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February 7, 2012
Offensive line ready to power ahead this spring
Ben Habern is no stranger to injury.Starting offensive center
In 2011, Habern suffered the most bizarre of injuries when a defensive linemen broke Habern's forearm just like a martial arts master breaks blocks of concrete.
"That was a weird deal," recounted offensive line coach James Patton. "I don't know, they said that guy from Missouri (Sheldon Richardson) did it to a couple of other guys. He just had that club move down. It caught him right when Ben was snapping and he put that left hand out and, 'Bam!', it just caught him right there."
After the injury, Oklahoma was forced to overcome Habern's injury over the next six weeks.
Eventually OU's line flourished with the inclusion of Adam Shead at left guard.
By the time Habern was ready to return against Texas A&M, it was almost a chemistry buster to put Habern back in the starting lineup.
That's an odd thing to say about the player who was clearly Oklahoma's best offensive linemen last spring.
Habern was dominant a year ago when the Sooners hit the practice field. He was playing at his peak during the annual Red & White Game when he pushed Jamarkus McFarland around like a rag doll.
But Habern is far from his peak as Oklahoma gets set to start spring practices.
Neck surgery will keep Habern out of spring football practices. But he is expected back for summer workouts even though any talk of is scary for a player who starts every play with his head between his legs.
"I don't hope about Ben," responded Patton when asked if he was hopeful Ben would return for the summer. "He'll be there. I've got no question about Ben.
"Once we start spring ball, Scott Anderson will be able to give you guys updates on it, but you look at Ben Habern, seriously now! The kid has overcome some injuries.
"He came back, probably two weeks early from that broken forearm this year and played every snap, you know? There's no question about his toughness. He had a little procedure done and he probably played with that (injury)."
Habern's absence won't be a big deal for this veteran offensive line who heads into spring needing to replace just one starter (left tackle Donald Stephenson).
"We need every guy going through spring ball, but a guy like Habern, he played a bunch of football here, he's been a starter, he played in big games. We can get by without him in the spring," said Patton. "You've got Gabe (Ikard) moving in there (at center), you've got Austin Woods who's going to be second or third-year player and he needs to step up."
Habern's absence also makes room for youngsters like Shead and Bronson Irwin to be more involved with the first-team offense.
Shead is coming off an MCL sprain suffered late in the season, but Patton said he didn't require any surgery during the offseason and he's cleared to practice this spring.
"He was out four weeks," explained Patton. "I tried to get him to play in the bowl game and he just couldn't get back in time. Adam's a really good athlete, he's got foot quickness, he's so thick and strong.
"He's got probably some of the biggest hands (I've seen). Probably him and Brian Simmons are two guys that have had 10-ince or 11-inch hands. That's good for linemen.
"It hurts somebody when he punches them. It shocks them. It's good stuff."
Shead's absence in the Insight Bowl opened up playing time for Irwin, a player who has also been on the cusp of seeing more playing time.
"He's earned it," said Patton of Irwin's playing time in Arizona. "He needs to keep working and have a good offseason. He practiced good and when he practiced well that deserved more playing time."
The other young guard who has Patton excited is Nila Kasitati.
Kasitati saw limited action as a true freshmen but was injured and will receive a medical redshirt, making him a redshirt freshmen in 2012.
"He'll be an unbelievable player," Patton said of Kasitati.
Patton will also let him try out the center position this spring.
"Nila, Shead, they'll be able to snap and play center, then you'll have Woods and you'll obviously have Gabe in there and been a pretty good player."
As for the left tackle position, Patton will look at Lane Johnson, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson during the spring to see which player can fill that role. Junior College transfer Will Latu will also arrive next fall as a serious candidate to take over one of the starting tackle spots.