Joseph anchors young Sooners O-line
A year ago, a veteran Oklahoma team fueled its motivation with the stinging memory of losses to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship and LSU in the BCS Championship Game.
This year, the memory of the 55-19 loss to USC in the BCS Championship Game 11 weeks ago won't work. The Sooners are too young.
"A lot of guys don't know how it is to play in that game," senior offensive lineman Davin Joseph said Wednesday, the day after Oklahoma opened spring practice. "Hopefully, a little more intensity from the young guys can get us where we need to be. That will be the challenge this year. It's not new for me. It's new for them."
The task of rebuilding at Oklahoma is big enough that replacing Heisman Trophy winner Jason White at quarterback is not the Sooners' most pressing concern on offense. Oklahoma also must replace three starters from a line that dominated every team that wasn't USC.
Gone are Jamaal Brown at right tackle and Brown's fellow All-American, Vince Carter, at center. Both players started for four seasons, as did left tackle Wes Sims. By the end of the season, the Sooners' offensive line had started a cumulative total of more than 170 games.
But the best lineman on the team, according to offensive line coach Kevin Wilson, was Joseph. Wilson made that statement two weeks after Brown won the Outland Trophy. Wilson is displaying his faith in Joseph this spring by moving him to left tackle, the most important position on the line because he protects the quarterback's blind side.
"All three of our quarterbacks (Paul Thompson, Tommy Grady, Rhett Bomar) are right-handed," Joseph said. "Last year during two-a-days, Coach Wilson moved me down with the tackles. I was playing right tackle for about a week (Brown missed practice because of family issues). I felt pretty comfortable.
"Coach Wilson said, 'Let's try left tackle.' The first few days were pretty good, but when it was getting close to the season, he didn't want to put me out there. Now, I'm not too far from being comfortable. Another week and I'll be all right."
The only other lineman with any starting experience, senior Kelvin Chaisson, has moved, too, from left guard to center. Last year's sixth man, senior Chris Bush, will play left guard. The other players penciled into the starting lineup are sophomore Akim Millington at right tackle and senior Brett Rayl at right guard.
"Rayl [6-foot-7, 304] is physically one of the most impressive guys you'll ever see," Joseph said. "We have a lot of potential. It will be interesting to see where everyone is playing come two-a-days. It's the same as when I came in as a freshman. We had a lot of young guys and a few old guys."
It might not be the textbook example of rebuilding. After all, the Sooners still will be expected to win 10 games. But without the collective memory of playing in those championship game losses, pride will be the motivational fuel.
"Oklahoma is the winningest team in the 2000s," Joseph said. "I have to [teach] everything I can to the young guys. That's how great teams keep winning."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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