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Oklahoma Position Preview: Linebacker

Brent Venables will have plenty of options to play with as the Sooners pack in the numbers at linebacker.

After a decade at Clemson, Brent Venables’ defense is back in Norman.

And while Oklahoma fans are no doubt stoked to see their new head coach’s attention to detail return to the Oklahoma defense, OU’s slate of linebackers will have a new standard to live up to.

Plenty of experience returns to the linebacker corps with DaShaun White and David Ugwoegbu, but Venables and defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Ted Roof will ask all a lot more out of the Sooner ‘backers.

White, a three-year starter, brings 169 career tackles to the table, but he’ll be under the microscope at the heart of OU’s defense.

He’s never been the guy for Oklahoma, playing alongside the likes of Kenneth Murray, Ronnie Perkins and Nik Bonitto. But White returned to Norman specifically for the chance to learn under Venables, as coaching up linebackers has long been the specialty of the standout defensive coordinator.

While White is looking to take the next step during his fifth year at Oklahoma, Ugwoegbu is hoping to cash in on his talent and have a breakout season for the Sooners.

Ugwoegbu has 102 tackles and two sacks in just eight starts over the past three years, yet he’s determined to show this season that he’s a true linebacker as opposed to an undersized edge rusher.

Appalachian State transfer and son of OU’s defensive coordinator, T.D. Roof also transferred in, adding more experienced depth.

T.D. Roof arrives at Oklahoma after racking up 142 tackles and six sacks throughout his four-year career at Indiana, Georgia Tech and App State, and will be looking to carve out a role for himself in the rotation under his father’s guidance while taking advantage of his super senior season.

 2022 Oklahoma Position Previews

  • Tuesday: Running Back
  • Wednesday: Linebacker
  • Thursday: Offensive line
  • Friday: Defensive line
  • Saturday: Wide receiver
  • Sunday: Cornerback
  • Monday: Tight end
  • Tuesday: Safety/Nickel
  • Wednesday: Quarterback

A relatively fresh face could emerge at the top of the rotation as well. Danny Stutsman’s personality off the field raised expectations for his play on the field last year, and he lived up to the billing in albeit limited action.

Battling through an elbow injury and the normal seasoning process of a true freshman trying to earn snaps on the field, Stutsman recorded 38 tackles and a sack in 2021.

But Oklahoma fans got a peek into the future in the season finale. Battling Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, opt-outs allowed Stutsman to play a larger role at linebacker, and he shined with seven tackles, consistently finding the football to drag down Duck ball carriers.

Now a sophomore, an offseason of experience under Venables could unlock the talented linebacker’s full potential.

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Behind White and T.D. Roof at the heart of the defense could be a pair of untested talents.

True freshman Kobie McKinzie has the look of a big-time linebacker, but it may take some time for the first year player to digest the sheer size of Venables’ playbook and make an impact.

Joseph Wete could benefit from the change of coaching staff, as the redshirt junior has seen little action throughout his career in Norman as an outside linebacker but now could blossom on the inside.

Whoever the starters are, and however they line up, there's versatility throughout the group.

Last year, then-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch challenged Shane Whitter, and the Burlington, NC, product responded down the stretch.

Often touted as one of the more athletic bodies on the team, Whitter will have every chance to make plays in space as Venables and Ted Roof will allow him to cover plenty of ground sideline to sideline.

LB Preview

Sporting a completely different body type, Clayton Smith could finally get a run out this season.

The 6-foot-5, 228-pound redshirt freshman is lighter than Ugwoegbu, but could a bring a similar physicality to the second level of the OU defense.

True freshman Kip Lewis will be eager to take any other reps for the Sooners, as he joins McKinzie as the second of OU’s three talented new faces at linebacker.

Behind Stutsman, Sooner fans could see the third true freshman, Jaren Kanak, take some snaps. Another exciting athletic prospect, Kanak featured all over the field during OU’s Spring Game, including holding things down at the “cheetah” position.

The prospect of playing under Venables was too much for Kanak to pass up, as the Kansas native decommitted from Clemson to follow the defensive coordinator to Norman despite Venables’ early rebuff.

Marcus Stripling has spent his OU career trying to keep on weight at defensive end, but a move to outside linebacker could be the key to unlocking his best play. The Houston native has 20 career tackles and 4.5 sacks, and could feature prominently behind Stutsman if Kanak gets a majority of his playing time over at the cheetah.

Marcus Stripling Oklahoma vs Texas 2020

Marcus Stripling has shown his positional versatility over his Oklahoma career

Oklahoma high school product Brynden Walker could also see some action on the outside. Over the past two seasons, Walker has only made eight tackles, but the new coaching staff will bring a second life at Oklahoma for the former Bishop McGuinness star.