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OU football: Where does Caleb Kelly slot in among Sooners' linebackers after returning from injury?

Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto (11) celebrates after a sack against Iowa State in a 27-21 win for the Big 12 championship on Dec. 19 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto (11) celebrates after a sack against Iowa State in a 27-21 win for the Big 12 championship on Dec. 19 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

NORMAN — OU’s linebacking corps entered 2020 with plenty of questions and a massive hole to fill after Kenneth Murray made the leap to the NFL.

But like the rest of the Sooners defense, plenty of players answered the bell and turned the unit into a group that held its own in 2020.

The Oklahoman’s series of position looks at the Sooners continues with a look at OU’s linebackers in 2021:

Season rewind: In a season of breakout stars on the defense, it’s hard to put any ahead of Nik Bonitto. In the rush linebacker spot that is critical to Alex Grinch’s defense, Bonitto was second on the team with eight sacks and tied for second with 10.5 sacks for loss in 2020. Brian Asamoah broke into the starting lineup to lead OU in tackles with 66 this season, with a pair of sacks, five quarterback hurries and 5.5 tackles for loss. Asamoah was pushed by David Ugwoegbu, who came off a promising freshman season to become an even bigger part of the defense in his second year, including making a memorable interception in Bedlam where he dove after his own batted pass to pick off Spencer Sanders.

Who’s in: *-Caleb Kelly, Clayton Smith, Danny Stutsman (*-Kelly missed the 2020 season due to injury)

Who’s out: None

The take: The group returns intact but it’s not easy to fill out the projected depth chart there, outside of Bonitto at the rush spot.

Ugwoegbu pushed for more playing time and spent time both at the middle linebacker spot and weakside spot, making three starts overall in 2020, and he can play both moving forward. DaShaun White, who has started 24 games and played in 39 over the past three seasons, isn’t likely to give up his middle linebacker spot easily and that could be a battle that goes down to the wire, though both figure to see significant playing time.

Caleb Kelly, one of the leaders of not only the defense but of the team, returns for his sixth season after missing all of last season with his second knee injury in as many seasons. When he returned from missing much of 2019 with his first injury, Kelly was playing perhaps the best football of his career. He’s played several spots but figures to slot in on the weakside, where he’ll battle Asamoah for playing time.

Two other players who were freshmen, Shane Whitter and Brynden Walker, were on the field at critical times for the Sooners in 2020 and figure to continue to get their chances. Two newcomers join the group too. Clayton Smith was the highest-rated defensive signee in OU’s 2021 class and is likely to slot in at the rush spot behind Bonitto. Danny Stutsman is a guy that Grinch calls “explosive” and raved about his measurables as well. He figures to get a chance to compete for a role in a group that could be pretty deep for the Sooners in 2021.

Projected depth chart


David Ugwoegbu, So, 6-4, 251

DaShaun White, Jr., 6-0, 227

Shane Whitter, Fr., 6-0, 230


Brian Asamoah, RSo., 6-1, 230

Caleb Kelly, RSr., 6-3, 232

Danny Stutsman, Fr., 6-3, 205

Rush LB

Nik Bonitto, RSo., 6-3, 238

Clayton Smith, Fr., 6-4, 220

Bryden Walker, Fr., 6-2, 251

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 ›