Oklahoma Sooners: Bill Bedenbaugh
Gabe Ikard won’t be around to anchor Oklahoma’s offensive line for the first time in four years, but the overall depth and quality of the group could take the unit to new heights.
Injuries at the end of the season have sidelined guard Adam Shead and tackle Tyrus Thompson, both of whom have extensive playing experience, giving several younger linemen the opportunity to get additional practice snaps this spring.
“We’re missing a guy or two but we have some guys that have played a lot of football,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We have some backups that haven’t played a ton but have seen some action and they’re going to get a bulk of the work in spring ball. It’s an opportunity for them to grow and mature and prove they belong on the football field.”
Tackle Daryl Williams is the experienced veteran of the group and guards Nila Kasitati and Dionte Savage along with tackle Derek Farniok return after starting games in 2013. This spring is the chance for guys like tackles Sam Grant, after a recent move from tight end, and Josiah St. John to make an impression before six offensive line signees arrive this summer.
“I think we’re definitely light-years ahead of where we were last year,” junior center Ty Darlington said. “We’re getting to get a lot of guys reps, which is awesome -- a lot of guys that probably normally wouldn’t get reps are getting reps, and that’s good. I think we’re definitely making some progress.”
As the guy slated to replace Ikard, Darlington is clearly the man in the spotlight. He saw spot duty behind the All-American and three-time All-Big 12 interior lineman during his first two seasons on campus and is excited for the next step in his career.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “This is why I came here, to be able to step into a role. Gabe was great to me for two years. He really took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. He was a great friend on and off the field. Now he’s gone, and I’ve got to step up and fill that void as the center and in a leadership position. I’m excited for it.”
It went largely overlooked but Ikard was the main reason the Sooners could play musical chairs at quarterback n in 2013. The senior handled all the calls and brought a calm and consistent voice to the offense while Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson took turns behind center. It’s those areas where Ikard could be missed most.
But Darlington feels his mentorship under Ikard and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will pay off as he steps into the starting lineup.
“I’m more confident than I’ve ever been as far as just understanding the whole scheme of football,” Darlington said. “I learned so much in the past year with Coach [Bill] Bedenbaugh. I’m continuing to learn a lot more. From fronts to coverages and blitzes, we’re learning so much as a group. I feel like I’m definitely better than I’ve ever been as far as the mental part of the game.”
If Darlington can step in for Ikard without a letdown, the Sooners offensive line could cement its spot among the Big 12’s best for the second straight season and be the foundation of what might be a special season.
Here are the top 10 coaching hires of 2013 in the conference (Note: Since Texas Tech's entire staff was in its first season, the Red Raiders were excluded):
1. Glenn Spencer, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator: The OSU defense rose to another level during Spencer’s first season as defensive coordinator. The veteran coach, who had spent time as a defensive line coach and linebackers coach during his six seasons at OSU, took over the defense in 2013 and made it more aggressive and productive. OSU finished among the top 3 in the Big 12 in points allowed per game (21.6 points, 1st), yards per play (4.77, 2nd) , yards per rush (3.64, 3rd), third down conversion rate (31.4 percent, 1st) and yards per pass attempt (5.8, 1st). The Cowboys also forced a Big 12-best 33 turnovers, 11 more than they did in 2012.
3. Greg Robinson, Texas defensive coordinator: Robinson stepped in, replacing Manny Diaz, after the Longhorns' defense was embarrassed during the first two games of the 2013 season. The Longhorns defense didn’t transform into a dominant unit but Robinson stopped the bleeding after UT allowed 1,025 yards in its first two games. BYU and New Mexico State combined to averaged 2.48 points per drive. In UT’s final 11 games, opponents averaged 1.68 points per drive.
4. Bill Bedenbaugh, Oklahoma offensive line coach: The Sooners' first-year offensive line coach did a terrific job with a unit that was forced to shuffle around at various times this season. OU’s Sugar Bowl win was a great example of his impact as three of the five offensive linemen who started the game were making their first start in their career or first start at a new position. Guard Dionte Savage made his lone start of the season, right tackle Daryl Williams moved to left tackle and guard Bronson Irwin shifted to right tackle and held their own as the Sooners knocked off Alabama.
5. Larry Porter, Texas running backs coach: Porter did a good job with UT’s running backs during his lone season as the running backs coach. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray combined for 373 carries, 1,684 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Just as important, the duo lost zero fumbles despite carrying the rushing load. Porter helped a talented group of running backs to be productive and protect the ball during his short stint at UT.
7. Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator: Oklahoma State’s offense was still among the Big 12’s best under Yurcich, finishing among the top three in the conference in points scored (39.1 points, 2nd), yards (448.8, 3rd), yards per play (5.91, 3rd) and passing yards (278.85, 3rd). Yet the Cowboys took a clear step backward in a few categories. OSU dropped from third nationally (7.01) to No. 45 in yards per play (5.91) and dropped from tied for 24th nationally (46.2 percent) to No. 80 in third down conversion rate (38.8 percent). Yurcich’s first season as a Division I coordinator wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it was far from perfect.
8. Tony Gibson, WVU safeties: Gibson left Arizona to join the Mountaineers’ staff as the safeties coach before the 2013 season. Darwin Cook continued to be one of the most productive defensive backs in the Big 12 under Gibson, earning All-Big 12 honors with 74 tackles and four interceptions as a senior. With WVU's defensive coordinator position open, Gibson could be a good fit to take over that side of the football.
9. DeMontie Cross, TCU linebackers: The veteran coach with NFL experience helped the Horned Frogs' linebackers rank among the team's top tacklers. Junior Paul Dawson went from 14 tackles as a sophomore to a team-high 91 tackles in 2013. Marcus Mallet (70) and Jonathan Anderson (66) joined Dawson among the top four tacklers on the Horned Frogs defense during Cross' first season.
10. Lonnie Galloway, WVU receivers: The Mountaineers' quarterbacks had a rough year yet the receivers as a whole were fairly productive, with WVU finishing fourth in the Big 12 in receiving yards from its receivers (2,604). Five different Mountaineers receivers caught at least 20 passes, including Ronald Carswell and Mario Alford, who each averaged at least 20 yards per reception.
Starter/contributors: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Derek Farniok (Jr.)
Thompson started the first 11 games of the season before an injury forced him to miss OU’s final two games. He joined Williams to give OU a pair of quality bookend tackles and help the Sooners allow just 14 sacks in 13 games.
Farniok started against Oklahoma State and played in four games for OU as a sophomore. He’s still developing but should be a quality No. 3 tackle for the Sooners as a junior.
On the cusp: Josiah St. John (Jr.), Christian Daimler (RFr.)
A junior college signee in 2013, St. John didn’t have an immediate impact for the Sooners. OU will really need him to step up and provide depth at the tackle spot in 2014.
Daimler redshirted during his freshman season and should jump into the mix to provide depth behind Thompson and Williams this spring.
On the recruiting trail: None
The Sooners have four offensive linemen committed but none of them is an offensive tackle. The Sooners are in hot pursuit of several tackles prospects, including Utah pledge Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger), along with multiple junior college tackle prospects. OU will need to add one or two tackles to its commit list or shift some players around along its offensive line to set the position up for the future.
Overall Grade: A-
OU might have the best tackle duo in the Big 12 and could go four-deep at the position this fall. Yet the future doesn’t look as bright with Daimler as the lone underclassmen on the roster at tackle. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has some work to do but, at the same time, the future at the position could transform overnight with a position change or two.
Here are some priority spots for the Sooners to address in their 2014 class during the final two months of this recruiting cycle. Keep in mind, this list has everything to do with the young players on campus at each position, not necessarily the guys who are playing at that position each Saturday in 2013.
Offensive tackle: Derek Farniok and Christian Daimler are the lone underclassmen at offensive tackle. OU badly needs depth at the position and should be aiming to land at least two offensive tackle prospects in this class. If redshirt freshman tight end Sam Grant ends up at tackle, that would help the cause and lessen the urgency, but its a high priority position in this year's class. Worse yet, there doesn't seem to be a lot of hope at the position with top prospects mentioning OU on their lists. Finding a hidden gem in December could be the top priority for offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.
Defensive tackle: This position looks a lot better right now than it did a year ago with the early play of Jordan Phillips, a sophomore, and the emergence of Jordan Wade, a redshirt freshman. Nevertheless, there is no such thing as too many quality defensive tackles. The Sooners have one commit in Irving (Texas) Ranchview's Brandon Glenn, but that's not enough. OU needs to secure at least one more defensive tackle prospect to join Glenn and redshirting freshmen Matthew Romar and Charles Walker as the future at the position.
Linebacker: OU rallied to bring in two quality linebackers late in last year’s recruiting cycle with Alexander and Jordan Evans. Each committed to OU late in the process and became impact freshmen this fall. The Sooners need to supplement that duo with a least one more playmaker to join Allen (Texas) linebacker Tay Evans and Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta linebacker Curtis Bolton on their commit list. Several linebackers could be in play and keep in mind the Sooners did secure Alexander and Evans late in the process.
Running back: You can never have too many running backs. And OU loses three quality ball carriers in Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and the recently dismissed Damien Williams. Redshirt freshman Alex Ross has a good size/speed ratio, true freshman Keith Ford has terrific upside, and commitment Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) is a member of the ESPN 300. But the Sooners need to add another quality runner into the mix. Oakley (Calif.) Freedom running back Joe Mixon, No. 72 in the ESPN300, would be an outstanding addition to this class.
Receiver: Even though the Sooners seem to have some solid youngsters already on campus, they don't have a proven game-breaking receiver outside of Sterling Shepard returning in 2014. But, and this is critical, they can't just use a scholarship to bring in another guy. With Tulsa (Okla.) Union receiver Jeffery Mead and La Mirada (Calif.) receiver Dallis Todd already committed, receivers coach Jay Norvell should think elite receiver or bust. Norvell should join Mike Stoops in doing whatever it takes to land Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif/Central East), then fight for him to end up on the offensive side of the ball.
Sooners offensive line: This is why OU brought Bill Bedenbaugh in to coach its offensive line. The Sooners were stellar up front, as OU rushed for 212 yards and passed for 238 yards in the win. Quarterback Blake Bell was not sacked once and 40.5 percent of OU's rushes went for five yards or more against an Irish defensive front which stuffed OU during last season's 30-13 loss to the Irish at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Quarterback Blake Bell: For the second straight game, who could ask for more from Bell? In his first road start, the junior did not turn the ball over while completing 22 of 30 attempts for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 59 yards to bring the added threat of running the ball to the table. In addition he was 4 of 7 on third down for 68 yards including his 54-yard connection with Sterling Shepard.
Linebacker Frank Shannon: OU's linebackers are quickly becoming a strength on defense. Shannon had eight tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss and one interception. He joined Corey Nelson to become the first Sooners linebacking duo to intercept a pass in the same game since 2009.
Yet, that’s just about the only part that the Sooners have experienced major struggles with in the first two victories. Here’s a look at five stats that represent OU’s strong start in 2013.
Special teams expected points: 9.66. Even though the Sooners special teams have been a strength for the past few seasons, new special teams coach Jay Boulware still deserves a pat on the back. OU’s 9.66 special teams expected points added leads the Big 12 by a wide margin. The league average is 2.17. (Note: Here’s an explanation of ESPN.com’s expected points metric)
Expected points added on opponent pass plays: The Sooners lead the Big 12 in expected points added on opponent pass attempts and sacks at 28.99. OU has three new starters in the secondary with Zack Sanchez, Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes, but it looks even better than last season's group. The league average is 7.98.
Win probability added by defense and special teams: Don’t believe the Sooners are 2-0 thanks to their defense and special teams? OU leads the Big 12 in defense win probability added (0.56) and special teams win probability added (0.22). It’s helped OU overcome a league-worst minus-0.43 win probability added on Sooners’ passing plays.
Rushing yards per game: The Sooners lead the Big 12 with 310.5 rushing yards per game. OU wanted to become more physical and run the football better in Bill Bedenbaugh’s first season as offensive line coach. The Sooners are averaging 5.8 yards per carry through two games.
Points per drive allowed: OU ranks No. 4 nationally in points allowed per drive at 0.24. Wisconsin, which began the season with back-to-back shutout wins, is the lone team to play two games yet surrender less points per drive. OU’s defense entered the season with a chip on its shoulder and has been dominant in two games.
Interior lineman Jonathan Alvarez (Mesquite, Texas/Horn) verbally committed to Oklahoma and became the second offensive lineman to commit to the Sooners. A 6-foot-3, 305-pound guard, Alvarez is the team’s 14th overall pledge.
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The Sooners are off to a decent start as they look to put together a Top 25 group in the Class of 2014. OU, which currently sits at No. 20 in ESPN.com’s team class rankings, has 12 current commitments including five members of the ESPN300.
Here’s a closer look at the Sooners’ remaining needs, top current commits and key visit dates as the season approaches.
Remaining needs: Although the Sooners have commitments from Troy (Ohio) center Alex Dalton and Irving (Texas) Ranchview defensive tackle Brandon Glenn, the Sooners still have a lot of work to do to land some game changers in the trenches.
They’ve missed out on several offensive prospects, particularly TCU commit Ty Barrett (Dallas/Skyline), forcing the Sooners to go back to the drawing board at that position. But some key names remain on the wish list along the defensive front. OU would love to land Coppell (Texas) defensive end Solomon Thomas, No. 31 in the ESPN300, and the standout prospect has visited Norman several times.
Linebacker is also a position of need, despite the positive early signs from 2013 signees Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans. A pair of ESPN300 linebackers from the West Coast, Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra’s Dwight Williams and Los Angeles Salesian’s Jamardre Cobb, would be a dream duo for OU.
Headliners: Edmond (Okla.) Santa Fe quarterback Justice Hansen leads the way as the Sooners’ top ranked signee, ranked No. 97 in the ESPN300. He brings excellent size, intangibles and dual threat skills to the backfield. He’ll be surrounded by talented ESPN300 receiving targets when he arrives on campus with La Mirada (Calif.) receiver Dallis Todd, Tulsa (Okla.) Union tight end Carson Meier and Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain receiver/tight end Mark Andrews sitting next to him on OU’s commitment list.
Key remaining targets: If the Sooners don’t land Jenks (Okla.) safety Steven Parker, it will be a major blow to OU’s recruiting efforts. Parker has visited Norman several times and has developed a solid relationship with defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
Fresno (Calif.) Central East athlete Michiah Quick, No. 43 on the ESPN300, has two former teammates (Hatari Byrd, L.J. Moore) in the Sooners program and family living in Oklahoma. If the Sooners put on the full court press with him, and Oakley (Calif.) Freedom running back Joe Mixon, they could continue their California pipeline started in recent years.
Key date: Several top recruits, including Quick and Mixon, will be in Norman on Oct. 4 when the Sooners face TCU. It will be critical for the Sooners to knock their socks off during their visits and cap it off with a victory over the Horned Frogs if they hope to secure their signatures.
The 2015 offensive line prospect participated in the first two days of the Sooners’ three-day camp at the beginning of June. OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh clearly liked what they saw from the 6-foot-4, 290-pound prospect, offering Wariboko right after the camp concluded.
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“With all these early offers it’s hard to really get a true feel for a kid,” Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said last week.
"You just have to do what you believe in,” said Bedenbaugh, who can't comment about prospective recruits until they sign their National Letters of Intent. “You have to do research and you have to feel comfortable when you offer a kid that you’re going to take him. It doesn’t matter who else has offered him; if he has 100 offers but you don’t feel like he fits in then I wouldn’t offer him."
As the early offers pile up and the accolades come in for a recruit, college coaches such as Bedenbaugh have to deal with those outside forces impacting their pursuit of a player. The recruit could get frustrated by the lack of an offer or expect more attention because he’s highly regarded by recruiting experts.
Thus, Bedenbaugh focuses on putting together a class of offensive linemen that fit his system.
“In the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter who goes somewhere else,” Bedenbaugh said. “It matters the three to five that you get. You’re not taking the 30 top guys in the country, you’re taking the top three to five guys you think can fit into your system, can handle your coaching, can fit in your university and understand the beliefs of your head coach and position coach and what he stands for."
And those answers tend to emerge during thorough evaluations. But with the NCAA bylaws limiting interaction coaches and recruits, what can coaches like Bedenbaugh do to improve their evaluations? This is where social media -- which can be a blessing and a curse -- comes in handy.
“You can tell a lot about their personality,” Bedenbaugh said of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. “You can tell what’s important to them, you can tell the character he has, how he’s been brought up, what he’s thinking about, all those things. You can follow them and everything they post is there forever.”
Horror stories of recruits losing scholarships and opportunities due to their decisions on social media have become disturbingly common in recent years, yet those same sites can be a valuable asset to college coaches yearning for information about prospects with whom they’ve had minimal contact.
“That’s been the biggest change over the past few years,” Bedenbaugh said. “You can see what they’re tweeting about, what they’re putting on Facebook and get a feel for where their mind is.”
Following the second visit, he was sure OU was the place for him. But he still wasn’t going to rush his decision. He wanted to make the call when he felt ready.
On Friday morning, Dalton was ready. He called OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh to let him know he was pledging to the Sooners.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot here lately,” Dalton said. “There was nothing that really made me feel like I had to do it today, but I knew I wasn’t looking for anything else.”
Bedenbaugh tweeted on Friday morning he was going to be in Ohio for the day, and Dalton said Bedenbaugh spoke with his high school coach during the morning and everybody involved sensed the commitment coming.
Dalton announced a top three of OU, Indiana and Stanford in March following a busy spring break with trips to OU and Stanford. But after the second OU visit, it was more of a top one list than anything else. The Sooners were making their case, and Stanford had backed off a bit.
As the spring evaluation period continued, though, other schools made their push. Arkansas started to get in contact with him. Offers from Nebraska, Louisville and Virginia Tech came and interest from schools like Northwestern or Tennessee started to see what the interest was.
“I was open to go look at them, but I knew what I wanted,” Dalton said. “There wasn’t anything else I was looking for.”
Dalton said he had been messaging with Bedenbaugh on Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis and the relationship was only getting better with each day.
Dalton first forged his relationship with Bedenbaugh when Bedenbaugh was coaching at West Virginia. When Bedenbaugh made the move to OU, one of his first offers was to Dalton.
Dalton was comfortable with Bedenbaugh, but he had to make sure he was 100 percent sure OU met all of his requirements.
“I looked at the school itself for football,” Dalton said. “I thought about where I had the best chance to play. Where I fit in as a player and a person. The distance.
“Oklahoma is not too far away but far away enough for me to make it on my own. My family can visit and watch me play. It all worked out.”
Dalton is being recruited at center by the Sooners although he can also play offensive guard. Dalton is OU’s sixth overall commitment for the Class of 2014 and the second this week.
This is what OU fans were hoping for in getting Bedenbaugh as coach. OU’s first offensive lineman commit for the Class of 2013 came in December. This time around it is seven months earlier. And there is no doubting his commitment.
“I’m excited to have this process over,” Dalton said. “I know that if I would have waited longer, my mind wouldn’t have changed.”
"Recruiting is relationships," he said in February. "I know everybody says that but when you offer a kid you have to know everything about them, their coaches, their counselor, their family. And then understand who is going to be involved in the decision."
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Here’s a look at the winners and losers of spring for the Sooners:
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- The three things OU commit Todd looked for when deciding to pledge.
- OU's top tight end target gets to know his possible future position coach.
- OU's running back commit is still hearing from the Longhorns.
- A top in-state target couldn't stay at the spring game long, but he talked to Bob and Mike Stoops before the game.
- It was a full-court press on Saturday for a top Texas offensive tackle.
- The Sooners had a lineman from Wyoming at the spring game.
- Receivers coach Jay Norvell compares a Florida receiver to a former Sooners star.
- OU is in a good position with a 2015 in-state stud.
Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.
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BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET North Dakota State Iowa State 3:30 PM ET West Virginia 2 Alabama 7:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech 4 Oklahoma 7:00 PM ET Samford TCU 7:00 PM ET Central Arkansas Texas Tech 7:10 PM ET Stephen F. Austin 20 Kansas State 8:00 PM ET North Texas Texas 8:00 PM ET 1 Florida State Oklahoma State