In order for QB Baker Mayfield to have enough time to read the defense, his five offensive linemen must provide him with a clean pocket to maneuver within. In order for RB Abdul Adams to find an open running lane that reaches the second level of the defense, his five offensive linemen must eliminate defenders from the play to create those lanes.
I stress the five offensive linemen for this reason: while some are quick to relegate the entire line as a general unit, we must remember that the offensive line is still comprised of five individuals who must work together as if they were a single entity. For sometimes being called “the big uglies,” a cohesive o-line can arguably be the most beautiful part of the game to watch.
There was a short period where OU’s recruitment and development of offensive linemen left much to be desired. Former offensive line coach James Patton held the position for seven years, and towards the end of that tenure the Oklahoma Sooners often struggled to run the ball in short yardage situations. Even more troubling, the Sooners failed to average 200 yards rushing per game for as long as Patton was on staff. Pass blocking was often superb during Patton’s tenure, but it wasn’t always the case with run blocking.
Recruiting also became an issue under Patton, who managed to sign only one high school offensive lineman, Christian Daimler, in his final recruiting cycle. In 2013, Patton moved on to Indiana, and those downward trends began to reverse with the hiring of Bill Bedenbaugh.
Coach Bedenbaugh was brought on to the Oklahoma staff directly from West Virginia, where he coached the Mountaineer offensive line. Since the retirement of former head coach Bob Stoops, Bedenbaugh has been promoted to co-offensive coordinator along with inside receivers coach Cale Gundy.
For the past four seasons, the Sooners have clearly seen a significant improvement in regards to the offensive line play. In fact, in all four seasons since Bedenbaugh has been on staff, the Sooners have averaged over 200 yards rushing per game.
While there’s no denying coach Bedenbaugh’s coaching and development has contributed to this growth, the other major factor of this improvement has been on the recruiting trail.
In 2014, Bedenbaugh was able to beat out the likes of Alabama and Tennessee for the signature of a raw Atlanta-area offensive lineman by the name of Orlando Brown Jr. In the following cycle, he was able to beat out top-flight schools for the services of four-star prospects Dru Samia and Bobby Evans. Last recruiting cycle, Coach Bedenbaugh hauled in an impressive collection of linemen, including four-star tackle Adrian Ealy, four-star guards Tyrese Robinson and Marquis Hayes, and four-star center Creed Humphrey. That particular effort earned him a spot on Rivals’ list of the top 25 recruiters of 2017.
For the current recruiting class being assembled, the Sooners have acquired the commitments of five-star Oklahoma native Brey Walker, four-star tackle Darrell Simpson and JUCO standout Tramonda Moore, and they’re still aiming to gain the commitment of Reuben Unije, an elite offensive lineman out of IMG Academy. I think it’s more than reasonable to expect him to make that recruiting list for a second consecutive year.
Since Lincoln Riley has been calling plays for Oklahoma, a common misconception held about the OU offense has been that the Sooners operate under a Mike Leach-style offense. To believe such a thing to be the whole truth would be doing an incredible disservice to the the capabilities of the personnel OU has on the sideline and on the field.
Oklahoma has historically recruited well at the running back and quarterback positions, and with an entire starting offensive line unit returning that averages 6’4” and 315 pounds, it’s reasonable to expect things to run pretty smoothly on that side of the ball. Thanks to Riley and Bedenbaugh, OU’s line will continue to protect its signal callers and pave the way for its ball carriers as well as any unit in the country.
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