COLUMN: Lewis' injury is a blow, but Sooners are in good hands
I realize what you must be thinking: It’s 2009, all over again.
When word broke Tuesday morning that senior linebacker Travis Lewis would miss eight weeks with a broken bone in his left foot, the comparisons to the upcoming season and what happened two years ago in Norman are, well, similar.
In 2009, OU was a top-five team with a Heisman-winning quarterback, a record-setting offense from the previous season and a defense good enough to allow the Sooners to make a serious run at the national title.
This year, the Sooners were voted the No. 1 team by the coaches’ preseason poll with a Heisman contender, a talented offense and a defense good enough to allow the Sooners to make a serious run at the national title.
Sooner fans are well aware of the outcome of the 2009 season. All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham’s college career ended before the first game of the season when he suffered a knee injury in practice. That, coupled with Sam Bradford’s eventual season-ending shoulder injury, left Oklahoma gasping for breath — and turning the page to wide-eyed freshman Landry Jones.
Although Jones showed flashes of brilliance that year, the Sooners were never the same and stumbled their way through an 8-5 season.
So here we are, two years later.
But before you begin to hang your head and let the hope and excitement fizzle, consider this: Lewis’ injury, while a blow, is nothing like 2009.
Gresham’s preseason injury left OU with no suitable replacement. Tight ends went from a key player in Oklahoma’s offense in 2008 to an afterthought in 2009.
At linebacker, though, the Sooners have a highly touted blue-chip recruit ready to step in and replace the preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year.
“We’ve recruited very well and have some excellent athletes in those (linebacker) positions,” Stoops said in a statement regarding Lewis’ injury.
Specifically, the athlete Stoops is talking about is Corey Nelson.
Nelson, a sophomore from Dallas, is a player who OU’s coaching staff has been high on ever since he stepped foot on campus. He was even named the MVP of the spring.
During a spring press conference, Stoops said Nelson “looks like our best player on defense. In fact, it’s not even close.”
So, if Lewis had opted to forgo his senior season and head to the NFL, Nelson likely would have been the starter heading into this season. Coaches deemed Nelson so valuable, they were experimenting with ways to get him on the field this year.
Well, the experiment is over. Now it’s Nelson’s time.
Is that to say the Sooners won’t miss Lewis? Of course not. You don’t lose a player of that caliber and not suffer a step back. Lewis was the leader of the defense. No, Lewis still is the leader of the defense. Don’t expect a broken bone to keep him quiet. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables just gained a new assistant coach on the sidelines — don’t overlook that.
Sure, Venables would rather Lewis be his on-field assistant coach. But Nelson can keep the Sooners on track for the time being. And barring any complications, Lewis is expected to be back by early October — hopefully before the Sooners’ clash with Texas.
Oklahoma has the talent, depth and experience at most every position to overcome an eight-week loss of Lewis. The road matchup against Florida State just got tougher, and rightfully so, but the game is still winnable.
So get 2009 out of your mind. Unless, of course, Jones sprains his throwing shoulder after being driven to the ground by a Tulsa defender.
Then, you might have a case.
— Chris Lusk, journalism senior