Coming into the season, the offensive line for the Sooners was thought of as one of the best units in the country. But just weeks before the season, they were in a bind after losing both Ben Habern and Tyler Evans to injuries. The Sooners all of a sudden went from having the best guard-duo in the conference, to having a lot of uncertainty at the two positions. More injuries were to come later in the season, as Nila Kasitati was lost for the season with an ACL injury in the Texas Tech game. All of a sudden, the unit was very thin.
Tyler Evans will return after sitting out the 2012 season with an ACL injury.
For as many injuries as the group suffered, they bounced back and performed very well throughout the season. However, the one knock was that against the better teams they played, the Sooners were unable to establish a consistent running game.
The lone departure from this year’s squad is Lane Johnson. That means the Sooners will once again be returning a wealth of talent across the offensive line.
Left Tackle: With Lane Johnson departing, the position looks to be in the hands of Daryl Williams. After starting the first 10 games at right tackle last season, Williams went down with a sprained MCL early in the West Virginia game, and missed the rest of the season. It is expected that he will move to left tackle and fill the hole left void by Johnson. Incoming JUCO transfer, Josiah St. John could also see time at the position. At (6’6, 280), St. John is rated as the No. 5 tackle prospect by 247Sports. Expect Williams to be the full-time starter.
Left Guard: After Habern went down last year, it forced Gabe Ikard to move to center, which created a hole at left guard. All of a sudden, Adam Shead was named the starter just a month before the start of the season. Shead started all 13 games, and will head into his junior season as the starter in 2013. Nila Kasitati will return from his ACL injury as likely the back-up at left guard. He was expected to see a significant amount of playing time last year as a redshirt freshman, but was instead sidelined the entire season after his injury in the Texas Tech game. Barring injury, Shead will be the full-time starter.
Center: With 37 career starts under his belt, Gabe Ikard will return for his senior season after being named an All-Big 12 first-teamer a year ago. He is the most experienced player on the roster, and the leader on the offensive line. Ikard missed the Baylor game due to injury which gave true freshman, Ty Darlington, valuable experience at the position. Darlington will see mop-up duty at the position, and his progression will be important, as he’s likely the future at center once Ikard is gone. Ikard will start every game barring injury.
Right Guard: After missing the entire 2012 season due to an ACL injury, Tyler Evans will return for his senior season. Evans will enter his season with 29 career starts, but the question will be if he will start over Bronson Irwin, who started all 13 games last season. Irwin was inserted into the starting lineup just weeks before the start of the season after the news broke of Evans’ injury in training camp. The two seniors will battle it out all offseason for the starting spot. Give Irwin a slight edge here.
Right Tackle: After starting games at both right and left tackle, Tyrus Thompson will be the favorite to take over the vacant spot at right tackle. Thompson saw action in all 13 games this season, and had five starts. After Daryl Williams went down with a sprained MCL, he started the final three games of the season at right tackle. Derek Farniok could also see time at the position after seeing a limited role early in his career. Farniok is (6’9, 319) and looks every bit the part, but continuing to develop at the position will be key for him. He will enter his sophomore as a back-up, but should see playing time this season. Expect Tyrus Thompson to be the starter when the Sooners take the field against UL-Monroe.
The two-deep looks pretty clear at this point, but there are several other players on the roster that will be competing for back-up roles this season. Austin Woods will return for his senior season, and was one of the best stories in college football last year as he battled cancer while going through the harsh conditions of training camp. Both Kyle Marrs and Dylan Hartsook redshirted in their freshman seasons last year, and will look to compete for playing time this year. Others on the roster vying for playing time, include, Robert Hollis, John-Phillip Hughes, Nathan Hughes, and Jake Reed.
Gabe Ikard returns as the most experienced player on the roster.
The offensive line will receive a lot of preseason attention, but it’s still important that they are able to successfully run block against the better teams they play.
Experience won’t be an issue, but this group must be able to stay healthy, which is something they failed to do a year ago.