NORMAN — Former Oklahoma offensive lineman Bronson Irwin started all 13 games of his junior season, but when the 2013 campaign began, he was a backup.
Irwin re-entered the starting lineup after a few weeks, and ultimately became one of the unit’s most valuable members. Because of injuries, he switched from right guard to left guard, then played right tackle in Oklahoma’s 45-31 upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Irwin is working out in Atlanta, preparing for OU’s Pro Day in March. The former Mustang High standout spoke with The Oklahoman by telephone about the season, his career and the Sugar Bowl, among other topics.
Q: When did you find out you’d be playing tackle, and how did you feel about it?
A: Probably somewhere in the middle of bowl prep. Mid-to-late December, somewhere in there. … I was excited about it personally. Being able to show some diversity, and also for Dionte (Savage) to get a chance to have an impact in that game.
How much different is playing tackle from playing guard?
It’s a little bit different. Obviously your assignments are different. Technique’s a little bit different as far as pass protection, your steps are a little bit different and your responsibilities are a little bit different. I was familiar with it, just being familiar with our protections and our schemes helped me out a lot. It’s different on a small scale of things, but in the end, it just comes down to blocking the guy across from you. … I’ve been taking some reps at tackle here and there at different times for two or three years now. I think that also helped me, just being kinda familiar with it.
Have you been in touch with any NFL scouts, and if so, have they said anything to you about your versatility helping you at the next level?
I haven’t been in contact with any scouts. I think obviously showing that versatility will obviously help me. I played three different positions this year, so you look in the NFL, you see guys who are constantly switching around sides and positions.
A lot of people were surprised by how well the offensive and defensive lines played against Alabama. Did you surprise yourselves at all?
I think we all expected to come in and play well. The way that we prepared, I think that we were ready. We knew what they were gonna throw at us. We knew their personnel. We knew they were gonna be big, strong guys. I think coming into it, everybody did a really good job of preparing. The offensive line, we watched a lot of tape. Spending late nights in the hotel watching tape on them. I wasn’t surprised at all by the way we came out and performed.
What impact did Bill Bedenbaugh have on you guys this year?
I think he had a big impact on us this whole year. Specifically in this Alabama game, he coaches a really physical style. Playing against a team like that, they’re big and strong, you’ve gotta play with a physical mentality and I think we were able to do that.
Was that physical mentality different than the way you guys were coached previously?
I don’t know that it was so much different, but I would say there was a little more emphasis on it. Coach Bedenbaugh is very emphatic on being physical in everything you do, from your hands to your hips and all those things. Most offensive line coaches are gonna coach physicality, but I think there was a little more emphasis on that this year.
I know you were close to James Patton. Was it a tough transition when he left?
It was a little bit different, but there’s nothing to sulk about. You’ve gotta work with what you’ve got. I don’t think there was really a transitional period at all. Coach Bedenbaugh came in and told us what he expected. Told us the way he was gonna run things. We just got right into working his style.
You didn’t start the first couple games this season, but ended up being one of the more valuable members of the offensive line. How tough was the beginning of the year for you?
I didn’t start the first few games, and of course that was frustrating for me on a personal level. It was obviously one of my goals to be a starter, but I think in the end, it may have ended up just making me work that much harder. Making sure I was doing things the right way. It made me push myself a little more.
The OU offensive line has battled lots of injuries the last couple seasons. How frustrating was that?
It’s frustrating because you work all year with these guys. You want to see them healthy and playing well. It’s frustrating in the sense that those are your buddies and they’re going through these things and you know it’s hard for them. The reality is that this is a physical game, and people are gonna get hurt. It really just comes down to somebody having to step up. That’s another thing I’m proud of is guys being flexible, being able to help us wherever we can and wherever we need them to.
Have you talked to Adam Shead, and if so, how’s he doing?
I think he’s doing alright. I’ve talked to him about it, and it’s a back injury. It could end up being a pretty serious deal if it were to continue getting worse. I just told him that you’ve gotta think kinda long-term on that. You’ve gotta get your body healthy so you can live a normal life. At some point football’s gonna be over, and you’re gonna want to play with your kids and be able to be active. It’s tough to see him go through those injuries because you know he wants to be out there playing.
How much improvement did you see from Dionte Savage throughout the season?
When he first got here, coming from a different program, it was just learning the scheme. Making sure he was 100 percent on what to do. Also, his footwork has improved a lot. That first step for him was a big deal.