Practice report: OL seeks improvement

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma has rushed for 554 yards and nine touchdowns in the Sooners first two games.

Yet, centers/guards coach James Patton thinks his squad has a ways to go.

“We have to get better,” Patton said. “We did some good things the other night but our execution level needs to continue to improve. The goal is to be efficient, get hats on hats and using good technique. From the UTEP game to the Florida A&M game, we were better.”

The Sooners offensive front will face a stern test on Sept. 22 when Kansas State visits Owen Field. Patton noted that the Wildcats have done a superb job against the run, allowing 2.45 yards per carry and 135 rushing yards in two games.

“We’ll see a pretty good defense in two weeks against Kansas State,” Patton said.

• Center Gabe Ikard said that defensive tackle Casey Walker looks “real good” through two practices since his return to the team from a personal issue. Walker hadn’t practiced with the Sooners since the week of the opener against UTEP.

“He’s the same guy,” Ikard said. “Low to the ground, strong.”

Walker, who’s been a key component of OU’s defensive tackle rotation the last three years, was the projected starter at nose guard going into the season. Since his return, fellow defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland has been working at the three-technique, while David King has slid back to his natural position of defensive end.

• Patton knows the Sooners are thin on the offensive interior with Ikard and guards Bronson Irwin and Adam Shead needing to remain healthy throughout this season.

“Are we thin? Yeah. Guys have to stay healthy,” Patton said. “But on the same token other guys need to be ready to play.”

Guard Nila Kasitati has played well and center Ty Darlington got his first game experience against FAMU.

“Nila is right there, Nila is playing really well,” Patton said of the redshirt freshman guard.

Said Ikard: “Nila needs to get on the field some, he’s too talented to keep him off.”

Darlington is also taking steps toward providing quality depth on OU’s offensive interior.

“Ty played well,” Ikard said. “You’re going to have some nerves and jitters the first time out there, but he went the right way, snapped it in the right gap all the time, so that’s a success usually. He had no missed assignments and he competed -- that’s the type of guy he is.”

Darlington’s emergence and Kasitati’s return from preseason surgery has lessened concerns about depth on the interior, as both players are playing well when they get opportunities to perform.

• For years, the strength of the OU offensive line has been protecting the passer. But through two games, the Sooners have already given up six sacks, half the number they allowed all of last season. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel pointed out that four of those sacks were due to quarterbacks Landry Jones and Blake Bell holding on to the ball too long. But that hasn’t deterred the offensive line from passing off responsibility.

“That’s inexcusable,” Ikard said.

Patton called the number “disappointing.”

“We’ve got to do a better job,” he said. “We can’t be turning guys loose.”

• Patton confirmed that guard Tyler Evans had successful surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right leg.

“He’s doing great,” Patton said. “He’s looking forward to another year being a Sooner.”

Because Evans played as a true freshman in 2009, he is using his redshirt this season and will have one more season of eligibility in 2013.

• Irwin noted that he’s yet to get tired despite manning right guard by himself through two games. Patton has been rotating Kasitati in at left guard with Shead, but has left Irwin in on the right side.

“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Irwin said. “I could have played another quarter at UTEP, even though I had played the entire game. Conditioning wise, I feel great.”

• Many of the players are going to use this open weekend to watch football. In some cases, live. Tress Way is going to Tulsa weekend to watch his brother, Hurricanes punter Cole Way, take on Nicholls State.

Irwin is going to check out his high school alma mater, Mustang, play Stillwater.