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2023 Positional Preview – Offensive Line

Part 4 of the 2023 Positional Preview finds us on Bill Bedenbaugh's offensive line, a group looking to return to national prominence - and the NFL Draft.
Andrew Raym and Bill Bedenbaugh. Photo by Ryan Chapman/SI Sooners

The Room

Projected Depth Chart

POSSTARTER2ND STRING3RD STRINGREDSHIRT
LTWalter RouseJacob SextonAaryn ParksLogan Howland
LGSavion ByrdTroy EverettCayden GreenHeath Ozaeta
CAndrew RaymTroy EverettNate AndersonJosh Bates
RGMcKade MettauerJake TaylorCaleb Shaffer
RTTyler GuytonJake TaylorAaryn Parks
Anton Harrison, 2023 First Round Draft Pick. Photo by Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

2022 Recap

2022 was a bit of up and down, but overall a breath of fresh air to longtime Sooner fans that had watched the offensive line get smaller, weaker, and frankly pushed around as a continuous trend from 2019 to 2021. We won’t dive into the likely S&C reasons behind this, but we can discuss the pivot towards the more successful lines we were used to seeing under offensive coordinator Bill Bedenbaugh’s tutelage his first several years on campus.

2022 saw OU return to a top 10 rushing team at 219 yards per game, despite a smaller lead RB in Eric Gray and a QB that added 315 rushing yards, thus not getting the ‘Jalen Hurts boost’. They were lead by a pair of NFL bookend tackles in Anton Harrison and Wanya Morris, with Harrison providing Coach Bedenbaugh his first offensive tackle taken in the first round during his time as a coach. Morris chased him not far behind in the 3rd round, though unfortunately his size and athletic ability may have had more to do with that selection than his play on the field, missing the first two games due to suspension and then providing inconsistent play throughout the season. The interior also showed up and down physicality, with the majority of the snaps going to the trio of McKade MettauerAndrew RaymChris Murray. What’s interesting inside, all three were smart enough players that the run blocking flourished during the season, likely due to sound assignments and getting to the second level. Meanwhile, the pass blocking statistics left some to be desired. The line had a propensity to cave to any sort of bull rush against the lighter interior group.

But, as with any article I write, let’s see if we can look at some of the stats, which is extra hard on the OL.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed digging into the Football Outsiders Offensive Line Stats database they provide for free, and seeing how OU stacks up against their peers. Anyone who has been on the board may have seen me drop these into some of our OL threads, but lets expand on them a bit for this article.

Football Outsiders has nine different categories of situations, where they monitor run/pass success to help gauge OL success:

  1. Line Yards Per Carry: the line gets credit for rushing yardage between 0-3 yards (instead of 0-4) and 50% credit for yards 4-8 (instead of 5-10)
  2. Standard Downs Line Yards Per Carry: The raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs (first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer).
  3. Passing Downs Line Yards Per Carry: The same unadjusted averages for rushing on passing downs
  4. Opportunity Rate: The percentage of carries (when four yards are available) that gain at least four yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak.
  5. Power Success Rate: percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown.
  6. Stuff Rate: percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.
  7. Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for all non-garbage time pass attempts
  8. Standard Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for standard downs pass attempts.
  9. Passing Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate for passing downs pass attempts

I know that is a lot to look at, but I love that someone is putting math to a position that is essentially stat-less, so we can gauge how the OL is performing in run/pass scenarios, both in standard downs and critical short yardage opportunities. Here is where OU ranked in the various categories in 2022:

Avg. Line YardsStd. Downs Line YardsPass Downs Line YardsOpp. RatePower Success RateStuff RateSack RateStandard Downs Sack RatePassing Downs Sack Rate
7th17th26th14th17th22nd67th69th102nd

As you can see, the run success stats were much more successful when compared to the pass protection. Which really isn’t surprising, considering they gave up 31 sacks last year, good for 82nd in that statistic. Now, some of that can go on QBs being uncomfortable in a new scheme/OL scenario, but we’re just going with the numbers here. I think as Dillon Gabriel is more comfortable in Norman, with some extra confidence behind the massive OL that Coach ‘B’ has built in front of him in 2023, we should see the sack numbers improve. If they can continue the running success with an improved pocket protection, we will be back to the stellar OL play we saw in the previous days of Coach Jerry Schmidt. A little more QB run game can go a long way too, opening up some more RPO and deeper throws.

Walter Rouse. Photo by Reghan Kyle/OU Daily

2023 Projection

Since I brought up the offensive line statistics, I’d love to dive in some more and look at how OU has competed historically to hopefully project where they will be going this year.

I took the timeframe of Bill Bedenbaugh in Norman, 2014-present, and compared it across some of the other national powerhouses or known OL schools, to see how OU compared year to year. Nothing fancy, just taking the rank of all nine categories, generating an average and then ranking them within each year. Let’s take a look at what the ‘OL National Rank’ was for each school during this time frame:

OL Rank by season. Bold red numbers were season in which that team won the national championship.

From 2014-2019, OU saw overall very good OL success, with a quick turnaround in Bill’s first season, taking a step back while the young talent took over the room in 2015, then steadily growing and developing those young men into the future Joe Moore winners in 2018. The vaunted Lincoln Riley offense had playmakers all over the field, but the foundation was built by having devastating offensive lines to keep their QBs upright and pounding in the running game to wear out defenses. Unfortunately, the change in strength and conditioning strategy, paired with poor attrition and recruiting numbers, led to a drop off in 2020 and 2021. Having said that, returning to Schmidt, who is a very good developer of ‘the big uglies’ as they say, showed a step in the right direction in 2022. If you look at the national champions on the chart (red numbers), they average 10th best OL by metrics, with worst in the bunch at 20th in LSU, which winning can be possible when you have Joe Burrow lining up behind center. Simply put, top teams need top OL play to win titles.

As for my prediction on OL play this year? OU returned to the fringe last year with a solid showing of 23rd, leaning heavily on the running game, so returning to top 20 again will show we are more ready to take on the vaunted SEC schedule next year. I believe they do climb back into that territory, with a stable of quality running backs running behind the beefed up interior, combined with arguably a better starting duo of tackles in Tyler Guyton and Walter Rouse. We’ve heard reports of added weight & strength have really boosted Raym and Mettauer, who will line up inside next to potentially the biggest freak athlete in the room in Savion Byrd. You now have an interior group that is more ready to fight for critical short yardage downs to keep the chains moving.

There has been lots of smoke that Coach B is as happy with how his room as shaping up since he’s been in Norman, with rave reviews of how serious everyone took Summer work. Guyton has high hopes of becoming the second in line of first-round draft picks following Harrison, and Rouse has been adamant that his goal is to improve on the 3-5th round range he was assigned out of Stanford before this past April. If both guys end up in top three rounds in back-to-back years, Bedenbaugh should finally have the draft capital to show the top OTs in the country when he’s trying to find the next recruits in line. As for the interior, the up and down saga of Byrd’s weight has been interesting to monitor, but recent reports have him back above 300 pounds and playing with the tenacity that had so many drooling over his potential. Can he put it all together end to end? And can Andrew Raym and McKade Mettauer continue their momentum in the offseason?

Further improving the overall optimism about the room? The depth. A multitude of players were given snaps last year, with entire ‘hockey shifts’ even implemented to keep everyone engaged. An incredibly unfortunate timing for Jacob Sexton, damaging his knee in bowl warm ups, has been overcome with a remarkable recovery timeline that has him already almost back at full speed. The second year player could potentially provide depth at both tackle spots. Aaryn Parks flirted with the transfer portal, but comes back to provide emergency depth at both tackle spots, and another second year swing player in the OT/OG role that Coach B loves in Jake Taylor will continue to push the starters across the board.

Everett celebrates the win in College Station. Photo courtesy of Appalachian State

New Names & the Rest of the Room

Perhaps the most well-known newcomer is Walter Rouse, who will be immediately injected into the starting lineup from Stanford. But he is far from the only pivotal transfer welcomed to Norman this offseason. Troy Everett comes to OU with three years of eligibility left, after a glowing freshman season at Appalachian St. which saw them go to College Station and knock off the Aggies 17-14. Everett showed incredible potential against the massive Aggie line full of well paid five-stars. He has added an additional 12 pounds this offseason, and will provide critical depth at both Center and the Guard spots.

Caleb Shaffer comes by way of Miami (OH), from training under a familiar face in Coach James Patton. While mainly an OG up north, he showed some versatility by playing LT in the spring game, which is likely a key reason he was brought in, as he can provide depth at various spots as needed. He has continued to work on his body, still checking in at a massive 6’5, 342 on the roster. Look for him to get some mop up snaps and continue to push should injuries happen.

Cayden Green arrived as a ballyhooed prospect fresh off the Under Armour All-American game, and was able to enroll early for a full offseason with the coaching staff. You can already see the noticeable reworking of his frame, to go with his high-level athleticism. If the game can slow down for the young buck, there isn’t much holding him back from trying to steal some late game snaps at left guard behind Byrd. It will be interesting to monitor his future, if he ends up at Tackle or Guard, but his potential at both gives the staff lots of flexibility.

Lastly, a pair of large but somewhat raw tackles in Heath Ozaeta and Logan Howland and a center in Josh Bates likely will find themselves on the redshirt train this fall, which can only be seen as a good thing. Continue working on weight training, understanding the Bedenbaugh playbook, and not having to rush into play due to lack of depth should pay off in future years. The early reports on all three have been rather optimistic, but allowing for further development can pay dividends for years to come.

McKade Mettauer. Photo by Reghan Kyle/OU Daily

Offensive Line Room Grades

2022 Grade: B+
Offseason Grade: A-
2023 Projected Grade: A

Last year was so close to what Sooner fans were hoping for regarding line play, sans the sack totals and some critical short yardage situations. However, on the whole, it was a great step in the right direction that should only be built upon this season. In the offseason, a critical addition of Rouse to backfill Harrison was one of the best adds across the nation, and Everett should be the heir apparent to Raym after he heads to the NFL as well. Adding a four-man class with heaps of talent in recruiting will help to rebuild the numbers moving forward, but only one blue-chip and need for five bodies leaves some upside to not quite move to A or A+ territory. As mentioned above, another step forward this year should get OU back into top 20 OL metrics and keep the offense humming.

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