Sooners move on without defensive leader

Travis Lewis was hopeful. He felt confident he could make the doctors look silly and defy his diagnosis, returning to the the field five weeks after a broken bone in his left foot was expected to sideline him for eight weeks.

On Monday, he was forced to deal with a heavy dose of reality. When Oklahoma takes on Florida State on Saturday night, it will do so without its loudest voice and biggest leader, the senior linebacker.

"Won't be playing this week . . Still another week away. Sorry sooner fans," Lewis tweeted on Monday.

Oklahoma, though, doesn't have a choice. It has to move on and try to beat the No. 5 Seminoles on their home field in Tallahassee without the player that has led the Sooners in tackles for all three of his seasons on the field.

"We’ve got to deal with challenges, but once he’s back, he’ll be welcomed," said linebacker Tom Wort.

Wort is a first-year starter, but without Lewis, he's charged with leading a young group of linebackers as the defense's quarterback.

"It was the first time I didn’t have anyone to rely on to make the calls," Wort said of Oklahoma's opener against Tulsa. "I just had to step up and make sure everyone was lined up."

Wort, and the rest of the linebackers are still responsible for those calls, but there's never any question about who is the defense's central voice.

"It’s something that you do at linebacker ever since you show up, so it wasn't a problem," Wort said. "When he’s there, I’ve still got to make calls and communicate the defense. As linebackers, that’s our job. So my role didn't change, just the fact that I didn't have anyone else really to help me out."

Lewis won't be on the field, but he's still clawing at ways to contribute. He spent Tuesday quizzing Wort on the defense's gameplan.

Physically, hyped sophomore Corey Nelson will fill Lewis' role as the starting weakside linebacker. In the 47-14 win over Tulsa he had three tackles, but more should be on the way.

"He graded out well and he made the plays he needed to make," Wort said. "He’s still trying to gain that experience, but I thought he did a great job."

Lewis is ahead of schedule, and the Sooners may have to go through the will-he-or-won't-he questions before next week's game against Missouri.

But this week? The Sooner linebackers will have to notch a victory in one of the season's biggest games without their biggest asset.

"I definitely miss having Travis out there, and though we want him back, we can make it," Wort said.