Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners continue to stay afloat as injuries, suspensions and medical issues on the offensive side of the ball have been major concerns throughout fall camp. As one leak in the ship is plugged, another seems to spring in its place.
Monday, it seemed the floodwaters were beginning to recede.
SCOOPHD: GENEO GRISSOM AND BRUCE KITTLE TALK TIGHT END
The Sooners also lost two seniors with 59 combined career starts early in camp in Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans, who will miss all of 2012 after tearing his ACL in practice.
But with young, quality depth, the Sooners feel they are finally overcoming those losses as game week preparations get underway in Norman.
“With the injuries, you just got to keep rolling,” tackle Daryl Williams said. “We’re a strong unit together, so we know what it takes to be our brother’s keeper.”
The depth on the offensive line also looked suspect when redshirt freshman Nila Kasitati underwent a procedure for a non-life-threating heart condition. The good news on that front is that Kasitati feels good and is back to practice.
“I’m fine,” Nila said. “The surgery was a success so I’m good now. There’s nothing holding me back from being better or getting a chance to play.”
The Sooners have other reasons to remain optimistic as well. One aspect that has served the team well is the versatility they have with the remaining healthy lineman. Gabe Ikard, Lane Johnson, and Bronson Irwin are all players who have shown the ability to play multiple positions on the line.
Ikard in particular started seven games at center last season and 12 games at guard the year before.
“Gabe’s value can’t be overstated,” coach Bruce Kittle said. “Lane’s flexibility as well, and Bronson has been able to play left and right guard, kind of flip back and forth. The more pieces people can play at is probably better for us because you never know what’s going to happen down the road with injuries.”
The reconstructed unit is working hard to develop a new chemistry with one another.
“We’re definitely meshing really good, that’s the reason why we practice,” sophomore tackle Tyrus Thompson said. “We already have good relationships with each other. It’s just us practicing every day, getting to know each other, how we block, what to expect from each other in certain looks. I think we’re doing really good.”
Coach Kittle emphasized the need for the line to play as one, cohesive group in Oklahoma’s high tempo offense.
“Those five guys, six if you include the tight end, they have to communicate, they have to know what each other is doing,” Kittle said. “A lot of times we don’t even have time to communicate because we’re going so fast, so you have to go enough reps to know what your buddy is going to do, and be able to trust him to do his job.”
Thompson remains confident, saying that everyone has worked hard for the opportunity to step up and help the team.
“It’s unfortunate to lose lineman, but I feel like we’ll be fine,” Thompson said. “We practice for a reason, to get better, to train for these situations. Everybody has got to step up, including myself, and I think we’ve all done a pretty good job.”
KITTLE PULLS BACK ON GRISSOM AS STARTER
Another note from Monday’s media session with the players is Geneo Grissom’s progression at tight end. The former defensive end continues to impress during practice.
“I was very surprised how easy the offense was to pick up,” Grissom said. “The hardest part was probably run blocking.
The easy transition has yet to surprise his position coach, Bruce Kittle.
“He’s a third-year guy, he’s really hungry to play, he’s had a lot of injuries and that kind of stuff,” Kittle said.? “I think getting a fresh start and just recognizing we don’t have a lot of guys there to play, he’s came at it with a lot of zeal and that’s been fun to have in the room.”
Coach Kittle also took the chance Monday to edit the perception that Grissom has been named the team’s starting tight end.
“We really haven’t set a depth chart,” Kittle said. “Coach (Stoops) hasn’t said that to me and I kind of saw that today, but I think that’s kind of a misunderstanding of what he was talking about, just in terms of Geneo moving over there.”
Still, Coach Kittle did not rule out the possibility Grissom could line up with the first team offense come Sept. 1.
“It’s early yet and he may end up being the guy,” Kittle noted.