By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Offensive lines are built by a process. The goal is to get a center, two guards and two tackles to work in unison. Spring practice is typically the initial phase in the operation.
For the Sooners, the construction project is a little different. Some of the parts they know they will have in August are not available now. Left guard Adam Shead and left tackle Tyrus Thompson are both being held out of spring drills due to injuries. Their absences allow the Sooners to focus on testing and improving their spare parts.
Center Ty Darlington, who is expected to step into the spot vacated by All-American Gabe Ikard, admits there really isn’t a lot of depth midway through spring practice. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has done a lot of mixing and matching thus far.
“I think in the long run this is going to be really good for us,” Darlington said. “We’re getting so many reps now. Literally, everyone in our meeting room is getting meaningful reps. It may be inconvenient now to have some guys that aren’t getting to practice, but we’re going to be so much better as a group.”
In an ideal world, OU builds complete cohesion among a group of five starters. Bedenbaugh is big on building the offensive line as a unit that acts and reacts as one.
However, that utopian world rarely exists. Injuries are a fact of life in football, and offensive linemen are more susceptible to them than most. They are large men who have to block other large men with bodies flying all around them. The opportunities to roll ankles or twist knees or suffer something else that causes horrendous pain are constant.
The Sooners dodged them for most of the 2013 season. Nevertheless, Bedenbaugh had to do more shuffling than a blackjack dealer late in the season because of injuries to Shead and Thompson.
The spring is when you find out the best available options for each scenario.
In the Sugar Bowl that meant shifting guard Bronson Irwin from right guard to right tackle and moving Daryl Williams from right tackle to the left side. The move worked out well because Dionte Savage was ready to start at guard.
Irwin graduated and Williams is working at both tackle spots this spring. Williams, who will be a senior next season, likens it to building another job skill.
“That’s one of my goals because the NFL likes that,” Williams said. “In the Sugar Bowl Tyrus got hurt. If the team needs me it’s good always to be versatile.”
This spring OU is experimenting with Nila Kasitati, a starting guard, at center. It isn’t an effort to supplant Darlington at the starting spot. There has to be a secondary option. The more spots an offensive lineman can play, the more possibilities there are.
Kasitati said learning the center spot, which requires calling out the defensive alignments and adjusts to blocking schemes accordingly, is an eye-opener. Better to get that over with in March and April than October or November.
“This is a time to grow,” Kasitati said. “If someone goes down, someone has to be able to fill in.”
The spring is when those contingency plans take shape.
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