Bedenbaugh looks to renew toughness on O-line

NORMAN, Okla. — It's the obvious goal of every offensive line in America, but one can argue the Sooners have steered away from it in recent years.

It's the obvious goal of every offensive line in America, but one can argue the Sooners have steered away from it in recent years.

Big boys up front are expected to have one major quality and one quality above the rest: toughness.

Over the past few seasons, there's been some discussion that OU has swung towards more of a finesse offense and thus lost some of its edge on the offensive line.

New coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who comes by way of West Virginia from Arizona from Texas Tech, promises he's poised to return that.

"My mentality is about toughness," Bedenbaugh said in his first true OU media setting Wednesday afternoon. "You know, I'm big on fundamentals. I'm big on technique. But I think if you're a tough person, tough-minded, physically tough, then you can overcome some of those things.

"You know, you're not always going to be as perfect as you want to be. You gotta get as close to it in your technique and your fundamentals, but I think your toughness overrides that a lot of the time."

It's toughness that allows teams like Alabama and LSU—think most SEC teams—to grind games out and wear opponents down.

It's toughness that allows them to dominate the line of scrimmage.

It's that same toughness that has triggered the SEC to win seven straight national championships dating back to the 2006-07 season.

That's why he mentioned the word 12 times when speaking with the media for this first time, and that's why Stoops ultimately had to make some moves up front with his staff.

So, how can he instill it in a group that has—nobody will question this—pass protected amongst the most elite in the country, but been critiqued as such for becoming too much of a finesse unit?

"I think it's how you live," Bedenbaugh said. "I think it's how you coach them. You know what I mean? It's what's acceptable. You know, I mean, what do you accept? What do I expect them to do? I mean, just you get after it and then it's how you live. It's how you work. Toughness isn't going out and beating somebody up. Toughness is mentally, I mean, knowing your assignment, knowing your technique.

"How do you do that? You do it by studying tape as much as you possibly can, you know, being physical, playing through pain. That's toughness. So, I mean, I think toughness is an expectation as much as anything and you try to recruit it. You try to get to know it the best you can, and then you just coach it as much as you possibly can."

Admittedly, Bedenbaugh hasn't had the opportunity to really sit down yet and get to know his players and their tendencies too much because he only arrived last Saturday.

But he has gotten to meet with them and acquired one thing.

"Obviously I'll find out more about their toughness as we get into practice and those things, but I think they're smart kids," Bedenbaugh said. "The little bit I've talked to them, they're athletic kids and now it's a matter of getting out there and finding out how tough they are."

Under former coaches James Patton and Bruce Kittle, the Sooners have increased their rushing output each of the last two seasons, upping it from 3.3 yards per carry in 2010 to 4.5 in 2011 to 4.8 last year, but when comparing that to Alabama's whopping 5.6 yards per carry, that doesn't look very good.

So, that's likely where the focus will be: moving the line of scrimmage more in the run game to produce a more potent rushing attack in addition to the big numbers they've amassed in the passing game.

"Yeah, I think so," Bedenbaugh said. "I think, you know, obviously they want to improve on the run game just like, heck, I think you want to improve in everything. I mean, you know, pass protection, running the ball, screens, I mean, I think everything you want to improve on. And if you're any type of person, any type of player, you want to continually improve, and that's one of the things we're working through right now.

"What run game? Do you have too much? Do you have too little? You know, the schemes, what fits the schemes? What schemes fit these guys? So, just working through those things and getting to know them and figuring out. Our job as coaches is to put these kids in the best position to be successful, and that's what our job is to do."

How much he'll change things up front with respect to those things is unknown.

But how he'll do it, with the T-word, everybody knows.

In doing so, the ultimate prize is his goal.

"I don't think any part is bigger than the whole, and everybody doing their job together hopefully we can bring another national championship back to Oklahoma," Bedenbaugh said.

Since it starts up front with more physicality, they're likely on their way.

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