew up near the Cotton Bowl. "When the coaches put me out there, I was ready."

The big question on defense going into the Red River Rivalry this weekend is, who plays more against Texas, the seasoned Wort or the speedy Shannon?

Wort is one of OU's most veteran defenders, compiling 25 starts and 154 career tackles. But Wort, who was unavailable to the media on Monday because of an academic commitment, has struggled covering receivers from the middle.

On a critical fourth-quarter third-and-11 against Kansas State, Wort allowed receiver Tramaine Thompson to cut across the field unscathed for a first down, allowing the Wildcats to run out the clock and seal a 24-19 victory.

Then on the Red Raiders' opening touchdown drive, Doege completed a pair of passes on Wort, prompting the Sooners to later make a change. A change that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops indicated Monday was only temporary.

"Frank played exceptionally well and certainly continues to earn more playing time," Stoops said. "But as of right now Tom is our starter and we just want to bring Frank along and give him more snaps."

Stoops, however, conceded that Wort's linebacking style doesn't always fit against Big 12 attacks.

"That's a really accurate statement, because of the spread offenses," Stoops said. "He's built for more downhill -- a big, physical linebacker.

"But we're going to see a lot of that in this week's preparation, too. Texas can run at you and they're going to try and wear you down, too. I think that's right up Tom's alley, as well."

Wort figures to remain a big part of the defense going forward. But after Saturday's performance, so too will Shannon.

"The guy is going to be good," McFarland said. "Guy is going to be flat-out good."