NORMAN — If you had to name the most indispensable player on Oklahoma's roster, a player difficult to replace if sidelined by a major injury, quarterback Landry Jones would top the list.
Somewhere near the top would be Ben Habern.
Entering his third season as OU's starting center, a preseason All-Big 12 selection, Habern is pivotal to one of the highest scoring offenses in the country.
“Everything revolves around the center,” said coach Bob Stoops. “It helps to have a guy with experience in that position, the poise, the timing of the snap.”
Similar to former OU quarterback Sam Bradford and his center Jon Cooper, Jones and Habern have developed a unique chemistry, an unspoken bond.
They've been roommates. They hang out together. Last summer, they were among nine players that went on a mission trip to Haiti.
“We're so familiar with each other,” Jones said. “I've taken thousands of snaps from the guy. He's going to put it in the same spot. He knows where your hands are going to be. You don't have to worry about the exchange in the gun. That takes away a lot of stress.”
Habern also takes away stress by setting the pace. It's the center who barks out calls for the offensive line. In OU's fast paced attack, the center must think quickly. He's the one who forecasts blitzes, traits he learned from Cooper.
“Our offense is such a tempo offense, get everyone to the line, run a play and get the defense off guard,” Habern said. “Just to watch how Jon Cooper led that offensive line, made all the calls, a lot of time even telling the offensive tackles what to do, he taught me a lot.”
Habern now is a veteran. Overcoming ankle injuries in 2008 and 2009, Habern has started 24 games, second most on offense, third most on the team among position players.
But there was a time Habern's head was spinning similar to a young quarterback when he and Jones unexpectedly became starters due to injuries two years ago.
“We were kind of thrown into the spotlight early as redshirt freshmen,” Habern said. “Now we've gained a lot of experience. It's good to have that type of connection with your quarterback. We've learned so much from each other. I love the guy.”
The Haiti trip made a close bond even tighter.
“Ben is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet,” Jones said. “He's really selfless. But he's also one of the toughest guys. He's had to fight through some injuries. I can't say enough about how much I appreciate him, how hard he works and what he does for this team.
“And he's so easy to get along with, a super funny guy.”
Habern and Jones know each other so well they can predict what the other will do when ordering a sandwich.
“Ben will crush it and put triple meat on it,” Jones said. “It's called the Ben Habern super sander or something like that. I'm more the conventional turkey sandwich type of guy.”
Jones also has his quirks.
“Those two guys are two of the goofiest guys I've ever met in my life,” said guard Gabe Ikard. “Landry has his own vocabulary. He came up with ‘chee.' It's like your way of being. ‘Hey you're messing with my chee.' Whatever that means.”
On the field, they form one of the best center/quarterback tandems in the country. Their bond was nurtured with seven teammates during the Haiti trip.
“Obviously, our main focus wasn't to go down there to get closer to each other,” Habern said. “But that's what Haiti did to us. We were honestly forced to put our guard down and open up and love on those kids and those Haitian people.
“Ultimately, it brought us closer as a group. It's been awesome because we brought it back to our team. We've opened up with each other. This is the closest team I've ever been a part of.”