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Will A Change In Training Methods Lead To A More Dominant Oklahoma Offensive Line?

Tom Pennington

Throughout his tenure as the 'Director of Sports Enhancement' (which is just a really fancy title for strength and conditioning coach), Jerry Schmidt has drawn praise from former and current players alike. However, he has also been something of an Internet message board urban legend what with tales of forcing players to eat their own vomit off the practice field.

Message board trolling aside, Schmidt has been with Bob Stoops since Day 1 and clearly has the trust of the OU head football coach. Much to the chagrin of many an OU fan over the years, the prevailing theory has been that Stoops allows Schmidt carte blanche. Schimdt has no shortage of critics who have questioned his techniques and methods from several years. Most fans may or may not even know the name of their preferred program's strength and conditioning coach let alone devote year after year of bashing the individual. And yet this is how things have transpired for Schimdt and OU fans for quite some time. However, by all accounts, there appears to have been somewhat of a recent shift in power.

For those who don't frequent the message boards and/or familiarize themselves with the daily OU training regimen, Schmidt has historically taken a predominantly cardiovascular heavy approach to his training of Oklahoma's offensive line. There was a lot of running. Then some more running. And then a little more running. With the occasional weight being lifted.

Sarcasm aside, the logic behind this approach was a fairly obvious one. Since 2008 Oklahoma was employing their version of the hurry up offense and needed their offensive linemen to be incredibly well conditioned in order to keep up with the pace. However aside from that 2008 offensive line, which produced two 1,000 yard rushers, Oklahoma's offensive line has struggled to consistently open up running lanes for their ball carriers.

Some might even say over the last four-five-years the Sooners have become a finesse offense. If you're routinely throwing the ball forty or fifty times a game, it stands to reason you spend a considerable amount of time in practice running pass plays and thus pass protection. The point being the ability to line up as an offensive lineman with the mindset of dominating the man across the line from you isn't something you can simply switch on and off. It's a mentality and it's something you develop through repeated practice snaps.

Hence the recent change in their approach to training. Gabe Ikard alluded to it at Big 12 media days and Carey Murdock of explored things further ($) in an article he wrote earlier in the week. The change is one of a more weight lifting approach, which as Ikard explains is one in which the linemen are very pleased with.

"This year I would say is the first year our main focus was in the weight room rather than running," explained Ikard of the offseason conditioning program under Jerry Schmidt. "It was a little bit different last year but this year the main focus has been getting in the weight room and moving heavy weight.

"We're really happy about that."

Ikard explained with less running the linemen were able to get in the gym more refreshed and able to direct their energy into lifting weights and building mass along with muscles. - ($)

It's a change that certainly seems to make a lot of sense, especially given Oklahoma's previously mentioned struggles in the run game. Whether it was their inability to punch the ball in from the one yard line against a lesser tier D-I sacrificial lamb or the necessity of a specialized package to pick up short yardage first downs, the OU offensive line has been missing that element of power.

If the reasons for the change are important, the rumor of how it came about is certainly entertaining for all those Schmidt critics out there. The theory being Schimdt and new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh butted heads as to the status quo approach previously adopted and the now documented change recently instituted. Maybe Stoops gave him the authority to overrule Schmidt, unlike those before him, or maybe he didn't. Maybe the change is indicative of what we can expect to see from the OU offense, a more physical/run heavy approach, this season and going forward. We'll probably never know the true reason/s, but Bedenbaugh was obviously brought in for a reason.

The only relevant point being a change has been made and one that will hopefully bring about positive developments with an expected to be revamped Oklahoma offense in 2013.

In fact the dividends are already paying off as Ikard told Murdock that he has eclipsed the 300 pound mark, which would be the first time in his career the one-time tight end could claim as such.

A little less finesse, a lot more power, and you could be looking at the restoration of a reliable and potentially dominant Oklahoma running game.