Archive for the ‘ryan reynolds’ Category

Bad News out of Norman

August 21, 2009
What was once a position of major strength for the Sooners is growing increasingly thin.

Freshman sensation Tom Wort suffered a knee injury during a scrimmage tonight. Although details are scarce at the moment, coach Bob Stoops didn’t sound optimistic following practice.

In the short term, this is yet another blow to the middle linebacker spot for the Sooners. With Mike Balogun’s status with the NCAA looking dire, Wort was expected to provide depth behind likely starter Ryan Reynolds, who’s coming off his second major knee injury. Sophomore Austin Box filled in admirably at middle linebacker late in 2008, but he has had plenty of injury problems of his own throughout his time as a Sooner.
In the longer term, let’s hope this doesn’t hinder Wort’s development. The freshman early enrollee wasn’t being pushed into action out of necessity; the coaching staff had raved about Wort’s ability ever since he set foot on campus in the spring. He continued to wreak havoc all over the field in fall camp, looking like he would turn out to be just too good to keep on the sidelines this year.

Bummed for Balogun

August 15, 2009

Given that the NCAA cleared Oklahoma LB Mike “The Bricklayer” Balogun to play last season, today’s news that he has been declared ineligible is pretty stunning.

For those unfamiliar with Balogun’s background, the 25-year-old former construction worker came to Norman last season out of Lackawanna (Pa.) Community College. After graduating high school, where he was forced to quit football so that he could get a part-time job, Balogun played two seasons of “semi-pro” ball in Maryland. (Homerism was as surprised as you probably are right now to learn such a thing still exists.) Anyway, apparently NCAA rules mandate that college players lose a year of eligibility for every year they play semi-pro ball after their 21st birthday. The purpose of the rule? I have no idea.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that Balogun can continue to practice with the team until next Wednesday, at which point his status should be cleared up. However, coach Bob Stoops didn’t sound too confident: “We’re still hopeful that Mike will be eligible for this season, but we’ll have to see what happens over the coming days.”

Homerism has a soft spot for guys like Balogun. It’s tough not to admire someone who scraped and clawed his way out of a tough situation to achieve something great. Balogun brought that same blue-collar attitude with him to Norman, working his way up the depth chart as injuries felled the Sooners’ middle linebackers. By the end of the year, The Bricklayer found himself starting in the Big 12 and national title games.

This season, Balogun had been competing for the middle linebacker spot with senior Ryan Reynolds, last year’s first-stringer who’s coming off his second major knee injury, as well as sophomore Austin Box and true freshman Tom Wort. Although OU coach Bob Stoops’ decision to close the vast majority fall practices has choked off the flow of information coming out of fall camp, signs indicated Balogun would see meaningful playing time for the Sooners this season.

OU is fortunate that linebacker may be the deepest position on the 2009 team this season. The coaching staff seems to view Reynolds–one of defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ all-time favorites–as the odds-on choice to get the nod at middle linebacker. Box is expected to shift back to the middle after working some on the outside. He played extremely well in the middle last year when called into action. Plus, early enrollee Wort had a stellar spring and has carried that over into fall practice. He may turn out to be too good to keep off the field this year.

Still, Reynolds’ injury history makes the need for a solid backup or capable rotation pretty clear. At the short open session on Thursday, Balogun ran with the first-team defense, as Reynolds watched from the sidelines. Thinking back on the revolving door of players who saw action at middle linebacker for OU last year, the loss of The Bricklayer looms larger than you’d think for the Sooners.

2009 Oklahoma Season Preview: Linebackers

July 24, 2009

To paraphrase Marlo Stanfield, the biggest issue facing the Oklahoma linebacking corps in 2009 “sounds like one of those good problems.” Namely, how is defensive coordinator Brent Venables going to find enough time to keep all his young bucks happy?

Look at the middle spot. Ryan Reynolds returns after his promising 2008 campaign was cut short by a torn knee ligament. The fifth-year senior carries himself like Venables’ proxy on the field, calling the defenses and overseeing alignments. More than just his leadership, though, Reynolds had grown into the fearsome linebacker last season that he was projected to be as a five-star recruit. He was on pace for more than 110 tackles in ’08 before he went down, and his pass coverage had improved markedly. Although Reynolds is reportedly full speed heading into fall camp, can he stay healthy for a full season? Definitely, Maybe.
Sooner Nation seems to have latched on to the theory that Reynolds’ season-ending injury in the Red River Shootout doomed the Crimson and Cream, as OU lacked a capable backup and struggled to stop Colt McCoy and the Longhorn offense from that point on. By the end of the year, however, the reserves who had been pressed into action not only proved capable. They looked ready to challenge for the starting gig. Enid’s own Austin Box stepped in late in the season and played phenomenally, particularly in pass defense. When Box went down with a knee injury in the Sooners’ final regular season contest at Oklahoma State, OU turned to 25-year-old Mike “The Bricklayer” Balogun. The hard-hitting ex-construction worker gave a valiant effort in the national title game, logging six tackles.
Then, there’s the weak-side linebacker spot. Travis Lewis led OU in tackles as a redshirt freshman in ’08 with 144, earning Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and All-Big 12 first team honors. Lewis returns for his second season as a starter gunning for a spot on the All-American team and the Butkus Award. If all goes well this year, the San Antonio native could be headed to the NFL after the season.
Senior Keenan Clayton will man the strong-side linebacker position for the second season in a row. Early in his career, Clayton was billed as the next great Sooner safety–so good, in fact, that he started the first two games of his redshirt freshman season in 2006. Then, he disappeared for two years. When he re-surfaced in ’08, OU fans found out Clayton wasn’t the next great safety, but he was a pretty solid linebacker. Clayton’s background as a defensive back is a great asset for the Sooner D, as Venables can leave him on the field in passing and running situations. In a league loaded with spread offenses, that’s a huge benefit.

J.R. Bryant, a highly regarded recruit from Georgia by way of Garden City (Kan.) Community College, will be backing Clayton up. To be honest, the fact that Bryant didn’t make first team last year really surprised me. The OU staff brought in Bryant prior to ’08 to shore up a linebacking corps decimated by departures. With a year under his belt in the OU system, expect to see more of Bryant on the field this year, possibly as a pass rush specialist.

While the Sooners are already loaded with experience at linebacker, coach Bob Stoops and his staff may have a hard time keeping a duo of talented freshmen off the field this year. British import Tom Wort, an early enrollee, created a stir in spring practice with ferocious hits. There has even been talk he could see action at middle linebacker right away. Kansan Jaydan Bird wowed the staff as well, so much so that he earned a spot on the second string behind Lewis.
The combination of defensive linemen and linebackers in Norman give OU the best front seven in college football this season. As strong as the D-line is, the linebacking crew is the strongest unit on the team.