Ikard: Habern's More Than Apt Replacement

NORMAN, Okla. — Losing a valuable guy like center Ben Habern can't be discounted.

Not only was he an All-Big 12 Preseason Team selectee and an almost certain pick for First Team center at the end of the year, but he's the cog the really makes the offense go.

He's a captain.

He's a savvy veteran, starting all 14 games a year ago and the last 27 he's played in, including the first three contests of 2011.

And he's very productive, as evidenced by his 123 knockdowns in 2010 and great start this year.

"I mean, he's a big leader on our team, and a lot of guys look up to him, including myself," said offensive tackle Jarvis Jones." And he's one of the smartest. He's knows where the backers are and stuff like that. He knows the schemes basically the best, and [he's] the best snapping the ball that I've seen. So, I mean, it's a big loss, and I'm sad, you know, that it had to happen."

But the Sooners are in good hands with his replacement.

Left guard Gabe Ikard has shifted over to the center position, and he's fairly familiar with it.

That's because he worked there during two-a-days when Habern was out with an injury.

Because of that, he and quarterback Landry Jones have a comfort level, which will certainly be advantageous with the transition from one of the best players on the team snapping it to him to a replacement.

"So, we have good chemistry and when it comes to timing and stuff like that, I just got to sharpen some stuff up, the snaps, just anticipating the snap, stuff like that where you don't necessarily worry about that at guard," Ikard said. "And then just working on my steps, kind of converting, tightening stuff up for the center position. So, it's good knowing that he trusts me. It's good to know he doesn't not trust me or does not trust me. That would not be good."

Jones reciprocated that.

"I feel comfortable with him; he feels comfortable with me, and we've got a lot of snaps together," Jones said.

The part that could be the toughest in the move, though, aside from just making a switch to a new position, is the increased role he'll have.

Not only will he have to adapt to the center spot, but he'll have to adapt to orchestrating the entire offensive line, which Habern was so effective at.

"I just got to bump my thought process over a spot, make sure I identify where I'm going, so everyone else can work off me," Ikard said. "[I'm] not too worried about the mental part of it, but, I mean, maybe if they throw some weird looks or something like that that I haven't seen before."

For that reason, he's resorted to the film room.

"I'm definitely studying the tape a lot harder knowing I have to make all the calls," Ikard said. "So, I'm paying a lot more attention."

And while Ikard will make his first career start at center when the Sooners face the Ball State Cardinals at 6 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, it won't be the first live action he's seen there.

That's because he was forced to make the switch the other night when Habern suffered the broken arm against Missouri.

And his position coach said he fared pretty well.

"Yeah, with Ben being down, Gabe did a pretty good job the other night stepping in there however [long] it was, a quarter and a half, whatever it was, that third quarter and fourth quarter," said centers/guards coach James Patton. "But he's an experienced guy. He's got reps in there in training camp and practice and obviously came in in a two-possession game and played pretty good. He can play better, and he'll need to play better this week and as we go on."

Something else that gives his an added advantage in effectively making the switch on top of the fact that he's got some "experience" at center is his knowledge of schemes coupled with athleticism.

"He's smart, he understands the offense, knows what to do," Patton said. "His athletic ability's phenomenal...I mean, that's kind of a natural position for him. Not that guard isn't, but he's got leverage. He's got base and feet. He's smart, and expect him to play pretty well for us."

So, while he's been thrown into the fire, so to speak, and has a huge task ahead of him, he should be able to get the job done.

He, and his teammates, have all the faith in the world in him.

"I mean, Gabe does a great job," Jones said. "You know, he stepped in, and he played really well Saturday just snapping and blocking. He's gotten a lot of snaps during two-a-days, moving from guard to center and he's done a great job. You know, he's going to pick it up right where Ben left off. He's going to do a really good job for us."

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