Claremore Daily Progress

November 15, 2012

OU offensive line has rolled with the punches

CNHI News Services

NORMAN — While Blake Bell was sprinting 55 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown last Saturday, Oklahoma was a having a hard time celebrating the game-winning touchdown against Baylor.

Guard Adam Shead was struggling to get to his feet. Another offensive lineman was down. Shead was OK. He’s expected to play when the 13th-ranked Sooners face West Virginia on Saturday.

However, it’s been that kind of season for the offensive line, and it’s not going to get any easier.

“At this point in time, you know what the deal is. It’s a physical position the guys play. They’re going to get banged up and none of them feel 100 percent,” centers and guards coach James Patton said. “I bet there isn’t a lineman in the country right now that feels 100 percent. There’s things they can’t control. Guys rolling on their legs, they have to move their feet faster and that’ll take care of some things. Some of the things they can control. They’re hitting people on every play. There’s confrontations. There’s physical confrontations. At this point in time they’ve got to be tough guys.”

Hard to argue that the Sooners haven’t lived up to that label. The group has been taking a pounding all season, but keeps answering the bell every Saturday.

Last Saturday’s victory over Baylor was another example. Center Gabe Ikard was out with a concussion. True freshman Ty Darlington stepped in and they pushed and shoved their way to 460 total yards.

Then they ambled their way back to the locker room to get treatment so they could do it all again next week. Handling the aches and the pains is something that either becomes second nature or you go find something else to do.

Left tackle Lane Johnson was a quarterback in high school, but grew into a 6-7, 300-pound offensive lineman. He quickly learned linemen in general take a beating few can comprehend.

“It’s not like playing quarterback anymore,” left tackle Lane Johnson said with a laugh. “It’s a tough game and you have to be tough enough to make it through the season. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Sooners have only three games left before that much-needed break between the end of the regular season and the bowl game. Those three weeks finally provide enough time to let the body heal from the intensity of the season.

OU coach Bob Stoops admits practices in November are shorter and less physical than they were in September. Preserving offensive linemen is one of the main reasons.

“Those guys — there’s 300 pounds of impact on ankles, knees and helmets and shoulders on every snap. A DB or a linebacker may have 10 tackles in a game, but those guys are gonna run into somebody on every single snap,” he said. “It’s a lot of hitting.”

The Sooners are still in the hunt for a BCS bowl this season. One of the reasons is their offensive line has been able to absorb the pounding.

After Tuesday’s practice, guard Bronson Irwin started peeling off tape while talking to reporters. After five minutes, he barely finished with his left hand. He hadn’t even gotten to the right ankle, which was wrapped so heavily that his shoe was barely visible.

But he still made it out there for a full practice.

“Up front, you have to keep everybody in there and keep the chemistry going,” guard Bronson Irwin said. “Every offensive line around the country is fighting through injuries. If it’s not overly severe, you have to fight it and stay out there.”