Big 12: Oklahoma practice 090812

Freshman LB growing in OU defense

August, 13, 2009
8/13/09
7:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- One of the biggest surprises in Oklahoma's early practices has been freshman linebacker Tom Wort, who has emerged as an immediate contributor for the Sooners defense.

Wort has one of the most interesting backgrounds of any incoming Big 12 player. He grew up in England before moving to America and moving to Rhode Island when he was in the eighth grade.

His family eventually settled in New Braunfels, Texas -- about 30 miles north of San Antonio.

His progression is particularly notable because he's only been playing American football for six years. Recruiters were captivated by his 4.4 speed in the 40 and his raw athleticism. The Sooners beat out LSU, USC and Florida for the commitment of the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder.

But he's quickly turning heads in his short time with the Sooners.

"He's probably the best freshman linebacker I've seen since I've been here," senior middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds said. 

Wort's instincts have melded quickly into the Sooners' defensive philosophy.

"He's picking up the defense quickly and he's not afraid to hit," Reynolds said. "Some guys come in here intimidated by the big offensive line compared to high school. But not Wort. He just goes at it full-speed every day."

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said that Wort has benefitted from playing with veteran players like Reynolds and Travis Lewis who have provided him with quality role models in his growth in Oklahoma's defense.

"Tom is going to be all right, he's a real good player," McCoy said. "As far as being an athlete and a linebacker, he's got it. He just needs some more experience."

Like all of the Oklahoma incoming freshmen, Wort has been unavailable for interviews. But I look for him to make an immediate contribution once the season begins on special teams and in situational packages.

I'm also interested to see how pronounced -- if any -- his English accent will be.

Who would have ever imagined a Cockney dialect in the Big 12?

New OU safeties thriving in starting roles

August, 12, 2009
8/12/09
11:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. --   The biggest question mark about Oklahoma's defense will be the addition of two new safeties -- the only new starters on the Sooners' defense.

Strong safety Nic Harris and free safety Lendy Holmes provided a certain level of comfort when they combined for 164 tackles, six interceptions and 10 deflected passes. Harris was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and Holmes was a second-team choice.

Both are now gone. But despite that glaring hole, their teammates say that are comfortable about their replacements.

Junior Quinton Carter has been a revelation at strong safety with a physical presence that belies his 6-foot-2, 192-pound stature that is small for his position.

Carter's devastating hit against Missouri's Jeremy Maclin in last season's Big 12 championship already earned him a lot of notoriety around the league. But he's progressing past merely a reputation as a hitter into a heady producer who has the confidence of his teammates.

"We don't consider Q a new guy," Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks said. "He's been back there three or four years and knows our system. He's also started for us for a few games and we didn't miss a beat."

Sophomore Sam Proctor has the edge at free safety in the only new starters on the Oklahoma defense. Their experiences have brought a comfort level to the Sooners' defense as they continue preseason practice.

Franks said that he would change his coverage if he didn't trust his help from his safeties. But the progression of Carter and Proctor enable him to play with abandon in the secondary, he says.

"It would make you afraid to jump a lot of routes, but knowing you have a veteran guy like Q or Proctor lets you play a little differently," Franks said. "They've been in the system and we know they can play. A lot of fans might not know if they play, but we know it. We trust them. It gives me or Brian (senior cornerback Brian Jackson) confidence to take a chance and jump a route. Having them makes it a lot easier for our corners."

Sooners see tight battle for DE

August, 12, 2009
8/12/09
11:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

NORMAN, Okla. -- Extreme competition at defensive end is keeping Oklahoma players on their toes throughout practice.

Senior Auston English, junior Jeremy Beal, redshirt freshman R.J. Washington and sophomore Frank Alexander all are involved in a close battle for playing time that has raged since the Sooners' first fall preseason practice.

Oklahoma defensive ends coach Jackie Shipp said that Beal is the only player who assured himself of a starting position after the first week of preseason practice.

"It's still really a battle for the first three guys," Shipp said. "Frank is coming on and playing well and R.J. is stepping out. But Jeremy Beal is standing out well."

English was an All-Big 12 defensive end in 2007 before he was hampered with injuries last season. Beal played well on the other side in 2008, leading the team with 8½ sacks.

"Austin and Frank are still competing for the starting job," Shipp said. "The competition is really stiff for us."

The Sooners racked up 42 sacks last season to tie for third among FBS teams last season. The additional depth should give Oklahoma an edge against offensive lines that will have to match perhaps the nation's deepest rotation of potential pass-rushing treats.

"It's good for us because we keep each other going every day,"Alexander said. "We know if we don't compete, we won't play. That makes us approach every play like we have something to prove."

The deep collection of defensive ends might be one of the Sooners' biggest strengths. And it's also making for some spirited work throughout the drudgery of two-a-day practices.

"All of us know we're capable of playing," Alexander said. "We've got to approach every practice and do what we can do because we know that anybody can take our spot if we don't come out and play hard."

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