Norman — In every sense, Oklahoma’s offensive line took a beating in 2009. Physically, psychologically, emotionally, the group took some serious lumps before the season started and right up to the last snap.
Injuries caused multiple starters to miss multiple games. Immaturity led to undisciplined play. Put it all together and it just wasn’t a very good year for OU’s offensive line.
“We made some dumb penalties last year and made some mistakes and it cost us in some games,” offensive line coach James Patton said.
Those struggles didn’t come as a surprise. Sooner coach Bob Stoops fired off a warning in the spring of 2009, calling the group out for having a poor collective work ethic before last spring’s practice even began.
A year later, things have been noticeably different.
“They are one of our best groups in how they have worked and met the challenge every day,” Stoops said. “I’m very pleased with where they are right now.”
So, what has changed?
Health has obviously improved. The increased depth has allowed most players to focus on handling one position, instead of multiple players having to learn multiple spots like last year.
But above all else, a different mindset has taken hold.
“We’re being more disciplined and more accountable for our actions,” guard Jarvis Jones said. “They penalize us when we don’t go to class. Now when one person misses on the offense, everyone gets penalized. It’s not just, say the wide receiver group. If a wide receiver jumps offsides everyone still has to move back five yards. I think it’s discipline, accountability, growing up basically.”
There’s no better teacher than experience. The Sooners didn’t have a lot of it along the offensive line last season. The group that powered OU to three straight Big 12 Conference titles from 2006-08 was mostly gone. All the wisdom they accumulated left with them.
It left the door open and mistakes and inconsistency poured in. This spring has been about learning from those mistakes.
Jones said it’s not a matter of each offensive lineman working harder.
“We’re trying to fix things and keep everybody on the straight and narrow,” Jones said.
Time will tell if the Sooners’ offensive line has really turned a corner. The Sooners aren’t even halfway through spring practice and September is still five months away.
But the group seems to understand the error of its ways. Mistakes are going to be made when young players are forced to the forefront. Learning from them is the key.
“It’s a new year and a new spring, but we’ve still got a big challenge ahead of us,” Patton said. “The challenge is to play better as a group and become more consistent and stay healthy. But, being more consistent is probably what Coach Stoops is talking about, having a mindset and being accountable as a unit. And so far, that’s been pretty good.”
John Shinn 366-3536 email@example.com