Oklahoma football: As O-line goes, so goes the Sooner offense

NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 07: Offensive lineman Bobby Evans
NORMAN, OK - OCTOBER 07: Offensive lineman Bobby Evans /

The power and explosiveness of the Oklahoma football offense the past couple of seasons has largely been attributed to outstanding quarterback play and a bevy of talented ground and aerial weapons.

Related Story. Conference titles matter, and the Sooners are No. 1. light

Certainly when you have a pair of Heisman-winning quarterbacks at the controls and an offensive maestro on the sidelines calling plays for an offensive unit built to keep opposing defenses off balance and guessing what they’re going to get hit with next, it’s easy to understand why Oklahoma has continued to find electrifying success following the coaching transition from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley.

While it has been the skill players on offense — the quarterback, running backs and receivers — who have grabbed most all of the headlines and recognition from the Sooners’ offensive supremacy the past two seasons, in truth, it was the unsung warriors up front, in the trenches, who were the catalysts that made all that success possible.

No one pays that much attention to what goes on in the front lines of a football game. When an offensive play breaks down, however, and leads to a quarterback sack or a ball carrier getting cut down for lost yardage behind the line of scrimmage, it is the offensive line that bares the brunt of the blame.

Likewise, when a rushing play results in a big gainer or the quarterback is provided enough protection to pick out open receivers and burn the defensive coverage, it is the offensive line that deserves an equal share of the credit.

The Sooners enter the 2019 season without the services of four offensive line starters who made up 80 percent of an O-line that was judged to be the best in college football last season. Center Creed Humphrey is the lone starter back from a unit that won the 2018 Joe Moore Award as the game’s best front five.

If there was any question of how good the Oklahoma offensive line was last season, the four departed starters — tackles Bobby Evans and Cody Ford and guards Ben Powers and Dru Samia — were all selected in the first four rounds of this year’s NFL Draft.

Oklahoma has a history of outstanding offensive line play. That is one reason the Sooners’ offensive numbers have been so impressive throughout most of the past two decades, or what some refer to as the Bob Stoops-Lincoln Riley era.

But Humphrey, a sophomore, has only 12 career starts, and that is the fewest returning starts for an Oklahoma offensive line going back to 2006, according to Jason Kersey, who covers the Sooners for The Athletic. That season, the Sooners had three returning offensive lineman who had a collective 15 career starts.

The obvious question then, aside from whether the dubious Oklahoma defense can make some improvement, is how good the offensive line will be in the wake of losing four quality starters. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, one of the best in college football, is definitely has his work cut out for him.

"“Besides going into a new job, this is probably the biggest rebuild that you would have in a year,” Bedenbaugh told The Athletic this spring. “You don’t expect to lose this many guys in a year. That just doesn’t happen.”"

Right now, the best way to describe the offensive line situation is a work in progress. Some how, you have to believe that Bedenbaugh will find the right solution. College football analyst extraordinaire and preview magazine publisher Phil Steele has some faith that the Sooners will come up with the right answer. He projects the OU offensive line as the 24th best in the country this coming season, despite the massive rebuild.

The 2019 Oklahoma offensive line may turn out to be a lot better than people think, but there is little question that the group is young and inexperienced.

Coming out of spring practice, it appears OU will start the season with an offensive line consisting of three sophomores, a junior and a senior graduate transfer.

Humphrey, of course will be back at center, although he was held out of spring practice with an injury, The all-important left tackle position (the one responsible for protecting the quarterback’s backside) will be manned by junior Erik Swenson, with sophomore Adrian Early at the other tackle spot. R.J. Proctor, a grad transfer who started 12 games for Virginia over three season, is currently slotted as a starter at one of the guard spots, along with sophomore Tyrese Robinson.

Four of the five projected starters were rated as four-stars out of high school, and there are quality prospects behind them on the depth chart, including five-star recruit Brey Walker, a redshirt freshman, and three four-star offensive line recruits from the incoming 2019 class.

Former Sooner offensive lineman Powers had some optimistic words for the new offensive line room:

"“Those guys coming back have more potential than any of the guys getting drafted this year,” he told The Athletic. “They’ve just got to figure it out.”"

How fast they get things figured out will determine just how good and how far Oklahoma will go this season.