NORMAN — Oklahoma is looking for improved offensive line play this season.
Tyrese Robinson and Marquis Hayes departed for the NFL, but the additions of strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt and the more north-south running style of new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will bring a different approach to the trenches in Norman this season.
The Sooners underwent a lot of changes up front, but offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh was still pleased with where his unit stood headed into fall camp.
“I feel like coming out of spring we were probably a little further ahead than I anticipated,” Bedenbaugh said during OU’s local media day at the start of August. “Is that good or bad? I don't know. Obviously you're putting in a new system, some different techniques, some different things that we're doing.
“So I felt like they really worked at it. Really studied it. Got better throughout the spring. Obviously we have a ways to go, but felt good coming out of spring.”
The summer mostly consisted of work in the weight room and limited opportunities in the film room due to NCAA practice restrictions, but halfway through fall camp Venables said he’s seen clear improvements up front from where the offensive line started last spring.
“Continuity. Toughness. Playing together better. Physicality,” Venables said after practice on Tuesday. “I feel like we have nine guys who can play winning football. Not just who can get in there in an emergency and put them on life support and can get in somebody’s way. I’m talking about guys who can execute and win the game for us.”
A trio of newcomers have made an impression on Venables.
California transfer McKade Mettauer spent most of the spring playing left guard, and the summer arrivals of true freshmen Jake Taylor and Jacob Sexton have added to the depth of the group, Venables said.
“We feel, without question, better than where we were during the course of the spring,” he said. “Some of that is more understanding with the new guys and some of the freshmen that weren’t here in the spring. The Jakes and McKade is really playing well. Having (Andrew Raym) back – he had an ankle sprain in the spring. It’s been a strong point through fall camp for us so far.”
Of the nine offensive linemen Venables outlined, he said the Sooners have five players on the interior and four guys at tackle that can help win games.
Oddly enough, Venables didn’t name left tackle Anton Harrison when he rolled through names at tackle on Tuesday afternoon.
“The two Jakes are a part of that. We like where they’re at right now,” he said. “Wanya (Morris) is playing his best football. Tyler Guyton has been (consistently improving) since he’s been here. He’s a tough guy, plays through pain. That’s what it’s all about.”
Harrison has seen action in 22 games at left tackle for OU over the past two seasons, including 12 starts in 2021.
Bedenbaugh highlighted Harrison as a player who will benefit from the wealth of early playing experience he’s gotten at Oklahoma before camp started.
“He's ultra-talented, he's a smart kid, he works hard,” Bedenbaugh said before fall camp. “Obviously all of those things have got to continue to improve for him. But I think through the spring he grew up some more. He's still got to mature and grow up. Again, he's a young guy. But that's what we need out of him.”
Still, regardless of who the five starters are along the offensive line come Sept. 3 against UTEP, the entire unit still needs to continue improving to help the Sooners return to Arlington to play for the Big 12 Championship this winter.
“We feel like we have a group of guys playing with plenty of confidence,” Venables said. “Still plenty of things we need to improve and show up every day with the right mindset and our best players have to show up every day and play at a high level.”
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