Oklahoma dealing with setback at linebacker position
NORMAN, Okla. - It appears Frank Shannon will be suspended for the season which will leave the Sooners without their leading tackler from a year ago.
The result means another setback at linebacker for the second year in a row. Last season, Oklahoma lost senior Corey Nelson to an injury right before the Texas game.
This year? Who knows. Here are a pair of scenarios for what could happen at the linebacker spot for 2014:
1. Best-case scenario
Dominique Alexander had an outstanding season as a freshman a year ago, but he becomes even better this year. The Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year becomes the Sooners leading tackler and one of the best linebackers in the country.
Meanwhile, Eric Striker, one of the best players on the team last year at outside linebacker, becomes known as one of the best hitters in the country. He excelled in the Sugar Bowl, but in 2014 becomes the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12.
Jordan Evans, only a sophomore, steps in for Shannon at middle linebacker and picks up right where he left off in the spring game. Evans played well against Texas Tech when Shannon was hurt a year ago and has no problem doing the same in a consistent manner.
Evans is the most-affected by the Shannon departure. He played eight games last year as a freshman and had 12 tackles. This season, Evans puts together 100 tackles and frees up Striker and Alexander for monster seasons.
2. Worst-case scenario
The Sooners become dangerously thin at linebacker and are one injury away from playing someone with little-to-no-experience.
Evans had an ankle injury in 2013 and doesn't fully recover in 2014, limiting his exceptional athletic skills, while Striker and Alexander are not able to continue what they started a year ago.
With Shannon out for the season, teams pick on Evans and avoid Stiker, putting more pressure on the sophomore middle linebacker. The Sooners gave up 137 yards rushing in 2013, but if someone gets hurt at linebacker in 2014, the defensive line will have a hard time making up for it. Watch the opposing team's rushing numbers go up if that happens.
The secondary is what suffers. If you lose your middle linebacker, it means more weight on the back end of the defense, which is OU's least-experienced area as the Sooners would have to play fewer linebackers and another defensive back. Passing teams could definitely take advantage of that.
3. What likely will happen
Remember, the OU defense played well a season ago when most thought it would be a major issue. Instead, the defensive line became established with Charles Tapper and Geneo Grissom having exceptional seasons.
If the defensive line can play at the same level - or possibly better - which is a likely outcome, the pressure is way off of the linebacker position. And if the defensive line does its job, Striker will be one of the most-known names in college football this year, freed up knowing he can come off the edge without fear.
Shannon is a big loss, but the Sooners have decent experience at linebacker. Evans, despite getting hurt, which kept him out of several games, has played real downs in real games. Alexander was a star as a freshman and behind the starters are guys like Aaron Franklin and P.L. Lindley, aren't totally established, but they have played.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK