Claremore Daily Progress

August 2, 2012

HORNING: The two worlds of Sooner football

CLAY HORNING
CNHI News Services

NORMAN — Everybody likes Oklahoma. Let us count the ways.



A preseason No. 1 in the Big 12 conference. A top-five pick in every preseason magazine. A defense under the direction Mike Stoops, an unparalleled defensive genius (don’t believe it, just ask a fan).



Coming off an impressive bowl victory, after which OU’s one-time Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback surprised many by choosing to remain in Norman one more year, what’s not to like?



It sounds right.



But Wednesday afternoon, the news was not good.



Not good at all.



Because if there was one unit on the team everybody had every reason to believe in, that unit was the offensive line. And Wednesday afternoon, we found out Ben Habern, the best lineman on that line, has chosen to leave the game to save his neck.



The way so many ex-NFL players have crumbled before our eyes, Habern’s choice may add years, even decades to his life. But it will not do Sooner football any favors.



Then there was Bob Stoops’ reinstatement of receivers Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks to the squad, yet also his confirmation that both, along with defensive back Quentin Hayes, “are going to miss multiple, multiple games.”



Perhaps Kameel Jackson will be available by opening day. He is the one player not fully addressed, and Stoops said he would address Jackson just as soon as the summer academic session concludes. Still, be honest, did anybody have Kameel Jackson as the linchpin to the receiving unit?



It’s like the Sooners are living in two different worlds.



In one world, you have an All-American type quarterback back for one more go-round, protected by an experienced line with talented receivers to throw to and several backs to move the chains along the ground, not to mention a defense that’s certain to be improved under the new leadership of a guy who was pulling the defensive reins the last time the Sooners won a national championship.



In another world, that All-American quarterback must nonetheless leave the game if the Sooners are to score a touchdown from inside their own 10-yard line; that experienced offensive line just lost its signal-caller — Habern — and, besides, it wasn’t terrific at run-blocking last season anyway. Yes, it’s sure to give Landry Jones time to throw, but to who? The best receiver in the spring was true freshman Trey Metoyer. And the guy with the most experience, Kenny Stills, has been best known lately for the passes he drops.



As for that defense, the optimism has far more to do with Mike Stoops than with returning personnel that, on the face of it, would appear to be in dire need of leadership, what with the departure of Travis Lewis and Frank Alexander.



Also Wednesday, the bad news did not end with Habern’s exit, nor the continued game-time suspensions of Reynolds, Franks and Hayes. Part of Wednesday’s news, too, was the fact that Sooner signees Will Latu, an offensive lineman, and Courtney Gardner, a receiver, will not play at OU this season.



No matter how you slice it, that’s two guys who didn’t do what was required to become eligible. And even as it’s hard to lose guys from the program that never quite entered the program, it’s still the continuation of a trend of a few Sooners (or Sooners to be) not fully taking care of business.



Of course, there’s talent.



Of course, they can win every game.



Have you seen the schedule?



It sets up very well.



But it’s not the preamble you hope for when you’re hoping your team can go all the way. Instead, it’s a precursor to the postseason deconstruction that will take place if things don’t go as planned.



But it’s not all bad.



The plot’s thickening.



That’s a positive.



If you like drama.