NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Oklahoma’s defensive coaches have an enviable situation at middle linebacker.
Last season, while Frank Shannon was serving a suspension, Jordan Evans stepped in and finished second on the team with 93 tackles. Shannon, a dynamic player who started every game in 2013 and led the team with 92 tackles, is back.
Both are good enough to make Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops hesitant to name a starter heading into next Saturday’s opener against Akron.
“Frank, he and Jordan are battling,” Stoops said. “Both guys will play and play a significant amount of football. It’s like all positions. The better depth you have, the more competition, the better the players play. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Evans welcomes the competition Shannon brings.
“Frank helps me and I help Frank,” Evans said. “At the end of the day, we want the best player out there. If I’m making him the best and he’s making me the best, that’s just best for the team. That’s how we see it.”
Evans understands the game better now. He was Shannon’s backup in 2013, then started every game last season and enters his junior season with a different attitude.
“It’s the best camp he’s ever had since he’s been here,” inside linebackers coach Tim Kish said. “This is the right time. It’s his third year in. I expect him to step up and raise the bar every day. He’s just becoming more familiar with his surroundings and has a better feel for the speed of the game. Fundamentals and technique have been his biggest improvements so far this camp.”
Evans suffered from mononucleosis last year during camp and weighed about 220 pounds, but now, he’s a stout 240. He’s a different guy than Shannon remembers.
“When I come back I looked at him and I said, ‘Dang, Jordan, how big are you?’ He was like, ‘250.’ What? We were about the same size when I came back,” Shannon said. “I was like, ‘God, dawg, you done caught up to me big time.’ His growth surprised me the most when I came back.”
Stoops said Evans has adjusted well to the added bulk.
“I think he feels comfortable, and he can move in it and play at the same speed he did when he was a little bit lighter,” Stoops said. “It’s not just having weight and size; you’ve got to be able to handle it and control it, and I think he finally feels comfortable controlling his body.”
Shannon worked out at the University of North Texas in Dallas during his suspension. He also has bulked up, and weighs 238 pounds. Some of his weight wasn’t the good kind, but he’s rounding his way back into shape.
Evans said Shannon has looked ready in practice.
“Obviously, he’s been out for a year and there is going to be some rust,” he said. “But Frank is a player. He is a good player, and we all know that. It just took him a couple of days and he’s back into it, full go.”
Shannon didn’t come back expecting a starting job to be handed to him.
“I figured it was going to take some work,” he said. “I couldn’t come back and just jump right in. I missed a lot of playing time and stuff. I knew I was going to have to come back and work hard and still show the coaches I could play and stuff.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .
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