PERHAPS Oklahoma's mass-communications department should add coach Bob Stoops to its faculty because he could certainly teach a class in sending messages through the media. Stoops may have been addressing reporters at spring practice in March, but there was no question that he was really talking to the members of the Sooners' rebuilt offensive line. "They, right now, are the weak link of the team," Stoops said. "They've been very inconsistent in how they work and in their toughness and discipline. They need to make an improvement if we're going to have any chance to contend for a championship."
His bluntness most likely was meant to be more motivational tool than expression of genuine concern, but Stoops's assessment seems accurate. Oklahoma lost four of the five starting linemen on the highest-scoring team in NCAA history (716 points), supreme blockers who allowed quarterback Sam Bradford to throw 50 touchdown passes. The only returnee from that group is 6'5", 318-pound senior Trent Williams, and he's adjusting to the switch from right tackle to left.
Williams and his new partners along the line—senior Brian Simmons and sophomore Stephen Good at guard, junior Cory Brandon at right tackle and redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center—heard Stoops's message loud and clear. "He's telling us that a lot is expected, and no one's going to cut us any slack just because we've got some guys who are new starters," Simmons says. "When your coach calls you out, it should drive you to give an even greater effort."
The effort has been good enough to allay the concerns of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the line coach before being promoted in 2005. "These guys have already shown me a lot," Wilson said during practice this month. "They're not seasoned yet, but they're as talented as any group in the league."
Stoops, however, is still playing bad cop. "They have some work to do in terms of dependability, toughness, getting assignments right," he says. That's his way of informing the linemen that he'll let their fall performance tell him how well they responded to his spring challenge.
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STOOPS WASN'T OFF BASE WHEN HE CALLED OUT HIS O-LINE.
CONFERENCE: Big 12
COACH: Bob Stoops (11th year)
2008 RECORD: 12--2 (7--1 in Big 12)
FINAL AP RANK: 5
RETURNING STARTERS: 14 Offense 5, Defense 9
5 BYU in Arlington, Texas
12 Idaho State
3 at Miami
17 Texas in Dallas
24 at Kansas
31 Kansas State
7 at Nebraska
14 Texas A&M
21 at Texas Tech
28 Oklahoma State
The Sooners dominated the Longhorns in the first half of the decade, winning five straight games by an average of 27 points. Since then Texas has won three of four in the bitter rivalry.
Since conference play began in 1996, Oklahoma has allowed the fewest points in Big 12 regular-season action. But the 246 points the Sooners surrendered in eight conference games last year were the most given up since Bob Stoops took over in 1999.
JAMES LANG/US PRESSWIRE
The lone returning starter on the offensive line, Williams shifts from right tackle to protect Bradford's blind side.