Wilson says senior linemen need to step up

Sooner coach Kevin Wilson talks about the progress of his offensive line during the off week and how they'll line up on Saturday against Kansas State. Pictured above: Chris Bush

One of the critical positions for the Sooners that still uncertain is that of the offensive line. OU line coach and run game coordinator Kevin Wilson, who has now had close to two weeks to evaluate the best line he can put on the field against Kansas State, recently he talked to OUInsider.com and gave us the scoop for the Two Minute Drill.

JH: Coach, is the fact that you have had to shuffle offensive linemen this year a positive or negative for the program?

KW: "You try to make it a positive and get into the best deals with the best situations and the best guys. However, in some ways it is definitely a negative because we are lacking some continuity or some time on task.

"We have the same guy play different positions and we get different looks for the guy depending on whether he is moving inside or outside. Like I have said, maybe we have had some things not go the way we planned, or maybe we didn't anticipate some things properly in getting guys.

"However, we have kind of settled in where we are at right now. We would like to get Davin (Joseph) back inside, but we need to throw so we are going to need to keep him out at tackle for our pass blocking situation. We will get Duke Robinson inside with Kelvin Chaisson at left guard. We are going to play J.D. Quinn and Chris Bush at the other guard and Chris Chester settling in mostly at center.

"Davin will play at left tackle and Branndon Braxton will play most of the time at right (tackle), and maybe we will get Chris Messner some work at right tackle. It is a combination of those eight guys with Duke and J.D. working at guard and Chris Messner rotating in at the extra tackle."

JH: How did your young guys do last week with the extra work?

KW: "They did well, but Duke had a little stinger in his shoulder that caused him to miss a day and a half of team work. He was doing some drills and got his head hit sideways and got a pinched nerve. He still needs some time in there to get adjusted.

"Pass pro, speed and guys coming off the edge are tough when you play in loud arenas where you can't hear the count and you are kind of going on visual deal. That is difficult on him right now, so he is going to be a little bit better inside. There is just a lot less stress for him in pass pro.

"J.D. is coming along well now, and those young guys need to challenge those seniors because I think they can help us and play good. We are going to get them a lot of work this week in the game."

JH: Is it also just a situation where at guard you just need some help?

KW: "That is correct. Half the time if it is a passing situation, and if it is a non-blitz look that center has a free guy. So basically, whether he is working to the left or working to the right, he has blitz responsibility.

"If the blitz doesn't come he has kind of some spare change to help out the guard. Playing guard is a lot less stressful internally as a pass blocker. Hopefully, that will help those young guys. And with Duke's talent and J.D. coming on well, we will get those guys on the field a lot and keep us moving the right way."

JH: Are you frustrated about the situation that you are in now a month into the season still shuffling guys around?

KW: "The thing that is disappointing to me is that we do have a couple of seniors that should be playing better that aren't. That has been the issue with a couple of guys who have played and played a lot. They have been around, played well and they have played in big games. The fact they are not playing well has forced us to play the young guys or look at different situations.

"You are always worried about a young tackle and if he can play. We are kind of milking those guys along, helping them learn and settle in pass pro. Again, I expected and thought that a couple of experienced players, who had played a lot, would be playing better.

"That, to me, is the thing that we didn't anticipate, didn't see and didn't expect. We need those guys to square it, and I think they will. Mike Skinner did the same thing his senior year when Davin came in as a freshman and took some reps from him. As the year went along, Mike, at the end of 2002, was playing his best football. Mike played on our National Championship team and played in 2001, but he played his best football at the end of 2002.

"Maybe some competition can get those guys playing back to the level that we need them to play, but to me that has been the curveball that I didn't expect to see."

JH: Does there ever come to a point where you look at the seniors and tell them we are going with younger guys?

KW: "I think you can say that if you question somebody's commitment. I think we have some real good guys who have a good attitude, and they are good kids. I just think their performance isn't as good as we need it to be.

"You make those choices when a guy's attitude, commitment, focus to the team, body language and demeanor is not good for the team. I don't sense that is the case here. Again, we have some guys who are for whatever reason who are playing below average, and who are playing below their talent. We have addressed that in a positive way, and one of the best ways to address that is with competition.

"That is why in one week we looked at Davin inside, but despite giving the young freshman more and more time at tackle we still had some concerns in pass pro. You guys saw in the last game that we can throw the football. We can throw the ball well. We need to take advantage of those things, but we have to pass block. Basically, that has forced us to move those guys inside.

"I am never for canning anyone, and I am never for canning seniors. But at the same time, they need to perform. I think that is what happened to Mike Skinner. He had played a while and maybe got into a comfort zone and a young guy came in and started to take his place, and Mike got back into practicing and practicing strong.

"I now sense with a couple of guys, who I don't like how they have played, but I like how they have recently practiced and I like how they are working. I have seen them play well at practice, so hopefully that will translate onto the field.

"I am not trying to play a mind game because we need to perform. If we can't perform then somebody else needs to be given that opportunity. I would move on down the road if I questioned a guy not being with us or questioned his demeanor and how he approached playing. I don't sense that with any of our seniors. I think we have some good kids, like we have said all along. They just need to play better."

JH: What are you thoughts on the Kansas State defense?

KW: "They have a typical Kansas State defense under Coach Elliott — their Defensive Coordinator. I worked with him years ago when he was an offensive coordinator. They are a sound lineup over gap conscience defense, like our defense committed to stopping the run.

"We should get a fair amount of man loaded box with press corners challenging our routes. That will force us to protect and get the ball out on time. They play very good run defense. I think they are giving up 80 to 81 yards per game in three games. And despite their competition giving up only 347 yards total offense, which is pretty solid.

"They have new guys after looking at last year's game, but you see a lot of the same look. They are playing hard, they are playing sound and they are committed to stopping the run. They do blitz, but they are not a heavy blitz team. They are a classic bend-but-don't-break defense. They pick their spots to exert pressure.

"They are going to make you snap it again and again, and they are going to make you execute at a high level — to not get behind chains, to not turn the football over for sure, because that is the NO. 1 way to lose a game. Don't let them get you in long yardage situations and watch them as they will pick their spots to blitz.

"I have a lot of respect for how they play, and I see them playing well. They are going to be a good challenge for us, but I think we have a handle on what they are doing. I think we have a good plan rolling. We have had a good week of practice and we are ready to get after it Saturday and get a win."

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