Revamped offensive line remains a sore spot for Stoops
BY DAVE SITTLER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
5/27/09 at 4:01 AM
Go to Dave Sittler's Blog
MARCH MADNESS at Oklahoma wasn't limited to the Lloyd Noble Center.
While Blake Griffin, Courtney Paris and their Sooner teammates were tearing it up in the NCAA basketball tournaments, football coach Bob Stoops was ripping into his offensive line.
The way things are going, this could turn into a summer-long, slow boil for Stoops.
An angry Stoops first zeroed in on the O-line at a March 2 news conference, an annual event to kick off spring practice. Nearly three months later, the hard line that Stoops took with the line hasn't changed.
OU is ranked No. 3 in a consensus of 13 preseason polls. But listening to Stoops, it sounds like the Sooners might be fortunate to finish third in the Big 12 Conference's South Division if things don't go right up front on offense.
"If they will come on and be what they need to be, we have a chance to have a really good team," Stoops said in a telephone interview. "If they don't, we'll just have an OK team. That's the bottom line."
Excuse me, OK? When it comes to football, OK is not OK at OU, where Stoops has spoiled Sooners supporters by winning a record six Big 12 titles, a national championship and taking the Sooners to four BCS title games in his first 10 seasons.
Stoops sent a clear message to the offensive line with his state-of-the-team speech at the March media gathering. He reinforced it last week when he kicked guard Alex Williams off the team.
With four of five starters gone from last season's record-breaking offense, Stoops hoped the candidates for those open positions would use OU's intense winter conditioning program to be locked and loaded and ready when spring ball arrived.
That didn't happen. So Stoops, criticizing their work ethic, discipline, toughness, inconsistency and overall attitude, characterized the O-line as "the weak link of the team."
Judging by his "OK" comment last Friday, those 15 spring practices did little to ease his concern.
"That (spring) is just a small segment of time," Stoops said. "They've got a chance, but they have a lot of work to do."
Williams' dismissal seems to indicate the fed-up level of Stoops' frustration. In normal circumstances, one could assume a coach dismisses a player to set an example of what's going to happen to others if they don't get with the program.
But Stoops doesn't have enough warm, wide bodies available for any example setting. Trent Williams, who will switch from right to left tackle, is the only returning starter.
The lack of starting experience is compounded by almost nonexistent depth. Alex Williams worked at both guard spots during the spring behind Stephen Good and Brian Simmons, who are now the only two returning scholarship players at the position.
In addition to Trent Williams, Good and Simmons, the projected starters include right tackle Cory Brandon and center Ben Habern. After that, Stoops' choices include walk-on Brian Lepak, junior-college transfer Tavaris Jeffries, little-used redshirt sophomores Donald Stephenson and Jason Hannan and LSU transfer Jarvis Jones.
Stoops might experience a few sleepless summer nights if a recent Wall Street Journal story proves accurate. The article contends that a team's offensive-line experience can predict its success for the upcoming season.
According to the newspaper's calculations, OU is No. 11 in the Big 12 with the number of career starts returning on the O-Line with 29. Kansas, with 26, is No. 12, while Texas (91) and Oklahoma State (86) have at least 20 more than their nearest competitors.
Stoops has to hope quality and potential make up for the lack of numbers. Trent Williams is projected to be a first-round selection in the 2010 NFL draft, while the other Sooners starters have solid credentials.
"There's some talent there," Stoops said. "But there's a lot more to it than talent. There's a work ethic and a lot more that goes into doing what you need to do to be successful."
If the Red-White Spring Game was an indicator, quarterback Sam Bradford can forget about becoming only the second player to win two Heisman trophies. Bradford was sacked twice on the first series of the game before wisely watching most of the contest from the sideline.
With Good and Jones out with injuries, the offensive line also struggled to establish a running game. After that April contest, Stoops said the positive of the injuries was that younger lineman like Alex Williams took the majority of the snaps.
By late May, Stoops had decided not to renew Alex Williams' scholarship because the redshirt sophomore was not "doing what he needs to do."
Who knows what June and July hold. At this rate, it could be a long, hot summer for the Sooners, with the opening of fall camp certain to be filled with August angst.