Young OU linebackers determined to contribute

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma's biggest defensive liability last season appears to have been bolstered by an influx of young players determined to start their careers early by meshing with the team.

A rash of injuries at linebacker left the Sooners scrambling for healthy bodies by the end of the season.

Those depth issues appear to have been alleviated with the addition of three key recruits who skipped their final semester in high school to start their college careers early.

Linebackers Tom Wort, Ronnell Lewis and Jaydan Bird all arrived determined to add depth -- the Sooners had four different starters at middle linebacker over the course of the last season.

Wort and Lewis have particularly interesting stories that have preceded them to college.

Wort, a 6-1, 210-pound linebacker from New Braunfels, Texas, was born in England and lived there until he turned 13. His earliest athletic exploits were on the soccer field.

That natural athletic ability reminds Oklahoma coaches of prototypical speedy linebackers like Teddy Lehman because of his speed and sideline-to-sideline tackling ability.

And Lewis, a 6-3, 220-pound linebacker from Dewar, Okla., was a standout two-way player who becomes only the second eight-man player to join up with the Sooners under Bob Stoops.

Despite Lewis' small-school classification, he rushed for 2,219 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. On defense he produced 156 tackles and 11 interceptions to showcase his ball-hawking abilities.

"All of them, Wort and Lewis and Bird, have been wonderful," Stoops said. "It's been our experience that there haven't been many (early-arriving freshmen) players who can handle what we ask during the winter conditioning. But these guys have fought through it and have made significant gains through the work so far. It's been exciting to see them do so well."

The linebacking trio are a part of a five-player early-arriving freshman group that started practice with the Sooners on Tuesday. Other early arrivals included quarterback Drew Allen and safety Javon Harris.

"They've all done great," Stoops said. "I'm really excited with this group."