If Bill Bedenbaugh isn’t the best offensive line coach in college football, the list of those ahead of him is a short one.
For starters, Bedenbaugh is excelling in the recruiting game. His last four recruiting classes included a total of 11 blue-chip players, and he has already landed two commitments from four-star linemen in the 2019 cycle.
At the same time, he’s building a strong track record of developing projects such as Orlando Brown and Erick Wren into all-conference performers and NFL draft picks. Guard Ben Powers, a three-star JUCO recruit, will hear his name called in the next draft.
Although Wren and Brown have moved on, the Sooners still appear ready to roll with what should again be one of the best lines in the nation in 2018.
Replacing an All-American left tackle might seem like the top concern for this unit at first glance, but that should fall behind center. Wren provided a veteran presence at the line’s anchor position, and he was working with a three-year starter at quarterback. OU will feature new faces at both spots this fall.
On the bright side, the competition for the starting job at center involves Creed Humphrey. The coaches started singing Humphrey’s praises almost from the moment he set foot on campus as an early enrollee in 2017. The Shawnee native has added 35 pounds to his 6-4 frame since then. That hasn't raised any concerns about Humphrey losing the athletic traits that Bedenbaugh touted during his freshman year.
Jonathan Alvarez is also vying for the center position. The fifth-year senior has played intermittently since he started at right guard for the 2015 season. That year in the trenches showed Alvarez lacked the strength to drive opposing linemen off the ball consistently. Maybe three years of development transformed him into a more powerful blocker.
Ultimately, Alvarez has invaluable experience in OU’s system, which puts him in position to get the starting nod early in the year. If so, Humphrey will push to unseat him sooner than later.
Truth be told, the Sooners probably know their starting tackles already. OU’s best lineman last season, Bobby Evans, is a given. Cody Ford also appears ready to complete the switch from guard to tackle.
Ford's immense talent – not to mention stature (6-4, 338 pounds) – makes it tough to keep a bruiser like that on the bench. Whether or not he’s ready to play on the perimeter of the line remains to be seen, but his size and skills fit well with an offense that seems likely to tilt more to the run.
At this point, the bigger question is who plays where. Evans has flourished on the right side, so why move him? On the other hand, doesn't it seem risky to play an unproven pass protector like Ford on the QB’s blind side?
Bedenbaugh is working that out in camp, but the smart money as of now would still be on Ford playing LT and Evans staying on the right.
If Ford stumbles at tackle, JUCO transfer Tramonda Moore and redshirt freshman Adrian Ealy will be waiting in the wings. (Frankly, it might have been Moore starting at left tackle if his arrival on campus wasn’t delayed from the spring.)
Picking up on a theme, you might not find a better combo of guards than Powers and Dru Samia anywhere. Both will challenge for challenge for conference and national honors before jetting off to the show in the spring.
On another team, redshirt freshman guard Marquis Hayes would have the inside track on a first-team spot. Also keep an eye on his classmate Tyrese Robinson to step in if necessary.
Overall, OU's OL may need to work through a few chemistry hiccups early in the season. By October, however, expect to see this unit firing on all cylinders.