The Tulsa football team returned to the practice field on Monday with more energy and focus than in its previous workout.
The Golden Hurricane had Sunday off following its retreat at Dry Gulch USA Saturday afternoon. On Monday, Tulsa rebounded from its sluggish workout Saturday morning, pleasing the TU coaching staff.
"Night and day (difference). They brought it today, had great leadership," said Tulsa Head Coach Bill Blankenship. "The energy was really good. We have to improve execution. That's always going to be something we work on every day. But I'd bottle this up and take this any day."
Leading the way is senior three-year starter Shawn Jackson. A former high school quarterback, Jackson enters the 2013 season needing just two more sacks to tie the school record and three TFLs to tie that record. After missing the first three games a year ago, Jackson ended the season third on the team in tackles with 88 stops, 10.5 TFLs for -36 yards, five sacks for -25 yards, five passbreak-ups and three forced fumbles.
"Of course Shawn Jackson is our returning veteran. He was the most valuable defensive player in the Liberty Bowl game. We expect a lot out of him, as far as leadership on the field and helping train younger guys," said Defensive Coordinator Brent Guy.
Trent Martin saw a lot of playing time last year and started five games at the MIKE linebacker position. Martin totaled 37 tackles, including 25 solos.
"Shawn returns for his fourth year as a starter. He's really a playmaker. I think Trent's growth as the middle linebacker is the one that brings the glue to it. He's really learned how to play. He's helped himself physically. He's a much improved football player," said Blankenship.
JuniorsMitchell Osborne and Luke Snider are battling for the 'CANE position. Osborne had 40 tackles from his linebacker position a year ago, while Snider saw most of his playing time on special teams last season, but made the switch from safety to linebacker in the spring.
"At a Cane backer, the outside linebacker spot, we really like the athleticism that we're getting from Mitchell and Luke," said Blankenship. "Those guys playing in space are really good in terms of being quick and understanding what's going on and not getting into matchup issues."
"Donnell Hawkins and DeWitt (Jennings) are the other two inside linebackers immediately in the rotation that have done well," said Blankenship. "DeWitt's an experienced guy. He has played a lot of football since he's been here and Donnell was in the rotation at the Mike linebacker spot last year before he was injured."
"Those six guys are pretty darn good and we've got Jake Sizelove and some young ones behind them, like Connor Sherwood and Zik Asiegbu. Those guys are really playing fast. It's a great group," added Blankenship.
With a rather inexperienced and young front line the linebacker position may be under heavier pressure this year to make plays.
"It's going to be a challenge for us, because we know we're not quite as experienced up front and we're expecting things to get on us a little bit differently than they did a year ago. We're trying to anticipate that and be more aggressive with our style of play, and know that when it's time to make a play, the veteran linebackers are going to have to turn the tide for us. Whatever thesituation is -- create a turnover or go sack the quarterback -just understand that I have to step up and make plays," said Guy.
Tulsa has more young guys at linebacker who coaches hope to red-shirt this season.
"With our young guys, hopefully, we'll get to red-shirt all those guys. We have (Rob) Riederer, (Craig) Suits, (Jake) Hanks, (C.J.) Gooden and (Devin) Rolan," said Guy. "We have a bunch of guys that we can send down to the scout team group, red-shirt those guys and let them grow up, since we're a little bit older this year."