Offensive line figures to be a force in 2012

DALLAS — It's been awhile since the Sooners have felt this good about their big boys up front.

But that's finally the case again in 2012, four years after their powerful offensive line anchored them to the 2009 BCS National Championship Game against Florida in Miami, Fla.

There's veterans all across the board, starting with center and Big 12 Media Days attendee Ben Habern.

Left guard Gabe Ikard joins him, as well as returning starter at right tackle, Tyler Evans.

So, too, does left tackle Lane Johnson, who is shifting to quarterback Landry Jones' blind side this year.

That makes for four starters who have a combined 96 career starts.

Habern leads those with 30, while Evans has 29, Ikard stands at 25, and Johnson has been in the starting rotation for 12 games in his career.

Throw in the only player who doesn't have a ton of career starts in right tackle Daryl Williams, and even he has started a game in his career. That came last year.

Add it all up, including reserve guard Adam Shead's five career starts, and the offensive line has six players with 106 total starts, a wealth of experience.

"Yeah, I mean, it's gonna help a lot," Habern said. "Just guys that have the experience, guys that have a lot of game time under their belt, guys that have started a lot and also depth wise. We have a lot of depth with the offensive line, too, and so that'll help late into the season with guys that are getting tired. You know, we're just looking forward to competing and going out there and ready to go."

The second point that Habern touched on might be just what makes this group so good.

Not just do they boast a veteran line with three starting seniors and another upperclassman, but the talent extends throughout the two-deep.

The coaching staff has raved about some of the young tackles, including Derek Farniok and Dylan Dismuke.

Plus, Shead, Bronson Irwin and Nila Kasitati are all good options as backups at guard.

And there's still Tyrus Thompson at tackle and a young center that Habern mentioned as standing out.

"One guy that I think is probably going to turn a lot of heads maybe as a true freshman is Ty Darlington, the new center that came in this year," Habern said. "And he's from Florida. He's a guy that, I mean, [is] a little underweight but you know most guys are as freshmen. But I wouldn't be surprised if I see him get some playing time this year because he's a big, strong kid and he's got some athleticism to him."

So, experience, depth and lots of both.

Jones could get used to that.

"That's huge," Jones said. "I mean, that's where it starts with the football team. We got guys in the trenches that can play. That makes a huge difference whether you can put pressure on the quarterback, stop the run or you could pass the ball and run the football. So, those two things are just huge for our team. And for our team to have a lot of veterans on the offensive line, that's going to be really big for us."

No doubt, head coach Bob Stoops has high hopes for this unit.

"Well, this group has finally matured and grown into a positive group and I believe it'll be one of our better units, you know, on the team and maybe one of our better lines that we've had," Stoops said. "It needs to and our O-line has a chance to be really good...So, hopefully that's how it goes. You know, they're a group that does have good experience and a lot more maturity."

As a unit, the Sooners tied for seventh in the country with just 11 sacks allowed in 583 passing attempts.

From that group, only Donald Stephenson, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, does not return from the starting rotation.

So, it's easy to see why the goals are so lofty for them.

In fact, they're already being put in the same sentence as the 2008 bruisers.

And that's a healthy compliment of encouragement to start the season.

"Well, when I was here in '08 that was one of the best offensive lines I've ever seen and ever been a part of because it had all of the five guys went to the NFL," Habern said. "Yeah, they all [had] an unbelievable talent. I mean, they were all just massive guys and, I mean, you really don't ever see offensive lines come together like that very often especially in college. But experience-wise and depth-wise, we're right there with them.

"We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football and have a lot of experience. We might not be the same size as them. Phil [Loadholt] was what, 6-9, 330 and Duke [Robinson] was huge also. So, size-wise we don't weigh up to them or match up to them."

But any similar production would be welcomed by Jones and the rest of the team, and they'd gladly ride it back to the BCS National Championship in South Beach.

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