Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Position breakdown: Offensive line
By Jake Trotter
NORMAN. Okla. -- The players on the offensive line will be largely the same in 2013. The coach directing them will not.
One of the first moves Bob Stoops made after signing day was firing Bruce Kittle and James Patton and replacing them with Bill Bedenbaugh, who was formerly at West Virginia.
It remains to be seen whether senior guard Tyler Evans will return from his knee injury at full strength.
In Norman, Bedenbaugh gets a battle-tested offensive line with tons of experience across the board. Despite numerous injuries, the line hung tough and did an admirable job protecting quarterback Landry Jones, who was sacked just 15 times on 555 pass attempts.
Stoops hired Bedenbaugh, however, to instill a more physical presence up front, and, in turn, develop a more physical running attack. The Sooners rushed the ball effectively against lesser opponents. But against the likes of Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, the running game flatlined.
Bedenbaugh will have pieces to work with, including four returning starters and several key backups. Three-year starter Gabe Ikard headlines the group. Ikard has manned center the last two seasons, but it capable of playing guard in a pinch, too, which he did last season.
Flanking Ikard will be Bronson Irwin at right guard, and Adam Shead -- the Sooners hope -- at left guard. Shead, however, has been dealing with back issues since he got to college, and those issues got the best of him late in the season. Stoops has indicated Shead won’t need surgery, but at least if he did, the Sooners have other options at guard. The silver lining of Tyler Evans’ preseason season-ending knee injury last fall was that he would be back for 2013. Evans started at right guard for three seasons, and is expected to be at least a limited participant in spring ball. Same goes for Nila Kasitati, who was OU’s top reserve at guard after Evans went down until he too suffered a season-ending knee injury.
With so many players in the middle returning from injury, the Sooners plucked 340-pound guard Dionte Savage out of junior college for insurance purposes. OU also has promising rising sophomore Ty Darlington, who performed well down the stretch last season. The heir apparent at center, Darlington has proven capable should Ikard need a breather and should only improve with a year of offseason weightlifting.
The Sooners appear to be in good shape at tackle, too. Daryl Williams, who had an underrated season at right tackle, will likely swing to the left slide this year in place of Lane Johnson. Tyrus Thompson, who was solid filling in after Williams sprained his knee late last season, will begin the year as the starter at right tackle. OU went the juco route at tackle, too, signing four-star prospect Josiah St. John, who will facilitate competition and depth. Derek Farniok, who made good strides as OU’s fourth tackle last season, will again supply the Sooners with depth.