With center Ben Habern sidelined six to eight weeks with a broken right forearm, McGuinness product Gabe Ikard inherits a key role in Oklahoma's high octane offense.
The position switch isn't completely new for Ikard, a former tight end who was moved to right guard his freshman year.
A redshirt sophomore, Ikard played center during two-a-days when Habern was sidelined by a concussion.
“That was the first thing all the coaches said to me,” Ikard said. “They got on the headset and said, “Hey, don't forget you were our guy during two-days. You can do it. You're fine. Just relax, get the snap back and block 'em up.'”
Habern injured his radius bone on OU's first possession of the second half of Saturday night's 38-28 win over Missouri. The injury may have occurred when Habern was trying to make a diving block downfield. Habern finished the drive but did not return.
Ikard stepped in to play center. Stephen Good took over Ikard's position. Good has nine career starts. He was the starting right guard early last season before Ikard passed him on the depth chart.
“Center might be (Ikard's) natural position,” said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “He's pretty comfortable there. You saw that (Saturday) night. He performed extremely well.”
One of Ikard's new responsibilities as the center helps maintain a fast pace. The center also calls out blocking assignments, makes sure linebackers are accounted for and is responsible for spotting possible blitzes.
“We call it out in the film room, all of us,” Ikard said. “It's not that big a deal for me. Just make sure the other guys know where I'm going... But it's definitely different. We did a decent job without Ben in there, but we've definitely got to step it up.”
The most experienced player on OU's offensive line, Habern has made 17 consecutive starts and 27 career starts, second most on offense behind Ryan Broyles.
“Gabe is a good center,” said quarterback Landry Jones. “He plays really well and snaps it really well. But it stinks that Ben went down. You hate for someone like Ben, one of the better guys on our team, to struggle with injuries quite a bit.”
Habern, who missed time with ankle injuries in 2008 (a medical redshirt season) and 2009, will be re-evaluated in four to six weeks.
Even if he returns early, Habern would still miss games against Ball State, Texas, Kansas and Texas Tech. He probably will be out for Kansas State and Texas A&M (Nov. 5).
The good news is two offensive tackles are expected to return this week.
Jarvis Jones, the starting right tackle last season, suffered a torn ACL in the spring. Jones returned to practice last week. He suited out against Missouri but didn't play.
Redshirt freshman Daryl Williams, who started the season opener at right tackle, has missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain but is close to returning.
Even though the Sooners have good depth, losing Habern, the most experienced offensive lineman, is a tough blow. While he's sidelined, Ikard will be the “quarterback” of the offensive line.
Because both positions are on the interior, there are similarities. But there are subtle differences besides snapping the ball in the shotgun.
“My steps were a little off in the run game, just because of the slight differences between center and guard,” Ikard said. “But we can get that corrected in practice if I need to. We've just go to step it up and block 'em better.”