It is no secret that the offensive line in Norman will be one of college football’s best in 2017. They return every starter, along with a few key backups, from a year ago; when they paved the way for two backs to rush for over 1,000 yards each.
This offensive line is one of the biggest reasons Sooner fans are so optimistic for this upcoming season. However, no one may be more excited for this unit than the man who is in charge of them, Bill Bedenbaugh. The Oklahoma offensive line coach has given high praise to his big men in the recent days since fall camp has opened.
“I mean every one of them, to me, are much better even then when we ended the spring,” Bedenbaugh said after practice on Monday. “They had a really good summer, they’re committed to being the best group, so I don’t think there’s one guy that has [made a leap] but I think every guy has made a leap and they’re getting better every day. I think every guy that has played last year has made a pretty big jump in improvement.”
Of course, the headliner for this unit is Orlando Brown. The 6-foot-8 junior is one of the most decorated players returning in the country. He has made the last 26 starts for OU and was named a second team All-American and Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year after allowing only one sack in 2016.
At the other tackle spot is Bobby Evans, who came in last year as a redshirt freshman and looked to be an extremely formidable piece to this unit. Some have speculated that he is the most athletic lineman on the team.
The interior of the offensive line is where things get really crowded. OU returns five players who have starting experience on the interior of the offensive line, and it would have been six had reserve Alex Dalton not gone down with a knee injury before fall camp began.
Cody Ford, who the coaches have been high on since he arrived on campus, was the starter at left guard, until a broken fibula against Ohio State in week three put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season.
He was replaced by JUCO transfer Ben Powers, who went on to become a second-team All-Big 12 player, and landed on ESPN’s All-Bowl Team after his dominating performance against Auburn.
The right guard spot went to Dru Samia, who started 9 games at right tackle in 2015. The coaches felt like they had to get Samia on the field in some capacity last season, so he was moved to the interior. Due to his ability to be able to move from guard to tackle, his versatility is greatly valued by Bedenbaugh.
Last season, Jonathan Alvarez won the center job after starting 10 games at left guard in 2015. He started the first three games, until an injury made him miss a few weeks, during which time former walk-on Erick Wren took over center duties, started 10 games, and was named Honorable Mention All-Big 12.
Incoming freshman center Creed Humphrey appears to be ready to see some major playing time this season as well. Humphrey has drawn rave reviews from OU coaches, and is someone who could definitely shake up the look of the offensive line if he happens to win a starting spot as a true freshman, like some have speculated.
“Well and every guy wants to start, and they know it’s gonna be tough, especially on the interior. I mean I don’t have any idea right now, there’s five, six guys that I feel good about starting right now. So we grade every practice from here on out. You know, the guys that perform the best will be the starters, but I really think we’re gonna play five or six guys inside.
Bedenabugh does not sound like he is afraid to start someone with less experience over an incumbent starter, as long as they have shown to perform the best in practice and in-game action. He also isn’t afraid to slide a guy like Dru Samia around the line, if it gives him better depth for one of the tackle spots. “Dru took some (snaps at) tackle today,” Bedenabugh stated one day after practice, “Looked really good, better than he ever has, and I was really impressed by that.”
The fact of the matter is, this is a really good problem to have for Oklahoma.