This is a unit that will draw a lot of attention as this team heads into 2012, but that will really be non different than any other year. The offensive line determines so much about what this offense is capable of accomplishing that it's only natural they take up a good deal of the spotlight. It's a unit that loses arguably it's most important position player in LT Donald Stephenson and will also lose reserve guard Stephen Good, but aside from those two (unless you want to count Jarvis Jones who may or may not have quit) the entire collective unit, both starters and reserves, returns intact. While Stephenson has been a solid player these last two years, it's not as if he is a projected 1st round left tackle so his loss won't be absolutely devastating. Now that said, while they will have talented candidates to replace him none will have much experience and anytime you project to have a untested left tackle protecting your QB's blind side it has to cause at least some concern.
I'll admit, a couple of those are wishful thinking on my part but first we'll start in the same order we listed them. Thompson will be a RS SO who will have never taken a meaningful snap in a game if he can win the starting job as we're projecting. He's a guy who the coaches have been very complimentary of in the past and I'd suspect was getting considerable practice time in these bowl practices in recent weeks, but still this is exactly what I was talking about before with a totally untested guy at left tackle.
I suspect some of you might be surprised to not see Adam Shead's name at left guard given how dominant he was there this past season. And this is one of the guys I was referring to with my 'wishful thinking' comment. As great as Shead was this past year, I just cannot see a scenario where he bumps Ikard out of the starting lineup. The coaches love him (Ikard) way too much to move him to a reserve role and for that reason alone I have him as the starter at LG. Now don't take that to mean I think he's undeserving of the spot, but as good as he can be he's never shown the kind of dominance that Shead displayed.
Habern is an obvious no-brainer and will enter his senior season as a four year starter which, at Oklahoma, is certainly no small feat. Not much more you can say about a guy who has been this consistent during his time in Norman and that's not a bad thing. The guy is someone you know you can count on and at center that is absolutely invaluable. I do not look forward to putting this together at this time next year and trying to project who will replace him after he graduates.
With Shead at right guard, again this is my wishful thinking IMO. And I say that because the normal "starter" at that spot, Tyler Evans, will be back, and he's a multi-year starter, and a senior. And that's a recipie for keeping the incumbent ahead on the depth chart that these OU coaches have shown in the past to use pretty regularly. So my wishful thinking comes in with the hope that these coaches cannot be so stupid as to keep a guy like Shead off the field or in a reserve role.
Another wishful spot IMO in that the coaches are so clearly in love with Lane Johnson that even after Daryl Williams won the starting job this summer, after getting hurt against Tulsa in the opener, he was never able to win that job back. I would be more than willing to admit I'm wrong, but I'm of the opinion that Williams is a better right tackle that Johnson. Williams has likely been playing o-line most of his life while Johnson just finished his first year there. Ever. Of all the ones I "took a chance" on I'd say this is the least likely of happening. I think they'll split Johnson and Williams for most of the year though I've never really understood why they do that.
Both Farniok and Dismuke redshirted this past year and were members of the 2011 class. Farniok is a mountain of a man (6'9" 325 lbs) and will remind OU fans of Phil Loadholt. There hasn't been a ton of progress reports on him this year, but of the little that has come out he's reportedly shown better than expected footwork. Which for a guy that size is huge and was an issue at times for Loadholt as I'm sure OU fans will also remember. If Farniok can get his hands on his defender then it's game over, but if the defender can get him off balance then he's in trouble. And that's where his footwork comes in, so to hear positive reports this early is a promising sign.
Dismuke was a guy who always projected as a guard, but he's currently listed as a tackle on the official roster. I'm not sure if that's just a typo or not, but at 6'7" 299 pounds if he is a tackle he's most likely a right tackle. And with both Johnson and Williams ahead of him, it's not likely he'd see the field next year barring injuries.
Marrs is a verbal commit for 2012 and projects as a right tackle. He's a big kid at 6'6" 302 lbs out of high school, but he'll almost assuredly be a redshirt next year.
Kasitati is a guy with a world of potential and could eventually become a tackle, but for now is slotted into a guard spot. For some stupid reason he did play this past season (I believe only in the blowout game against Ball State), but the coaches may have lucked out as he later suffered an injury in practice and has applied for a medical redshirt. It's a fortunate one as this past season would have been a complete waste and one of the dumber decisions by this coaching staff to totally blow a year of eligibilty for a kid who has the ability and athleticism to possibly become a future NFL first round draft pick.
Irwin is a guy who will be entering his third year on campus and is a player you almost always hear positive reports about but don't see on the field very often for whatever reason. I would have to think next year being three years in that the coaches finally figure a way to get him on the field with that offensive line rotation they so frequently use.
John Michael McGee is another verbal commit for the 2012 class and has a very similar game to current Sooner Nation favorite Adam Shead. McGee plays with a mean streak and is actually athletic enough to even project as a possible tackle at some point.
Centers - Austin Woods, Ty Darlington
Woods is another guy who will have been on campus for three years at the start of next season and aside from being the long snapper on field goals and PATs, has really only seen the field as a reserve. Makes sense when you have a four year starter in Ben Habern in front of you, but with Habern's impending graduation after next season you'd hope the OU coaches start to work Woods in more often so they're not looking at a totally untested man in the middle of the line heading into 2012.
Darlington continues the somewhat odd string of elite center recruits that the Sooners have been able to string together almost since Bob Stoops arrived. As most of you probably know, center is not an easy position to recruit and yet OU almost always seems to bring in one of the top rated guys. Darlington is no exception obviously as he's rated as the #1 center for the class of 2012. With Habern and Woods in front of him, he's almost assured of a redshirt but I'd fully expect him to compete for that starting spot in 2013.
So that wraps things up for our position by position preview of 2012 and I thought it would be helpful to kind of summarize things with an offensive recap of sorts here in the next day or two. I think it will help accomplish my goal in all of this which was to give a hard look at where this team might be, on both sides of the ball, as we get ready to head into 2012. So look for that in the coming days and then we'll switch over to the defensive side of the ball as we continue our 2012 preview series.