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OU football: With two key defensive injuries, where do Sooners go from here?

NORMAN — Caleb Kelly had a rough 2018 season.

At one point, it looked like the one-time five-star prospect would redshirt before he returned to the linebacker lineup late in the season after a position change.

Jordan Kelley didn’t have much of a freshman season, playing in just two games as he redshirted.

Both were expected to play key roles in 2019 in Alex Grinch’s new-look Sooners defense.

But late in the week, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley announced that both had suffered knee injuries that will keep them out for an extended period of time.

It was reported that both suffered anterior cruciate ligament tears.

Kelley has already undergone surgery while Kelly will have surgery in the near future.

Both are likely to miss the 2019 season.

So where do the Sooners go at both of their spots?

Kelly’s injury presents the most pressing issue as late in the year he became a valuable piece at the strongside spot before moving back to the weakside in Grinch’s scheme.

At the forefront to take over Kelly’s reps would appear to be sophomore DaShaun White, who played in 14 games last season.

While White could conceivably move, it could also mean middle linebacker Kenneth Murray bumps to the weakside in a more natural position for him, with White taking over the duties in the middle.

White said recently that things were starting to get easier for him as he works in Grinch’s defense.

“I think things are finally getting to the point where people — especially on the defensive side — a lot of things are slowing down and people are getting to play freely.” White said. “I know I feel that way.”

Other possibilities to see additional playing time after Kelly’s injury are redshirt sophomore Levi Draper, who was primarily a special teams player last year, and walk-on linebacker Bryan Mead.

Mead has played in 27 games over the last two seasons, spending last season as Curtis Bolton’s backup at the weakside spot.

“He’s a very intellectual kid and he’s going to get lined up and he’s going to know his spot,” inside linebackers coach Brian Odom said of Mead. “He’s going to play extremely hard.”

Kelley’s loss was a bit less damaging on the surface, though he was expected to play a role behind Neville Gallimore in the Sooners’ defensive front.

“He’s just figuring it out,” defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux said recently. “I think you will see a lot of him next year.”

But the depth after Gallimore isn’t great for Oklahoma at that position, with Gallimore, Marquise Overton and Dillon Faamatau the only defensive tackles with much experience.

Troy James played in nine games last year but was primarily a special teams player or a fullback on offense, while a player like defensive end Tyreece Lott (6-foot-2, 301 pounds) could be asked to slide inside some to help with the interior defensive line depth.

Ryan Aber

Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The... Read more ›