Prelude to Spring: Offensive Line

See inside for our in-depth Spring Preview of the offensive line with quotes and insight from new coach James Patton. Chris Messner (pictured above) will be the lone starter from OU's Holiday Bowl win returning this spring.

Depth always seems to be an issue in the spring on the offensive line — or maybe it isn't.

How many times have we heard Bob Stoops point out that you play with five offensive linemen and that OU always has five offensive linemen on the roster, so everything is OK up front? As usual, the coach is right. But if OU was in the best position in the spring they would have at least two units to work with. And if they are really lucky you have 12 to 15 players to work into play.

Thanks to the fact that Sherrone Moore (6-5, 295), from Butler County Community College in Kansas, and Chad Roark (6-2, 285), from Ada, Okla., both enrolled early, OU will have eight total offensive linemen on scholarship who can play in the spring.

Projected starting center sophomore Jon Cooper (6-2, 278) is still hampered by his surgically repaired ankle and is doubtful for the spring. Cooper started in the Texas A&M and Texas Tech games and also played guard last fall. Sophomore J.D. Quinn (6-3, 305) started in four games last fall and played in 11 games, but he will also be out this spring thanks to shoulder surgery.

James Patton takes over the offensive line coaching duties this spring with offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson moving to coach the tight ends and fullbacks. Patton comes from Northwestern, where every senior offensive lineman that he coached from 2001-2004 has made it to the NFL.

"That is every kid's goal and hopefully that will be every kid's goal that I coach — to want a chance to play at the highest level," said Patton. "The best of what we do play on Sundays, and those are the guys that I want to coach."

Patton and Wilson coached together at Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern, and they share many of the same philosophies.

"I have coached with coach Wilson enough that I really don't think that we have a lot of differences," said Patton. "I just want my guys to play hard. There are two things they can control, and that is attitude and effort. Schemes are schemes and we will certainly know those and we will be able to accomplish those. It all starts up front in terms of the offensive line play. We need to get our jobs done so the other guys can do theirs."

"We certainly need guys who are big guys and are athletic enough and can bend," Patton continued. "We need guys who can run their feet on contact, and who can move people. If they have good knee-bend they can play with leverage. Some guys like to bend over at the waist and if they bend at the waist they are just going to play high and the d-line is going to get leverage underneath them. The guy with inside position and leverage in my opinion will win every time up front. To me, that is what a great offensive lineman is."

Patton hasn't been with this group of offensive linemen long, but he is already forming a good opinion of many of the players who will make up the offensive line in the spring.

"Chris Messner, Jon Cooper and J.D. Quinn and some of those guys are all pretty athletic," said Patton. "They are good benders and they have good flexibility. Even big Branndon Braxton and big George Robinson have pretty good feet and can bend pretty well. So, I am excited about those guys."

When a new coach comes in all the players get a new opportunity to impress the new man in charge, and Patton is looking forward to coaching the Sooners' linemen this spring.

"I think we have a good core group of guys, but we will see what happens this spring since we will not have Jon Cooper and J.D. Quinn," said Patton.

"Those are both guys who have played quite a bit of football for us. I see Chris Messer as a guy who has played a lot too, and we will count on him at tackle. We have some young guys there in George (Duke) Robinson and Branndon Braxton, who have very bright futures and who played a little last year. Both should get lots of reps this spring. I know that Jon hopes that he can be back for spring, but even if he can't for all of it and we can just get him back on the back end of it that will help us."

"I know Jon can play center or guard, but I like him at center. He is athletic, has great feet and he plays with great leverage. To me, he is either a center or guard, but I like him at center. J.D. is a proven player who has played quite a bit of football and we just need to get him healthy and get him back for the fall. I know that Duke has played both guard and tackle, and I like him a lot. He moves his feet pretty good and we will see where he plugs in here as well."

It is always good to have flexibility in the line, and usually a group of tackles, guards and centers emerge in the spring.

"Right now, I think Messner and Braxton would probably be the tackles," said Patton. "They will get into some rotation with Duke out there. The guards are looking like Ben Barresi, Chad Roark and Sherrone Moore, and Sherrone could play tackle or guard. Then we have Cameron Schacht, who is probably a guard. We will work Chad at center with Jon limited, and he is an excellent center prospect. Barresi and Moore have also been snapping this offseason."

"We only have seven or eight guys, so they will all have to be a little flexible. Center and guards are interchangeable, as the center should know guard and guards should know center. They are working together all the time, just as long as somebody can work the snaps."

KEY TO SPRING: There is talent, but not a lot of depth this spring. However, how far along Robinson and Braxton develop will go a long way in determining just how good the Sooners are in the fall.

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