NORMAN, Okla. -- During his first two seasons in crimson and cream, Corey Nelson has lined up all over the field for Oklahoma.
The junior has played linebacker, nickelback and defensive end for the Sooners, amassing 81 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 27 games (11 starts). Nelson has used his quickness, acceleration and athleticism to terrorize quarterbacks on blitzes and chase down running backs and slot receivers.
Despite his proven ability to adapt to different situations, Nelson was placed in unusual territory this spring. He focused on playing one position during OU's 15 spring practices, battling Joseph Ibiloye to replace Travis Lewis at weakside linebacker.
The weakside linebacker is a spotlight position in Oklahoma's defense and Nelson's playmaking ability makes him the perfect candidate to replace Lewis, a four-year starter who led the Sooners in tackles all four years.
"Being able to focus on one position allowed me to feel like a regular player," Nelson said. "I have to accept that and maintain that role."
But Nelson didn't make a seamless transition to the position this spring, even though he received the majority of the No. 2 reps at weakside linebacker during practice last season and even started at the position in Lewis' absence against Tulsa in the 2011 opener, finishing with three tackles.
"[He was] a little bit inconsistent," defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Nelson's spring performance. "But I thought that [the] last week [of spring practice] was a positive week for him."
It would seem like going from being a utility player to a locked-in role would be easier on the junior -- no more multiple positions with various defensive assignments -- yet it has taken time for Nelson to make the transition.
"It was kind of hard at first," Nelson said. "Last year, I played four or five positions and I was able to maintain that."
Nelson's struggles meant Ibiloye lined up with the first-team defense to open the spring game. Both players have the potential to help OU's defense this fall but Nelson has proven to be the better playmaker heading into 2012 with 34 more career tackles than Ibiloye in 12 fewer games played.
The Sooners will need him to be more than an effective player at Lewis' former spot, even though OU's defensive tackles could be playing a more active role up front. Nelson, along with Ibiloye, Tom Wort and Jaydan Bird will be counted on to slow opposing offense's running games from their linebacker spots, particularly with former defensive backs Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson lining up at nickelback as OU looks to get more pass coverage defenders on the field.
Even though he didn't have a dominating showing in the spring, Nelson sounds ready for the challenge of replacing Lewis in the fall.
"I feel like I'm ready," Nelson said. "I feel like I'll do very well at that position and be able to be a leader at that position."