Darlington dazzles in debut start

James Patton tabbed his true frosh and it paid off

NORMAN, Okla. — This wasn't the way Sooner interior offensive line coach James Patton, head coach Bob Stoops and the rest of the staff drew it up at the beginning of the season: losing two centers as well as battling other offensive line injuries over the course of the year.

But that's been just the case.

First, starter and four-year veteran Ben Habern had to conclude his career due to ongoing neck and shoulder injuries.

Then, last week, while it was only a one game absence, Gabe Ikard had to sit with a concussion.

All of that forced in true freshman center Ty Darlington into the mold as the starter for the Baylor game.

Admittedly, Stoops was nervous.

"Oh, I didn't want to admit it, but I was pretty nervous," Stoops said. "Yeah, but it's one of those things where you have confidence in the guy."

Position coach Patton most certainly placed his full faith in Darlington, citing the fact they envisioned him playing this early and perhaps in a role like this if need be.

"That's why we recruited him," Patton said. "He's a true freshman out there, yeah, but you love the kid. He's the son of a coach. He's a really good football player. He's got football in his blood, and he's smart. But he practiced good all week, so I expected him to play good."

Rightfully so, because the 6-foot-3, 266-pounder stepped in and stepped right up to the plate in anchoring the Sooner offense.

No fumbles or major exchange issues transpired.

The only hiccups were a couple of false start penalties.

"You know, you gotta give it to him," Stoops said. "A coach's son was ready for the moment, you know, and his dad's at a very successful high school down there [in Apopka, Fla.] doing well. And he came in and didn't flinch. Even before the game, I was just excited to see his demeanor and he was ready to play."

A lot of that Darlington, himself, said must be attributed to Ikard.

OU's season-long starter met with him a couple times last week, including a Thursday session where Ikard told him he'd be unable to go and gave Darlington his full confidence in fulfilling the duties.

"Gabe was like my personal coach for the week because he wasn't even dressed out a couple days, and he was coaching me up on every little thing, giving me tips on how to block this or that and asking me some questions about IDs and everything," Darlington said. "Jon Cooper, Coop, he's the O-line GA, he watched extra film with me and stayed after practice with me a little bit working on some stuff that I wanted to be able to do a little bit better."

He took that and ran with it.

In the process, he earned--or perhaps he simply strengthened--the confidence he has from signal caller Landry Jones.

"He is a special player," Jones said. "It takes somebody that is extremely talented to step in as a freshman into the offensive line, especially the center position with all the calls that he has to make and all the identifications. Ty did a great job all night long. Sure, he had a couple offsides penalties, but that is his first game and things like that happen.

"But all in all, man, he played extremely well and I think his maturity and Ty's faith really helped him this week and I guess pushed him in the right direction and put him in a place where he could succeed."

All that, plus the knowledge and comfort factor he gained from studying film, play sheets and getting advice undoubtedly had all paid off in the end.

"I think I played pretty decent overall," Darlington said. "Overcoming the start was big, I had just a little butterflies. I thought I got out there and played well. I had a couple of problems with the snaps. I just had to keep pushing past, not think about it and move on to the next play."

With his successful showing, something else it does is give the Sooners more flexibility on their offensive line.

While offensive tackle Lane Johnson and guards Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin are all banged up but expected to play and Ikard should be back as well, if any of those are unable to go at some point, they'll have options.

"It's really exciting, too, in that there's a guy that you feel if as things progress here, you can go to and possibly move Gabe around if you needed to," Stoops said.

Patton also pondered that possibility.

"Sure, we could do that in a heartbeat," Patton said. "That's not a problem."

And neither is simply having another young force on the offensive line.

Only better things are to come for the Sunshine State native.

Follow me at twitter.com/joeyhelmer10 or facebook.com/joeyhelmer.

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