With spring practice wrapped up and fall camp now just 2 1/2 months away, Oklahoma players are using the offseason to improve their spot on the two-deep. Every Sunday this summer, SI Sooners previews Oklahoma’s depth chart position-by-position.
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The Oklahoma offensive line isn’t set, by any means. But coming out of spring practice, it definitely appears settled.
Competition — at all positions, across multiple positions, actually — was the name of the game in spring practice.
“The one thing we've really made the point of really this entire spring with the o-line, and really all positions is just, we don't have a starting group,” Lincoln Riley said. “We don't have an 'A' group. We've rotated guys all over the place and just, trying to really do what we tell these guys we're going to do, which is just take a step back and just look at everybody, no preconceived notions, not based on what you've done before and let's just see who is performing in the moment right now.”
The Sooners must replace Creed Humphrey, job one. Finding someone to fill the shoes of the two-time winner of the Big 12 Conference’s Offensive Lineman of the Year award is Bill Bedenbaugh’s first challenge.
But if the Red / White Game is any indication, Andrew Raym is first in line to try. Raym, a sophomore from Broken Arrow, drew the start in the spring game, and both performed well and looked like he knew exactly what he was doing. The idea going into spring was that Raym was in a dead heat with 2020 UCLA transfer senior Chris Murray, 2021 Arizona transfer senior Robert Congel and fifth-year senior Ian McIver. But pencil Raym ahead of them all for now based on how he did on April 24.
A couple of things helped Raym: 1, senior right guard Tyrese Robinson, a two-year starter, missed time during the spring (including the scrimmage), which necessitated Murray’s shift back to guard. And 2, Congel (who also played at Texas A&M) is well-traveled and adept at picking up new playbooks, but he’s still on a learning curve when it comes to Riley’s offense and Bedenbaugh’s blocking schemes. If Raym wins the starting job and Congel proves a capable backup, Murray could be best served to stay at guard.
Robinson’s job would certainly seem solid when he gets back. He and fifth-year senior Marquis Hayes have started the last 25 and 24 games in a row, respectively.
Guard wasn’t the only position affected by injuries across the front. At tackle, sophomore Anton Harrison and redshirt freshman Stacey Wilkins both were dinged up in the spring and had to miss the scrimmage. They’ll likely be top-flight backups in 2021, with a real eye toward the future as spring game starters Wanya Morris at left tackle and Erik Swenson at right tackle (he figures to replace Adrian Ealy) might both be gone next year. Morris is a former 5-star prospect who’ll be draft eligible, and Swenson is a super senior who’s playing his final year of eligibility.
Based on the spring game, Morris and Swenson will start this fall, which makes sense because Morris was a two-year starter at Tennessee and Swenson has been a two-year starter (mostly at left tackle) for the Sooners and didn't allow a sack on 272 pass blocking plays last year.
When Harrison and Wilkins come back, expect Harrison to continue to pick up meaningful snaps at left tackle (he rotated in with Swenson there last year) and expect Wilkins to work in at right tackle (he was expected to compete for a starting spot in training camp last year when he decided to opt out). Both have next-level talent.
A limited number of offensive tackles in the Red / White Game meant Bedenbaugh needed Brey Walker to slide out from guard to tackle, where he backed up Morris. Walker has played both positions in his time at OU (mostly on the right side, though he played left tackle in the scrimmage), and the 6-foot-6, 353-pound Walker has flashed impressive moments at both. His versatility could be an x-factor for Bedenbaugh this year.
Redshirt freshman Aaryn Parks was the backup right tackle in the scrimmage, and third-year sophomore Marcus Alexander and fourth-year junior Darrell Simpson were the backup guards while McIver got the backup snaps at center. And against one of the Sooners’ deepest and most talented defensive lines in a decade or more, they won their fair share of individual battles.
“We've had a number of guys,” Riley said, “that have really improved.”
However things shake out, expect more efficient play across the board in 2021. The Sooners last year had their most anemic rushing attack under Riley, and it often appeared players spent much of the season working themselves back into game shape. Everyone did what they could, but the offseason training regimens, where players were often left to work out on their own, didn’t enhance anyone’s fitness.
Now, with a full spring in Norman and a summer that should be close to normal, almost everyone is significantly lighter and should be faster and more athletic.
Hayes is down from 349 pounds to 335, Robinson is down from 335 to 326, Murray is down from 297 to 279, Harrison is down from 334 to 317, and Raym is down from 320 to 304.
That portends more movement up front — picture the G-T pull that Riley likes so much, or more traps to create space for Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray to utilize their one-cut talents, or screen passes to Gray or Mario Williams.
“We have worked with a lot of different combinations,” Riley said, “and I think some of those young guys have really grown and done some good things and are certainly going to be pushing for playing time. And it’s made another room there that's going to be very, very competitive — especially when you add Robinson and Anton and a couple of those guys into the fold as well.”