Depth Triggers Improved Offensive Line

The Sooner offensive line, to be frank, was a wreck in 2009.

While not perfect, it's been an improvement from last year throughout the first three games of 2010.

"They've done a good job," said OU head coach Bob Stoops. "But I think it will get better as they keep moving through the year, you know, but they've been pretty good really."

The offensive line has allowed six sacks, a somewhat concerning stat, but in other areas there has been vast improvement.

The biggest of those is depth.

"You know, we've always said we needed seven or eight [good contributors]," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "You don't want it to be a revolving door. I mean, I don't think it's a matter of playing mind games as much as trying to find, you know, keep the competition going, keep the group pushing."

Center Ben Habern seconded those comments.

"It's good to see those [backups] coming in," Habern said. "And it's just going to help us out down the stretch in Big 12 play knowing that we are, we have eight, nine confident guys that are going to play and contribute to the team.

"So it just last year everybody [starting] was taking, I was taking 80, 90 snaps a game, and this year it's kind of, you know, taking a little less, and so it's kind of helping me be able to play on top of my game and everybody else also."

Stoops weighed in on that very point.

"When there isn't a big discrepancy between the first guy and the second guy, they both have a chance to play better if you're rotating them in and out, keeping them fresh as opposed to getting worn down," Stoops said. "I think you've got a better chance of getting a higher level out of each guy as opposed to just one guy. So, you know, so far that's been handled really well."

During the 2009 campaign, when the reserves came in, it was mainly because the starters were struggling or due to injuries.

This time around, it can be attributed to the backups being prepared to play and on a similar level to the starters.

"I mean, I watch practice and sometimes I think our second line plays as good as our first line," Wilson said. "So does that mean our first line needs to play better? Yeah, but I think we've got better depth, too, so it's to me how it's which way you want to look at it."

Evidence of that is the recent change to the depth chart at offensive line.

Left tackle Donald Stephenson and left guard Stephen Good have been replaced by left tackle Jarvis Jones and left guard Gabe Ikard, while right guard Brian Lepak has moved into the No. 1 spot on the depth chart in front of Tyler Evans there.

One reason the group has improved in this way is camaraderie.

It's talked about so much, but it can't be emphasized enough with this offensive line.

"I know it might be cliche or whatever but it's good to have that because it's going to make us want to try that much harder on the field for our guy next to us, not saying I didn't want to play hard for the guys last year or anything," Habern said. "But just that overall cohesiveness as a group is helping. We love hanging out with each other and joking around in the locker room all the time, and so that's one thing that we're just kind of growing as a bond."

That togetherness is something they developed in winter, Habern said.

And it has carried throughout the spring, summer and into this fall, helping guide along the team with a lot of the momentum they gained at the end of last season.

"Yeah, we went into the summertime, you know, knowing that we came off a good last couple games and winning the bowl game," said right tackle Eric Mensik. "But we knew we had to do better, and so we went into the summertime thinking, ‘All right, we got to get stronger, faster, better and, you know, work on some things.'

"And so we did and then two-a-days came around, and we worked hard on two-a-days and so I think we had kind of a chip on our shoulder because we knew, you know, what the coaches expected of us and we wanted to prove to the coaches and everybody that, you know, we are what we say we are."

If they haven't already proved it, they probably will have by season's end.

This is a much improved group capable of anchoring a great offense.

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