Inside Linebackers or Receivers: What’s concerning?

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The other day I tweeted a poll in regards to two major questions for the Sooners impending Fall Crusade: Were people more concerned with Oklahoma’s inside linebackers, or the wide receivers? Here are the results–

What’s interesting is that the national media stresses the point of Oklahoma losing a hefty portion of their receiving corps, but Sooner Nation is more concerned with the play of the linebackers. Let me take a guess:

Wide Receivers: The people trust Lincoln Riley– and honestly he hasn’t given Sooner fans a reason to think otherwise. Oklahomans understand that LR’s best asset is to tailor his offense and production to the personnel he has, something he’s shown since he was coaching for the Pirates at East Carolina. Also, the Sooners return a top-5 offensive line in the NCAA with plenty of depth to go with it; having a substantial run game and pass protection will take quite a bit of pressure off of Mayfield and his receivers. Any Receiver will tell you that they’d rather have a great offensive line than a “good” quarterback because after a mere three-four seconds of action, the play has officially out-run its timing and then turns into schoolyard football— that gives the offensive players the advantage.

Jeff Badet, Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Jeff Mead, Ceedee Lamb, Nick Basquine, Mykel Jones, & AD Miller are all names to keep an eye on. It doesn’t take one very long to understand that the above list is roughly the entire receiving corps, but many guys are primed for slated roles in the offense. Oklahoma may not have a superstar receiver, but in Riley’s offense, if you can stretch the field in any capacity while threatening with a run game, it’s not hard to put up points.

Inside Linebackers: The position in general has been questionable since Dom Alexander decided to go to the NFL earlier than expected. Jordan Evans was incredibly impactful during the second half of the Sooners’ run in 2016-17— that being said, many of us saw how important the ILB position was when Evans wasn’t playing at a high level early on in 2016. One would assume that Riley is going to roll out Jon Michael Terry and Emmanuel Beal as inside linebackers, but Freshman Kenneth Murray is a physical freak that doesn’t look like a first-year player on campus.

Let’s keep in mind that the MLB or ILB is an essential “quarterback” of the defense because he has so many duties: He must defend the pass in space over the middle, he must be able to fill a gap and run stop, he must direct traffic towards other parts of the defense, and he must make sure other linebackers and linemen are lined up correctly in order to defend at a higher level— complicate that with the Big XII and its no-huddle offenses moving at a rapid pace. So, instead of an upperclassman making the calls, Riley handing the keys to JMT, a redshirt freshman, may be concerning. Also, not to mention that Emmanuel Beal is quite a bit undersized in both height and weight. JMT is 6’2, 246 lbs and Beal is 6′, 214 lbs. It makes sense why Oklahoma fans are more concerned with the inside linebackers than anything else and I tend to agree.

In sum, the boys in Norman have quite an opportunity to be special. If Riley and Mayfield can find rhythm with the offense and put up points, it’ll be on the improved defense to truly make the Sooners contenders. Can the tandem of JMT and Emmanuel Beal be successful enough to snuff out opposing offenses and what playcallers throw at them? We’ll see.

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