NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma probably won't be able to replace fifth-year senior Ryan Reynolds' experience or leadership at middle linebacker. Keenan Clayton's speed (4.57 40-yard dash), as a safety-turned-linebacker won't come, either.
Now, the young players stepping into starting roles will try to showcase their irreplaceable attributes.
Junior Travis Lewis is the only returning starter, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables can't even guarantee that spot isn't up for grabs. Lewis was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, but had 109 tackles in 2009, 35 fewer than his total in 2008.
"I don’t necessarily have anybody [as a starter]. Maybe Travis," Venables said. "You’ve got to earn it on the field."
Ronnell Lewis, who you might remember from earlier today, is the headliner among a crop of linebackers fighting for playing time this spring. Redshirt freshman Tom Wort, No. 85 on the 2009 ESPNU 150, is returning from a torn ACL suffered last fall and isn't quite at 100 percent yet. Junior Austin Box is the most likely to get in the mix immediately, and has started six games in his first two seasons. Sophomore Daniel Franklin and another converted safety, Joseph Ibiloye, will battle for reps this spring while still working some at safety. Sophomore Jaydan Bird, a 6-foot-1, 227-pounder, could also find playing time with an impressive spring.
But where any of them end up playing is as big of a mystery as who's playing.
"We got guys playing everywhere," Venables said. "Box playing all three. Franklin all three; Ronnell's playing two, plus pass rush. Ibiloye has played Will and Sam [both outside linebacker positions]. Trying to see who it’s easy for and trying to develop depth. Try to get guys ready to play."
For Ronnell Lewis, who most likely figures to play inside, that's just fine. Of course, he hopes to start, but where he is on the field and the depth chart isn't of prime concern.
"Special teams, defense, coming in on defense, it doesn’t matter where I am," he said.