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No. 3 Oklahoma: Their leader gone, Sooners' offensive line must find a new Creed

Ryan Aber
Hookem
Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, preparing to snap the ball in the 2019 College Football Playoff semifinal against LSU, has moved on to the NFL and left big shoes to fill.

NORMAN, Okla. — Bill Bedenbaugh admits he can be a difficult coach to please.

“Playing the position at this level and with the standards that we have is tough,” the OU offensive line coach said. “Hell, we won the Joe Moore Award (given to college football's best offensive line) in 2018, and I don’t know there was a game where I was satisfied. That’s the nature of this position.”

But so far, Bedenbaugh said, he’s encouraged about what he’s seen as the Sooners look to bounce back from an inconsistent 2020 up front and replace the leader on the line the past three seasons, center Creed Humphrey.

“Hopefully it continues; I see a totally different mentality from individuals and as a group,” Bedenbaugh said.

Perhaps the biggest example of that shift, Bedenbaugh said, has been seen in Tyrese Robinson, who has started 23 games at guard over the past two seasons but also spent some time at tackle this spring.

Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh liked what he saw during spring practices. “Hopefully it continues; I see a totally different mentality from individuals and as a group,” he said.

“He’s been a good player for us. Knock on wood, hopefully it will continue, and I think it will," Bedenbaugh said. "He’s reshaped his body some too, which has helped. But today he’s a total different player than he’s been at any point in time, and it’s really a mentality. It’s a decision that you make. ‘All right, I want to be elite. I want to be the best.’

“I’ve seen it change. I’m preaching it, and they’re getting it. As long as it continues to evolve and develop, I do think we have a chance to be a really, really good group.”

Robinson said he’s dropped weight with the help of strength coach Bennie Wylie and the Sooners’ nutritionists — which included giving up a couple of his favorite treats, Zebra Cakes and Oatmeal Creme Pies.

“I feel like I can move a lot better, more fluid, and I just feel light on my feet,” Robinson said. “I feel like it’s going to bring me success. … I still have more changes to do, but right now I feel like I’m in a very good spot for myself.”

Though the group wasn’t consistent last year, Humphrey was, not allowing a sack all season before declaring for the NFL draft.

“As good as Creed was as a player, he was probably an even better leader last year,” Bedenbaugh said.

Walk-on Ian McIver, UCLA transfer Chris Murray, Arizona transfer Robert Congel and redshirt freshman Nate Anderson have been working at the spot. 

McIver has played in 10 games over the past two seasons as Humphrey’s backup.

"Ian is probably furthest along mentally because he’s done it so long here,” Bedenbaugh said.

Murray, though, might be the favorite. He played five games at guard last year when he was declared eligible during the season after his transfer. The senior started three games at center for UCLA in 2018, including against the Sooners in Norman early that season.

“He’s a really good guard, but I do think his best position is center,” Bedenbaugh said. “Now it’s just the mental aspects. We ask our centers to do so much stuff. They’re the leader, obviously, of the offensive line, but (also) the offense. They’ve got to get everybody going in the right direction.”

And Murray is embracing the move back to center, especially the parts of the job that go beyond just the position’s responsibilities from snap to whistle.

“Football is a teamwork sport, but as far as offensive line, you’re depending on four other people besides yourself, and if that chemistry isn’t good between all of each other, you can only go so far,” Murray said this spring. “I feel like center is the best position for me, just because I feel like I can hit those areas that need to be filled in that spot.”

Murray said returning to in-person meetings this spring and being able to spend more time around teammates made a difference in the cohesiveness of the group, and Robinson said it can help make a big difference in the fall.

“I just feel like everyone’s more hungry and more motivated,” Robinson said. “It’s a big year for OU football. Everyone wants to do their part and try to bring that Joe Moore back for sure.”

Our preseason Top 25

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

Our previous Top 25 team stories:

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels are hoping, banking on good returns from Lane Kiffin 3.0

No. 24 Washington: Huskies' Morris looks like the quarterback to run with — for now

No. 23 Louisiana: Billy Napier could be college football's next big thing (if he wants that)

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions' safeties honed their craft at Lackawanna

No. 21 Oklahoma State: The next Gundy (Gunnar) begins his Cowboys career

No. 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes' Dane Belton knows path to NFL goes through team's success

No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Ready or not, the Chanticleers intend to stay awhile

No. 18 Texas: Bijan Robinson looks ready to carry the load for Longhorns

No. 17 Wisconsin: Spirited spring helped Badgers bond, players say

No. 16 Miami: Manny Diaz seems intent on building Hurricanes from local talent

No. 15 Oregon: Ducks' program is now  reaching recruiting, NFL draft high marks

No. 14 LSU: Questions that Tigers have taken with them this summer

No. 13 Indiana: Texas A&M transfer Camron Buckley gives Hoosiers another weapon

No. 12 USC: All signs are pointing up for Trojans, making it sunny again in California

No. 11 Florida: Gators have holes to fill, but already sounding confident

No. 10 North Carolina: Tar Heels' Sam Howell managing the hype, expectations

No. 9 Notre Dame: All-American safety Hamilton could help Irish on offense, too

No. 8 Cincinnati: Fickel, Ridder have taken Bearcats' program to new heights

No. 7 Iowa State: Breece Hall stays close to roots as Heisman talk builds

No. 6 Texas A&M: Aggies rebuild their line around All-American Kenyon Green

No. 5 Georgia: Bulldogs eager to see what LSU transfer Arik Gilbert can do

No. 4 Ohio State: Maybe it's the start of the C.J. Stroud era, maybe not