NORMAN — Today, Oklahoma will hold its first of 14 spring practices before the Red-White Spring Game on April 17.
Here are four story lines to follow during the spring:
How will the offensive line begin to shape?
Going into last season, OU’s greatest unknown was its offensive line, which turned out to be the weakness of the team.
Going into the spring, offensive line remains an unknown.
The Sooners lose their top three linemen from last season, and this spring also will be without injured returning starters Ben Habern (leg) and Jarvis Jones (foot).
But OU’s coaching staff is excited about the potential of Donald Stephenson, who returns to the field after being suspended all of last season for a violation of team rules. He’ll start out at left tackle protecting quarterback Landry Jones’ blindside.
Veteran Cory Brandon also comes back to anchor the other side of the line at right tackle. Brandon got off to an awful start last season, and eventually was supplanted in the lineup by Jarvis Jones. But Brandon quietly rebounded late in the year and performed well in wins over Oklahoma State and Stanford.
Tight end Eric Mensik, who played admiringly in emergency relief during OU’s final two games last season at tackle, will stay on the line for now, and be the Sooners’ top tackle reserve.
With Habern and Jones out, the middle of the line during the spring probably won’t be the line in the fall.
But their absences will provide opportunities for other linemen to develop.
In perhaps the most interesting position change on the entire team, freshman tight end Gabe Ikard will begin the spring as the first-team center in place of Habern. If he performs well, it’s not unthinkable that Ikard will remain on the line to add depth. And if Habern’s rehab from a broken leg lags, the Sooners will have three additional options at center in Ikard, walk-on Brian Lepak and incoming freshman Austin Woods, who has enrolled early and will participate in spring drills.
At guard, competition will be tight between Stephen Good, Tyler Evans and Tavaris Jeffries who combined for 14 starts last season. Incoming freshman Bronson Irwin, who too enrolled early, will also be in the mix at guard.