Red River Rivalry Week Begins Without Sooners LB Nelson
Oklahoma starting linebacker Corey Nelson might not play again this season, but the Sooners said Monday he'll continue to be a presence on the sidelines and in the locker room.
Nelson tore a pectoral muscle in No. 12 Oklahoma's 20-17 win over TCU on Saturday. Nelson is scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday, but Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Nelson is campaigning to delay the surgery, so he can be in Dallas when Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0 Big 12 Conference) plays Texas (3-2, 2-0) in the annual Red River Rivalry game this Saturday.
"I love him in that he's upbeat," Stoops said Monday during his weekly news conference. "He's disappointed, but he's still going to remain a leader. ... He wants to be out on the field coaching and be around the guys all week. You love it. He wants to remain in that leadership role and do all he can to help us.
"And he's even talking about possibly trying to get a redshirt year, being that he hasn't had one. We'll start going through that whole process with our administration. So we'll see where it leads. "
Nelson, a senior and one of the Sooners' defensive co-captains, is second on the team with 27 tackles. His play had been much improved this season and he scored on a 24-yard interception return in the first quarter of Oklahoma's 35-21 win at Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
Before the injury - which occurred while he was trying to sack TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin - Nelson was tied for the team lead in career games played (45) and was second on the team in career starts (27).
"Corey's a great leader and has been all year," Stoops said. "It's really been exciting to watch the way he's played to this point. He can continue to be a leader out on the field in coaching and helping and really demanding the players in practice that they perform and concentrate and focus the way we have been."
Freshman Dominique Alexander filled in for Nelson against TCU and Stoops said junior Aaron Franklin also should see more action with Nelson out. Alexander has played in every game this season, but was in the wrong place on a third-quarter play against Notre Dame, allowing Fighting Irish running back George Atkinson to run for an 80-yard touchdown.
"Guys are going to have to come in and step up, "cornerback Aaron Colvin said. Everyone is going to have to do a little extra. Corey is a great leader, a great player and a great individual. Although he won't be contributing on the field, he will still be around. I know his leadership will still be there. But at the same time, you can't really hide his talent (or) the passion that he brings to this defense."
Stoops said he was confident that either Alexander or Franklin - or, more likely, a combination of both - will be able to step in at Nelson's spot.
"Both those guys have excellent quickness and speed," Stoops said. "They've got the size. They're good football players."
Stoops said the Sooners will need to make sure Alexander and Franklin know the position, such as assignments on running plays, pass coverage responsibilities and understanding stunts and blitzes when they are called.
Nelson had been an every-down player, and that will change some - although not completely - with his replacement, Stoops said. Another starting linebacker, Frank Shannon, will assume more every-down duties.
"In some of our packages, yes, we'll probably leave Frank out there in certain instances were Corey would have been," Stoops said. "But Frank could do that and does it well. But that's something we'll tinker with through the week."
Nelson played a key role in making sure the Sooners lined up in proper defensive sets and that role also will have to be assumed by someone, most likely Shannon, along with secondary veterans like Colvin and Gabe Lynn.
"It feels like I'm somewhat obligated to do more things as a leader," Colvin said. "With him being gone, some other guys have to step up as well. One man can't do it. This whole defense will have to step up. He's still going to be out there with us. We're not losing him. He's going to help out. But at the same time, we're going to have to do things extra.