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January 1, 2014

Sugar Bowl: OL's changes will be a major factor

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NEW ORLEANS --When Oklahoma landed in New Orleans last Friday, the main topic of conversation between Alabama and local media covering the 2014 Sugar Bowl was the quarterback situation at Oklahoma.

But those closest to the program knew the biggest question was going to be the offensive line and replacing starters Tyrus Thompson and Adam Shead against a very physical Crimson Tide defense.

After five days in New Orleans, the Sooners plan is taking shape.

From what we have gathered, that plan will include Bronson Irwin at tackle.


During the two open portions of OU's Sugar Bowl practices, it was clear Irwin was working outside along with Daryl Williams, while JUCO transfer Dionte Savage was getting the majority of reps on the interior along with Gabe Ikard and Nila Kasitata.

Sources even told SoonerScoop.com Irwin and Williams would take over the tackle roles, with Irwin playing right tackle and Williams bumping to the left side.

After several practices, it appears this line is still in flux.

"I think we're still getting comfortable with it. We're just all over the place right now, a little bit with our injuries," said senior running back Brennan Clay earlier this week. "We have about three starters out on the offensive line. That's a little alarming but I think the guys that are going to fill in for it, they've done a great job."

When Ikard spoke to the media just moments after OU touched down in New Orleans, he was anxious to get to work on preparing his line for Alabama.

"I think we've got an idea of what we want to do against Alabama," he said then. "You've just got to keep getting guys reps at different positions and I've got to be ready to play guard, Bronson (Irwin) has to be ready to play whatever position he's got to play. It's one of those things where we're shuffling guys around but we're going to get the five best on the field."

Just two days later, Ikard seemed to be a player who was still anxious to get things ironed out on the practice field.

"We've looked at some other (guys), shuffled some guys around to see what we've got," said Ikard, who was talking about a lineup different from the one which featured Derek Farniok against Oklahoma State. "I'm still not really sure what lineup we're going with but I guess we'll find out on Thursday."

You might say Irwin has become the key cog in all of this.

He's a player who showed great promise coming out of high school. A big mauler with an attitude and the type of feet to play tackle.

He was similar to former Weatherford, Okla., standout Wes Sims. But he's never been asked to be a full-time starter at tackle.

At least not until now.

"We work different positions all year round and wherever I can play that's going to help the team the most, that's where I'm going to play and I feel comfortable," said Irwin.

The biggest question seems to be whether Irwin anchors the line at left tackle, or gives way to the talented Williams.

Speaking of Williams, he had no intention of giving away the gameplan following Monday's practice.

"It's the same ole same ole," he said.

When asked if that meant Tyrus Thompson would return, Williams just laughed.

"I think we're doing good without them and they're good players," he said. "Without them people probably think we'll be weaker but I think we've been just as good so far."

Oklahoma has finished the heavy lifting of gameday preparations. They've put in a lot of extra work at different positions.

Is it time to cross fingers and pray?

It is Alabama after all.

"I love the plan," said Clay. "We're going to continue to do what we do. Continue to run the ball downhill and just be able to protect the quarterbacks.

"I'm looking forward to see how we perform."

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