NORMAN — The last time Oklahoma had to break in a new starting quarterback, it was the offensive line that had a hand in making that happen.
In 2009, an inexperienced offensive line led to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford being battered around in the opener against BYU.
Bradford went down with a shoulder injury in the closing seconds of the first half of that game, leading to Landry Jones making his debut to start the second half.
Bradford briefly returned later that season before being reinjured, ending his Sooners career.
Wednesday came and went without an announcement on who will start at quarterback against Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 31, but either way, Blake Bell or Trevor Knight will have better support up front than Jones had.
The Sooners return four offensive linemen — Gabe Ikard, Bronson Irwin, Adam Shead and Daryl Williams — who started 10 or more games last season. Ty Darlington and Tyrus Thomas made spot starts last season as well.
And even with that returning front-line, perhaps no position received more of an immediate boost in the recruiting class than the offensive line.
Oklahoma added three junior college offensive linemen that are expected to be in the rotation this season in guards Tony Feo and Dionte Savage and tackle Josiah St. John.
The Sooners also have a new offensive line coach in Bill Bedenbaugh.
Bedenbaugh beefed up the offensive line over the offseason, asking them to pack on pounds while maintaining their mobility as much as possible.
Since practice began, the change has been even more evident.
“He’s on us all the time about our technique — where our hands are, our feet, our alignment, where our eyes are,” center Gabe Ikard said. “That’s one of the biggest things I’ve noticed. He’s very big on putting your eyes in the right spot. He’s a really good coach, and we’ve really learned a lot so far, but the biggest impact he’s had is on having the O-line recognize defense and recognize blitzes.”
When running back Damien Williams joined the team last year, Ben Habern and Tyler Evans quickly went down with injuries, Nila Kasitati was sidelined with a heart condition and the offensive line suddenly seemed as thin as it had been since that 2009 season.
“I feel confident as a running back, knowing if one guy goes down, we’ve got another guy coming in ready to go,” Williams said. “The guys are experienced and healthy. Having those guys back and knowing if one goes down, we’ve got another one coming in, I feel like we’re great.”
Ikard was especially complimentary of Feo and Savage.
“You can just look at them. They’re both just very physical,” Ikard said. “Coach Bedenbaugh continues to work with technique and all the stuff we’ve done with our new schemes. It’s a lot of pick up. They are working hard and getting into their playbooks and working on their technique. Both guys have improved a lot since we started camp. If they keep coming along, there’s no reason they can’t help us.”
The competition from those newcomers — and the depth they provide — could be invaluable, especially if the Sooners experience another rash of injuries like last year.
“In football, you never know what’s going to happen,” tight end Brannon Green said. “You’ve got to have guys ready to step in to play. That’s just, that’s the thing about coming to OU — you’ve got to fight every day for a position. That’s what makes it so great.”