Oklahoma Football: What You Need to Know about Sooners' Offensive Line in 2012
The Oklahoma Sooners have a top quarterback in Landry Jones, but he can't do much without a strong offensive line keeping him off the ground.
Oklahoma is hoping to win a title with a slew of offensive weapons that can put huge numbers on the board.
If Oklahoma doesn't play in the trenches, however, there will be little shot of making a big run.
With Jones returning for his senior season, as well as the continued development of running back Dominique Whaley, the line has valuable assets to protect.
While the players usually aren't well known, the offensive line is as crucial to the outcome as any position on the field. Here is what you need to know about the unit the Sooners will send on the field.
Ben Habern Retires
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Ben Habern's career was cut short before it could truly take off.
The 23-year-old center chose to retire just prior to the 2012 season due to lingering neck and back injuries.
Habern started 30 games in his OU career, cementing himself as a leader and asset to the offensive line.
Injury problems were consistent throughout Habern's tenure as a Sooner. In 2009, his season was ended late in the year against Texas Tech due to an ankle injury.
Last season, he missed five games with a broken arm and also had some minor injuries heading into the Insight Bowl that eventually led to his retirement.
In the end, it wasn't meant to be for Habern in 2012, and the Sooners will go on without their lead center.
Tyler Evans Lost for Season
Evans (left) with former Sooner Eric Mensik
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Shortly after the news of Habern's retirement, the line was hit with another devastating blow.
Senior guard Tyler Evans tore his ACL in Oklahoma's first fall practice.
The injury left the OU without the two players that made the line a force to be feared.
Evans was an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2011, starting every game at right guard. In his career, Evans started 29 games, receiving Second-Team Academic All-Big 12 honors in 2010.
Evans' injury, coupled with Habern's retirement, made the Oklahoma offensive line a very large question mark only days after it was considered to be a major asset to the team's success in 2012.
If OU is to succeed in 2012, it will be despite the losses of two important difference makers.
Gabe Ikard Moves to Center
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The middle of the line was changed even more when Gabe Ikard moved from guard to center.
Ikard is one of the top players in the country, receiving All-Big 12 honors as well as Second Team Academic All-American in 2011.
Ikard started at left guard in 12 games during his freshman season in 2010 and was named a freshman All-American.
In 2011, Ikard proved his versatility after an injury to Ben Habern. After Habern went down, Ikard stepped in at center for seven games before switching back to guard.
Now that Habern has retired, the full responsibility of the center position falls on Ikard.
Fortunately for OU, Ikard is reaching his full potential entering his junior season. He will be as good of a replacement as any for Habern.
Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin
Sophomore guard Adam Shead
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Oklahoma's offensive line will largely depend on the success of two young men who need to prove themselves.
Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin quickly became crucial to the Sooners amidst the preseason changes.
Shead was a 4-star recruit in high school and a top 10 guard prospect. After redshirting in 2011, he played in 10 games, starting five at left guard.
While he didn't see much of the field, he made an impact and showed flashes of excellence, including a 14-knockdown game against Baylor.
Irwin has already received praise this year from head coach Bob Stoops in light of the loss of Evans.
The junior was the No. 2 player in Oklahoma in high school, but has yet to start a game at the line for the Sooners. Irwin has been a staple on the special teams since arriving in Norman, playing in every game in 2011.
He will step in for Ikard at guard to complete an interior line that is entirely different from the end of spring camp.
While the line is certainly a question mark, the Sooners' may have one of the best in the Big 12. If Shead and Irwin play to their potential, it will be like Habern and Evans never left.