Bummer Sooner - Oklahoma reportedly loses star LB to knee injury

Dec 29, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Caleb Kelly (19) tackles Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (11) during the first half of the 2018 Orange Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

After losing Kenneth Murray to the first round of the NFL draft this past spring, the Oklahoma Sooners were hopeful they'd have a star returning at linebacker in redshirt senior Caleb Kelly. 

Instead, it appears possible that Kelly's college career could be over as the 6-2, 230 pounder reportedly suffered a potentially major knee injury during Monday's practice. 

If the injury does prove to be serious, it could be a devastating blow to a player once thought to be a future early round NFL draft pick. 

That is because he missed the first 10 games of last season with a knee injury suffered the previous spring, as well, meaning that Kelly could be hoping to be drafted into the NFL after playing a total of just four games over the past two seasons. 

Prior to the injuries, Kelly showed flashes of becoming the difference-making presence recruiters expected out of him when he signed with the Sooners as a consensus five-star recruit.  

He played in 11 games as a true freshman, starting the final six contests and finishing the year with 36 tackles, including three for loss and a sack. Kelly stood out against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl that year, registering a then-career high 12 tackles, including one for loss in the Sooners' 35-19 win. 

His best season in Norman came a year later, with Kelly earning Honorable Mention All-Big XII honors from conference coaches after starting 13 of 14 games. While his statistics weren't as gaudy, perhaps, as some of the other linebackers across the country, his ability to create big plays stood out. Kelly registered 56 tackles on the season, including 3.5 for loss while also recording two forced fumbles, two fumbles recoveries and interception, taking one of the fumbles back for a touchdown against TCU in the Big XII title game. 

Kelly posted remarkably similar numbers in 2018 but did so only after landing a spot on the sidelines for much of the year. He played in 12 games but only started the final six, registering 61 tackles (fourth on the team) and again showing off his big play chops, returning a fumble for a touchdown against a conference opponent (West Virginia) for the second consecutive year. 

Rather than carry over that momentum into his senior season, Kelly's year was rocked when he suffered a knee injury April 4 during spring practices.  

He recovered in time to play in the Sooners' final four games last year, including the Peach Bowl loss to eventual national champion LSU but finished that contest with just a single assisted tackle and seven stops total on the year. 

Kelly may choose to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, which as noted by Parker Thune of AllSooners.com, Oklahoma has successfully done in the past.

When healthy, Kelly's awareness and range stand out on tape. He's physical at the point of attack, aggressively taking on would-be blockers and showing balance, power and proper technique as a wrap-up tackler. 

The potentially serious injury to Kelly - as well as to quarterback Tanner Mordecai - were tough news for head coach Lincoln Riley. 

One bit of positive news for Riley and his team, however, is the impressive success rate his Sooners have shown in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Riley explained the Sooners' strategies in today's Monday Morning Quarterback by Albert Breer.