By John Shinn
NORMAN — It’s rare to see Oklahoma guard Adam Shead walking without favoring a leg. Shead, now a junior, battled knee, ankle and back injuries throughout his career.
Walking, at times, seemed like a tough task.
“It was at the end of the year and we didn’t have any depth,” Shead recalled. “I was just trying to be there for my teammates the best I could.”
He wasn’t alone in that regard last season. By December, the Sooners’ offensive line looked a group destined for some long trips to physical therapy.
But that was eight months ago. The human body can do incredible things if given the time to do so. Shead said Tuesday night he’s as healthy as he’s ever been. It’s something most of OU’s offensive linemen have been saying throughout August.
As far as the offensive line is concerned, the Sooners enter Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana-Monroe a much different team than when they last played.
OU coach Bob Stoops admitted he’s seen a spring in the group’s step that was missing last season. It was a season where injuries started piling up from the first day of practice. Practice became more about getting through the day than getting better.
The last month has been different.
“The blocks are a little better but we’re still doing all the same things,” he said. “I feel like they’re doing things really well. Hopefully it shows Saturday.”
The play of the offensive line tends to get magnified when things are going well. But everything gets more scrutiny when a redshirt freshman quarterback, Trevor Knight, takes his first snap and is expected to the lead OU to its first win of the season.
“We just know it's on us to make that person comfortable so that's what we're about,” center Gabe Ikard said.
The depth the Sooners have on the offensive line improves the chances it will happen. Ikard joins Shead, right guard Bronson Irwin and right tackle Daryl Williams as starters back from last season. Tyrus Thompson jumps in for first-round pick Lane Johnson, but made several starts last season.
However, having five experienced players isn’t depth. The Sooners added junior college transfers Dionte Savage, Josiah St. John and Tony Feo. Nila Kasitati, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, are all pushing starters for playing time.
The addition of offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh was made to develop a stronger, deeper group.
“This year, I feel like we’ve gotten a lot stronger, more fundamentally sound with coach Bedenbaugh helping us out with the plays and everything, breaking it down. But I think we’re looking pretty strong,” Kasitati said. “From the left tackle to the right tackle, I think everybody’s looking pretty good.”
Judgment will be reserved until the Sooners actually play some games. But there’s no trepidation in terms of how this offensive line feels going into the season.
All the hobbling that went on last season has been replaced by a fresh energetic feeling as the season approaches.
“We’re all excited about it. Just to put what we’ve been working on, on the field. We’re super excited about it and we just know it’s going to be a different year just because he’s come in and really instilled physicalness in our lineman,” Shead said. “It’s exciting.”