Sooners need healthy Tom Wort

Beset by 'fluke' injuries in 2011, OU middle linebacker aims for breakout season

Updated: August 22, 2012, 11:02 PM ET
By Jake Trotter | SoonerNation

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma middle linebacker Tom Wort has been injured so many times, sometimes people just assume he's hurt. Two weeks ago, his position coach suggested to reporters that Wort was less than 100 percent healthy, dealing with back, ankle and shoulder injuries.

At least Wort has a good sense of humor about it. This week, he taped a video with his arm in a sling and a patch over his eye.

"I've been told about injuries I don't even have," Wort said. "But I've been fine, full speed all camp."

[+] EnlargeTom Wort
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireDespite playing with nagging injuries last season, Tom Wort still had 71 tackles and two interceptions.
The Sooners sure hope he can stay that way. Because when Wort's been 100 percent, he's been tougher than a British bulldog. Just ask Florida State.

Against the fifth-ranked Seminoles last season, Wort finished with eight tackles, including 2.5 for loss, two sacks and an interception that snuffed out a potential Florida State scoring drive. Spearheaded by Wort, the Sooners held the Seminoles to two field goals and a fluky touchdown, knocked quarterback E.J. Manuel out of the game and escaped Tallahassee with a 23-13 victory.

"That was one of my favorite games," Wort said. "The awesome thing about it was that it was the first time my cousins had been to an American football game. And for me to play like that, it was special."

As the 2011 season wore on, however, Wort got worn down. He took a shot to his back in the Texas game that got worse and forced him to sit out the Texas Tech game two weeks later. He later suffered an ankle sprain that forced him out of the Texas A&M game after the first quarter. By then, Wort was no longer the player he was in Tallahassee.

"The injuries I got last year were not necessarily me playing a certain way -- it was from fluke accidents," said Wort, who also tore his ACL his freshman year. "When I hurt my ankle, I was trying to stand up and I had two players fall on me and I busted my ankle. So it's not because of how I'm playing, it's being unlucky. Even I get injured, I'm going to play through it. But I'm definitely hoping those injuries won't occur this year."

Linebackers coach Tim Kish said the Sooners have been giving Wort an "innings limit" this preseason -- similar to Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg -- to keep Wort fresh.

"He's a hundred miles an hour every play," Kish said. "But I'd rather have him going that way than the other thing. You see him flying sideline to sideline, that's what he's good at. He's got good angles chasing the ball to the perimeter. That's where a linebacker should be, around the ball all the time."

With four-year starter Travis Lewis gone, the Sooners especially need Wort healthy. Kish and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops have been leaning on Wort's experience this fall as the Sooners install a new defense.

"It's going to be more on me to make sure everyone is right," Wort said. "But it's something I'm ready to do."

The Sooners have developed depth behind Wort. Senior Jaydan Bird has played his share of football, mostly when Wort has been injured. Sophomore Frank Shannon has also emerged.

"Frank has come a long way this camp, more so than he has any other spring or fall before," Wort said. "I think there's going to be a place for him to contribute on this defense at some point."

But for the Sooners to contend this season, they're going to need Wort. And at as close to 100 percent as possible.

"Hopefully Tom has a little bit of good fortune and can stay healthy," Bob Stoops said. "And hopefully he will have a great year."