It's a well known fact that the big guys up front never truly get the credit they deserve. While it's easy to recognize a well-thrown pass by the quarterback or an improbable catch by the wide receiver, the offensive linemen are what make those plays happen.
They're the protectors. They fight in the trenches to keep their teammates safe. They can ultimately be the factor in whether or not a team has a winning season.
For the 2012 season, the Oklahoma Sooners have an established and experienced group of protectors. Three seniors anchor what is likely to be one of the best offensive lines in the country, but the best player might be the lone junior.
Beyond the starters, the depth on the Sooners' offensive line is something to marvel at. The Sooners, who already have received two verbal commitments from promising offensive tackles for the upcoming recruiting class, are going to be set on talent for the next few seasons.
Let's get to know the offensive line a little bit better before this season kicks off.
Projected Starter: Daryl Williams, So., 6'6", 313 pounds
Depth: Will Latu, Jr., 6'5", 315 pounds; Derek Farniok, RS Fr., 6'9", 325 pounds
Right tackle is the one position on the line that is really still up in the air. Don't get me wrong, the talent is there, it's just going to be the most competitive position.
As of now, the starting nod has to go to sophomore Daryl Williams. As a redshirt freshman last season, Williams started in the season opener against Tulsa before becoming a full-time backup to Lane Johnson. Williams has great size for the position and the most experience going into the 2012 season.
Williams could be in for a dog fight with junior college transfer Will Latu, though. When Latu signed his LOI with the Sooners, many believed that he would step right in as a starter due to his size, athleticism, success and experience at the JUCO level.
There hasn't been much buzz surrounding Latu, though, who was scheduled to arrive to Norman in June but has yet to make it to campus. Latu is still finishing up coursework, so it's likely that he may not get here until later this month or even August. That's definitely a plus for Williams.
I have Derek Farniok currently slotted as the third string right tackle, but it's very much a projection. Farniok has incredible size—perfect for a future left guard—but he's still young, raw and inexperienced. He did perform well in the spring, though, which is always a good sign.
Projected Starter: Tyler Evans, Sr., 6'5", 304 pounds
Depth: Bronson Irwin, Jr., 6'5", 305 pounds
One of three starting seniors on the offensive line, Tyler Evans is a very solid piece to an experienced group. This will be Evans' third straight year as a full-time starter, and he even earned four starts as a true freshman.
Evans has great size and produces well at his position (77 knockdowns last season), but what's really remarkable is his durability. Evans has lined up for just under 1,600 snaps over the last two seasons, which will be a great stat for NFL scouts (barring any injuries this season, of course).
Once Evans does leave for the NFL, Bronson Irwin may be the man to replace him in the starting lineup. Irwin, a junior, has been a backup for his entire career at the University of Oklahoma. However, he does provide solid depth at multiple positions on the offensive line.
Unfortunately, with Evans still around at right guard and Gabe Ikard and Adam Shead around for the next few seasons at left guard, Irwin is likely going to be spending another season on special teams. His chance is coming, though.
Projected Starter: Ben Habern, Sr., 6'4", 292 pounds
Depth: Gabe Ikard, Jr., 6'4", 295 pounds
Center may be the one position on the depth chart that should have no cause of concern for fans or coaches. Senior Ben Habern will be back at the helm of the line for the fourth straight season. After missing five games last season due to an arm injury, Habern will be motivated to stay on the field as much as possible to finish his career as a Sooner.
Last season wasn't the first time Habern has been bitten by the injury bug, though. After playing in just three games during his freshman year, Habern had to receive medical hardship after suffering an ankle injury. He rebounded well, playing in every game during his pseudo freshman and sophomore seasons.
If Habern happens to go down again this season, junior Gabe Ikard, who is currently starting at left guard, will likely once again fill in at center. Ikard started every game at center that Habern had to miss last season, and his versatility makes him one of best offensive linemen in the country.
Projected Starter: Gabe Ikard, Jr., 6'4", 295 pounds
Depth: Adam Shead, So., 6'4", 315 pounds; Bronson Irwin, Jr., 6'5", 305 pounds
Left guard is a rather deep position for the Sooners, and it all starts with junior Gabe Ikard. Ikard finished as an All-Big 12 first team selection after starting all 13 games and recording 88 knockdowns for the Sooners last season.
As was discussed on the previous slide, Ikard is the most versatile offensive lineman on the roster, and he will be highly coveted at the next level. It's a good thing he's spent his share of time starting at center, because he may be converted at the next level due to his size.
In fact, with Ben Habern graduating after this season, Ikard may slide into the full-time starting role as next year's center, allowing either Adam Shead (most likely) or Bronson Irwin (less likely) to slide into the starting role at left guard.
Shead saw action in 10 games last season, but he started in five after Ikard had to take over at center. Still, he finished with an impressive 62 knockdowns for the season and appears to be the future at the position.
Projected Starter: Lane Johnson, Sr., 6'6", 296 pounds
Depth: Tyrus Thompson, So., 6'5", 297 pounds
Finally, we've reached arguably the most important position on the field: left tackle. Being that quarterback Landry Jones is right-handed, the left tackle has the responsibility of protecting Jones' blind side.
Lane Johnson, the projected starter at left tackle, is ready to settle into a full-time position. After being recruited as a tight end, Johnson was moved to defensive end as a sophomore. However, Johnson just kept growing. Last season, he played as a right tackle for the Sooners where he started 12 of 13 games.
With Donald Stephenson off to the NFL, Johnson is the likely candidate to slide across the line and fill the void Stephenson left behind. At 6'6" and 296 pounds, Johnson still has elite athleticism and quickness. If he has even a decent season, Johnson is the kind of guy who is going to rise up draft boards—he's going to post terrific numbers at the combine.
If Johnson goes down, sophomore Tyrus Thompson is the guy who will most likely step in, though Will Latu, Daryl Williams or Derek Farniok could certainly step in that role, as well.
Thompson only saw action in five games last season, but he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. He hasn't exactly gotten a chance to shine, and with Johnson still around, his time might not come until next season.