Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Preseason losses plaguing Sooners
By David Ubben
Oklahoma enters the 2012 season as the Big 12 favorite, but is that slowly changing, injury by injury?
One of the Sooners' biggest strengths was their offensive line, but with two big losses and another departure, the unit has turned into a big question mark.
Center Ben Habern, a three-year starter, chose to leave football after recurring neck and back issues. On Monday, the Sooners announced fellow three-year starter at guard, Tyler Evans, will miss the season with a torn ACL.
Habern had started 30 games entering this season. Evans, 29. All those 59 games of experience are suddenly off the field this season.
Incoming freshman and U.S. Army All-American John Michael McGee also left the team this week. That's a much less impactful loss this season, but McGee could have blossomed into something special.
As for this year's team, colleague Ivan Maisel noted that the Sooners now return just 43 total starts on the offensive line. That ranks eighth in the Big 12.
Quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest returning piece for the Sooners, but the biggest way to negate his effectiveness is to remove big pieces from his offensive line. Just ask Sam Bradford.
Guard Gabe Ikard (who now has to move to center to replace Habern) is the best player on the line for the Sooners, and he's still healthy, but Oklahoma has struggled to get a big push in some high-profile losses the past few seasons. Even 2008's famed line got stuffed on the goal line twice against Florida in the national title game, and 2010's team was stuffed three times in a loss to Texas A&M.
This season's line looked like one that would have the potential to get that push.
It's hard not to immediately draw a comparison to the 2009 team with the preseason injuries already in camp. As the nightmare season wore on, the offensive line got beat up more and more, eventually needing 265-pound tight end Brody Eldridge to start at center ... before he hurt his neck against Nebraska. This season's team isn't as good as that 2009 team that lost All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham and Bradford before halftime of the first game, but this 2012 team seemed to have the ability to win the national title.
With the losses on the offensive line, has that all changed now? We'll find out in the months to come.