This is probably the most maligned Sooner unit over the last three years and a collection of kids who return almost intact looking to build on an improved 2010 season. There is reason to believe returning four of five starters will help this unit gel into the powerful force Sooner fans are hoping for in 2011. The struggles at times last year in the run game were painfully obvious, i.e. the A&M game, but over the course of the season they did appear to improve in getting that push off the snap to allow the RBs to get those tough yards.
With Kevin Wilson accepting the head coaching gig at Indiana, there was a fear that he would take his good friend and OU offensive line coach James Patton with him. However, Patton chose to stay in Norman and will now be joined in coaching the o-line by the recently promoted Bruce Kittle. Patton will coach the interior guys, while Kittle with coach the tackles and tight ends. It's an interesting approach and one Stoops talked about in his press conference on Monday afternoon. He mentioned several reasons for the division of responsibility, but the primary one being it would allow each respective coach to focus on fewer guys allowing them to play closer attention to a smaller group of players. Mentioned above, the Sooners return four starters as well as plenty of young talent waiting in the wings.
After the jump, we'll get into all the "big uglies" as their affectionately referred to.
We'll start from left to right with the projected starters:
Donald Stephenson - Stephenson spent time last season at both left and right tackle in his first full season on the field. He was a kid who had some off the field issues preventing him from playing, but was always someone the coaches believed had a ton of talent. So it was nice to see him finally get the off-field stuff sorted out and find a spot along the line. There was some speculation that he would play 2011 on the right side, but for now he's projected to be the starting LT. At 6'5" 303 he's a little bit smaller than an prototypical NFL LT, but he's more of an athletic tackle who can pull on certain plays or get to the second level and flatten a LB. Above average in pass protection, could stand to get a little more nasty in run blocking duties.
Gabe Ikard - Like several of the spots along the line last year, Ikard split time with several other Sooners. He played very well at times, inconsistent at others which for a freshman is not unexpected. He was originally recruited as a TE, so he is still growing into a true guard. Being a little undersized, at times he can get overpowered by the larger DTs in the league. However, much like Stephenson his size works as an advantage when pulling on run plays and mobility in finding secondary blocks.
Ben Habern - A fixture along the Sooner front, Habern has been the most reliable offensive lineman over the past two years. He is the unquestioned leader of the unit and a guy the other lineman look to in order to get all the calls and adjustments (of which there are many with the scheme the Sooners run). There were some frightening hiccups with his snapping of the ball at unfortunate times during 2010, but it's not expected to be an issue that carries over into 2011. The push up the middle was a large part of the Sooners problem in 2010, so Habern has been vocal in his work to get bigger and stronger this offseason.
Tyler Evans - A very big, country strong, type of kid who played really well his freshman year in 2009, but struggled at times last year. He seems to have a similar problem to that of Stephen Good, where they tend to get over extended and lose their leverage. Both he and Good are more than strong enough to maul the guy across from them, but they just have to be more conscious of their footwork and improve upon their technique. Should be your typical road grating offensive guard, but will have to improve on the previous mentioned aspects of his game to reach that potential in 2011.
Jarvis Jones - By the end of last season, Jones was arguably playing better than any other OU offensive lineman. The former LSU transfer has really come into his own as a tackle and was thought to be a possible candidate to take the starting LT spot this season. Regardless of being projected as the starter on the right side, both he and Stephenson are interchangeable which is a major advantage for the Sooners. Should they have to, it's will be very comforting to know they have a guy at either spot that can simply slide over as opposed to bringing a less experienced player in off the bench.
So now we'll cover some of the reserves and names you might be more likely to hear in 2011.
Daryl Williams - Projected as the backup LT, Williams is a kid the coaches have praised while redshirting in 2010. Perhaps more importantly, his fellow teammates have also consistently mentioned his name as one for Sooner fans to keep an eye out for. A 6'4" 304 lb RS FR most definitely passes the eye test.
Stephen Good - The former five star recruit has yet to live up to expectations thus far, but looks to have a successful senior season. There were rumors after 2010 came to an end that he played through a painful back injury last year, which would help to explain some of his inconsistencies. Have to respect the kid for playing through it and hopefully he's had enough time this offseason to get healthy. If he's ever able to put it all together, he could be a dominant guard.
Bronson Irwin - Another youngster, just a sophomore, he did play last year but not extensively. He, along with both Ikard and Good, are all candidates for the LG spot. It could be a situation similar to what we saw last year where the coaches use a steady rotation of guys throughout the game.
Austin Woods - The backup to Habern at center, Woods also played last year although mainly on special teams as the field goal and extra point long snapper. He's a young guy, but at 6'4" 304 already bigger than Habern so if called upon he could be a capable replacement. Hopefully it won't come to that, but he's a guy the coaches can count on if need be.
Adam Shead - A 6'3" 316 lb redshirt freshman who is an absolute beast. He is the embodiment of the road grating lineman and a darkhorse candidate to grab one of the starting guard spots. If he gets his hands on his guy, it's all over.
Josh Aladenoye - A 6'5" 316 lb backup tackle who actually played in 12 games last year (primarily on special teams). He's also a guy the coaches have spoken highly of at times and a kid Coach Kittle will surely try to get on the field more often to gain valuable experience for 2012 when OU will lose both starting tackles.