Offensive line Coach James Patton is working to mold the OU offensive line into a cohesive unit, and he recently he appeared on WWLS Radio with me to talk about how the spring when for his offensive line and what we might expect in the future from the group.
JH: What was your take on spring practice?
JP: "I will tell you, James, we got a lot of work done. We had 15 practices, and you always wish you had more as a coach, but I think for the most part we were competitive. We have a lot of good players and they all are competing for playing time. I think that is a great motivator right there in terms of competition. I thought it was real good this spring.
JH: Do you feel you have developed more quality depth in your program right now?
JP: "Yeah, I was fortunate enough to get here last year and Coach Stoops, Coach (Kevin) Wilson and all the other coaches recruited a bunch of great players here. Of course, I am fortunate to have those guys. At least we have a two-deep. Last spring when I was here, we had about seven or eight guys going. We have some more depth and those kids are great players and they are all competing for jobs real well."
JH: What is the number of offensive linemen that you would like to have in your program? And why has it been so hard to get that number to that point at OU?
JP: "You typically want to have about 15 guys in the offensive line. You want at least a three-deep in the offensive line because those guys are playing every down and they are battling and hitting somebody. They are blocking somebody and they are engaged in physical contact on every play. At some of the other positions, they might go a couple of plays without touching anybody. But that certainly is not the case with the offensive and defensive lines. Those guys are battling and it is a tough physical game, and they have to be tough, physical guys. That is why I think it is important to have good depth."
JH: Is being physical the top priority for your offensive line at OU?
JP: "Yeah, we certainly do. I am big on that in terms of a guys demeanor and a guys approach. How he is on and off the field? Of course, having that right attitude to make the right choice is very important. I am all for just coaching great guys and guys with the right attitude. When we step across those white lines, it is a tough, physical game against tough, physical guys and you have to be ready to play. Those are just things we try to instill in these guys when they cross those white lines."
JH: How did you feel your offensive line performed this spring?
JP: "I think we did well. At the tackle position, we had big Phil Loadholt, who is in from junior college, and he had five good practices before he got hurt. Of course, Trent Williams, Branndon Braxton and Cory Brandon are all kids who have played and have some experience. In terms of guards, we have Duke Robinson, Sherrone Moore with Jon Cooper and Chase Beeler in there at center. Also, at guard you have Brian Simmons and all of those guys. They were competitive this spring, but we need to continue to make strides in that area."
JH: Didn't several players play two positions for you in the spring?
JP: "Yeah, Chase Beeler played both center and guard. I didn't have any of the tackles play inside at guard in the spring for a reason. We had Duke Robinson, who was a swing guy for us last year as he started at guard, play some tackle. Trent Williams could do the same thing, and, quite possibly, Branndon Braxton. Our decision is really based on getting the five best blockers on the field. That is what we try to do every time we take the field. Different positions require different things from a fundamental standpoint, but there is also that passion, energy and that 'want-to' I call it to block somebody. If that is there, you can play any position up front."
JH: What players had great individual spring practices for you?
JP: "Branndon Braxton did a real nice job coming back off that injury he suffered last fall. He battled through that and it looks like he is back at full strength. Trent Williams did a real nice job. He started last year as a true freshman and he is just a great talent. Duke Robinson and Jon Cooper did a nice job. Phil Loadholt, a junior college guy coming in, had five real good practices. I am looking forward to a big future for him."
JH: Jon Cooper was finally healthy for the spring. Didn't he have a great spring as well?
JP: "It definitely benefits Jon to go through the spring. He looked pretty quick and looked pretty agile. Last fall, he was still trying to get confident coming back from that serious broken leg that he suffered. He did a pretty nice job. Brian Simmons is another guy who was hurt early last year and ended up playing quite a bit at guard. He had a real good spring also."
JH: The fact is that Beeler could start for a lot of teams. And Brandon Walker started last year, but will be fighting for a job this year. You also have four quality tackles. That gives you pretty good depth, doesn't it?
JP: "It is all about competition. The best guys are going to play. Everybody wants to start, everybody wants to earn a letter and everybody wants to play and play in big games. I think having some depth there and having guys who can rotate in will keep a high energy level out there when we play. That is the biggest thing with having competition — the depth is should motivate guys when they get there opportunity to go out there and play well."
JH: Braxton and Williams have a great competition going at right tackle. Are they different styles of players who you actually have two different types of players to select from at right tackle?
JP: "They are both big, athletic guys who have quick feet. Brandon Braxton is coming off that ankle injury from last season and he just has to get his confidence down in terms of being a stronger anchor in some of the things that he does in the pass protection game. Trent is a thick, strong guy who has great natural strength when he sinks his hips and blocks people. They are similar guys because they are big, athletic guys. But Trent has a little more brute strength right now."
JH: How did true freshman Kody Cooke, who enrolled at semester, perform this spring?
JP: "Kody did a great job. He got a bunch of reps at guard and he is just learning every day. That is the biggest thing that we talked about after the spring was for him to continue to learn. The speed of the game, he will catch up to as he continues to get reps. I know his eyes were wide open when he first got down here as a high school kid stepping right into college football early. However, his work ethic and willingness to learn has been outstanding. He is making that adjustment pretty well."
JH: Could Braxton or Williams jump inside and play guard if you needed them to?
JP: "They certainly could, but Williams probably more than Braxton because you do get into some strength things inside. With either one of those guys, it is like I said it is about getting the five best blockers on the field every snap."
JH: Defenses appear to be getting more complex. How difficult has it made it to play offensive line in college football?
JP "We certainly have to have good understanding of the schemes and what we ask them do to. We have to have good understandings as coaches and we have to make sure that fits what our guys are capable of doing. From their standpoint, in terms of recognizing defenses, it takes a lot of studying and a lot of time in the classroom with those guys watching film. Then they have to transfer that classroom stuff over to live settings when they are playing."