Going into the 2006 season, the offensive line is considered the weak link to the Sooners' gridiron fortunes. OU lost a first and second round draft choice and four starters off of last years unit that started slow, but finished well a year ago.
With a healthy Adrian Peterson ready to run and a fleet quarterback in Paul Thompson ready to go, the offensive line is expected to more than hold its own this year. Oklahoma's starting five of Chris Messner, Duke Robinson, Jon Cooper, Brandon Walker and Branndon Braxton are very talented, but they must stay healthy for the Sooners to be successful, and they must be versatile as well.
"A guy like Chris Messner is the jack-of-all-trades for our offensive line," said OU offensive line coach James Patton. "Chris has done a great job. He is an experienced player and we are giving him some reps at center because we like to have an extra guy who is ready. Chase Beeler is doing a great job and he is a young player. We also know that Jon Cooper is a good player and we are pacing him making sure he is ready for the season. The more guys you have ready inside, especially at center, the better off you will be. You can spread those guys out from there. Obviously, it starts with the snap and Chris is an experienced player and he has done a real nice job."
Messner was very impressive in a recent 'Sooner Ball' game where 10 players are on each team in the ultimate touch football game. Any player, but the center can catch the ball. Messner is a former high school quarterback, so he is always the quarterback in the big man's game and the Sooner big men are so athletic that Bob Stoops always watches their game instead of the skill guys.
Another guy who is going to play two positions is sophomore Duke Robinson.
"Duke is doing great," said Patton. "He has had some real good days and he is the swing guy. He is athletic enough to go on the edge and he is big and strong enough to do well at guard. I don't know how much he will play at tackle this season, but if we need him to he will do very well. I want to make sure I get him reps in practice at tackle, because at some point this season one of our tackles are going to get nicked up or need a blow and Duke will need to go out there and play."
Cooper is still nursing a bruised knee, but he is expected back at full strength by the end of the week or by the start of game-week. He will still be the starting center, but you can count on Beeler playing some at center against UAB.
Juco transfer Sherrone Moore is expected to provide depth at guard, and if Messner moves into play center and Robinson swings out to tackle Moore will move into the first unit at left guard.
Outside of Beeler, Trent Williams appears to be the only other freshman that will play this season. Williams has the size to play as a freshman and with the Sooners lack of ready-to-play offensive tackles on the roster, the Longview, Texas native is going to learn on the run.
The plan is for freshmen Cory Brandon and Curtis Bailey to redshirt, but both will prepare as if they are going to play each week. And the return of sophomore Brian Simmons should help if he is totally recovered from his weight room injury.
"The guys are working real hard. I challenge them every day to come out here with the right attitude," Patton said. "That is what blocking is. It is attitude and effort. If we have that then the schemes will obviously take care of themselves. We will know the schemes and we will learn them all, but what it comes down to is you wanting to block that guy in front of you or that guy you are supposed to block. You may have to block more than once to keep them from making the tackle, and those guys are doing a pretty good job of that."
The offensive line is not going to be deep, but they do have quality among the group. If the unit can stay healthy then Peterson will have lanes to run through this year and Thompson will have time to throw.
OU's offensive line taking shape
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