The loss of Tyler Evans is a tough blow for Oklahoma. The senior guard, who started 25 games the past two seasons, would have brought stability and consistency to the Sooners' offensive interior.
Now, with Evans lost for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, OU will turn to junior Bronson Irwin to help fill the void. And the Sooners' depth in the offensive interior, which appeared to be a strength on Aug. 1, has become a potential concern in Norman.
Irwin appears prepared to handle the challenge of replacing Evans even though he hasn’t started a game in crimson and cream. He saw spot duty in 2011 after playing himself out of a redshirt season in 2010. He arrived in Norman as a highly regarded recruit from Mustang, Okla., after choosing the Sooners over offers from Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and others.
Irwin’s physical ability isn’t a major concern but questions remain because you never know how a player will react when thrust into the spotlight. Will he be assignment-sound down the stretch of a close game? How will he react if he gets beat for a crucial sack? Can he handle being on the field for a full game instead of the spot duty that became the norm early in his career?
Those questions will be answered early in the season.
Fortunately for the Sooners, there’s no reason to think Irwin won’t pass the test, particularly since he’s been in the program for two full seasons and earned a role early in his career despite having talented veterans ahead of him on the depth chart.
The main source of disappointment for the Sooners is the negative effect on their depth in the interior offensive line. Guard and center were arguably the Sooners' deepest group Aug. 1. Then center Ben Habern decided to quit football, sophomore Nila Kasitati had surgery for a heart condition and Evans was lost for the season. All three players figured to make a major impact in 2012. Also on Monday, John Michael McGee, ranked the No. 12 guard in the nation by ESPN in the class of 2012, indicated through Twitter that he is leaving the team.
Kasitati, one of the top young players on the roster, is expected back before the season opener, which is terrific news since he can provide quality depth at center and guard. He was expected to contribute in a small way before the defections and injuries crippled OU’s depth.
But Evans' injury means OU needs to prepare true freshman center Ty Darlington to play immediately. Darlington was already getting rave reviews from teammates, but he goes from being a player who could force his way onto the field during his first year on campus to a player the Sooners will need to be ready to play from day one.
The Sooners also could consider moving one of their young tackles inside, and prepare them to play guard and tackle, similar to Jarvis Jones' role in 2011.
Don’t be surprised if true freshman Kyle Marrs ends up seeing practice reps at guard. Interior offensive line coach James Patton recruited Marrs, so that could make the transition inside a bit easier. The move also could be ideal for Marrs if he wants to play as soon as possible. Sophomores Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, along with redshirt freshman Derek Farniok, give the Sooners three quality young talents in their two-deep at offensive tackle but create an obstacle-filled road to playing time for Marrs at tackle.
As OU approaches the most taxing and most physical portion of its preseason camp, keeping its remaining interior offensive linemen healthy has become a top priority for Bob Stoops and the rest of the coaching staff.