The O-Line bond behind two Heisman Trophies - Dru Samia & Ben Powers talk protecting Baker Mayfield & Kyler Murray
Producing successive Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and likely consecutive number one NFL draft picks is no easy feat, but it helps if you have one of the best offensive lines around.
In 2017, Baker Mayfield played behind an Oklahoma Sooners O-Line that featured Orlando Brown – a third-round selection by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 – Dru Samia, Ben Powers and Bobby Evans en route to winning the Heisman and becoming the top pick for the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Samia, Powers and Evans all returned last year when the Sooners allowed just 19 sacks, providing the foundation for Kyler Murray to win college football's highest individual honour and become the favourite for the first overall pick.
Omnisport spoke to NFL-bound guard prospects Samia and Powers to find out the secret to their success.
Samia: "It was really awesome, finally got to get into a little of an NFL playbook. I know we only just scratched the surface of the plays that they run, but getting an idea for the vernacular and the vocab that they use as far as communication and the calls that we're making and the different schemes they run, it was really fun, that was the first taste of actually playing NFL football."
Powers: "It was great working with the 49ers and their offensive line coach, it was a lot of fun seeing how an NFL coaching staff goes about teaching new material, working towards practice, the flow of practice, preparing for an opponent."
Having played in an offense that relies heavily on you being athletic, how difficult is it to be mobile as well as big and powerful?
Samia: "It involves a lot of conditioning, but I've spoken to other players at different programs, they just lift and get as strong as possible. But with the type of offense we run, we don't really have that luxury to specialise in either strength or speed, we need to be even across the board, which I feel is beneficial. Obviously there's some downsides, there's some players in the nation who are stronger but I doubt that there's any O-linemen in the nation that have the balance that we have at Oklahoma. The type of offense that we run just brings out the best in you in all areas."
Powers: "It's funny because there may be a blocking play that's tough and our O-Line coach is like, 'Figure it out, do it'. You just do it. You don't think about it, the job has to get done and this is how we're gonna do it."
Zone blocking appeared to be the dominant scheme used at Oklahoma. Are you confident you can fit into any scheme in the NFL?
Samia: "One hundred per cent. Coming into college - obviously in high school I didn't know too much - picked up on that offense pretty quick, started developing from there and I'm confident I can do it again, especially with the growth in my football knowledge, just having a better understanding of the game, it's just going to help the transition that much more."
Powers: "We were a big zone as well as gap scheme team, we only ran power in the endzone in the goalline. Zone and gap scheme, that's Oklahoma's bread and butter. Gap scheme is an aspect of our counter, our regular one-guard counter, and also our tackle counter you see us run. That's a play we love and it's really fun to run."
Four Oklahoma linemen are set to go pretty high in this year's draft. Is that a testament to [offensive line coach] Bill Bedenbaugh?
Samia: "We completely give all the credit to Coach B, he saw the potential in us, he was the one who cultivated it. We put in the hard work - there's no coach in the nation that can coach work ethic - but Coach B saw the potential that we had, cultivated it, taught us the techniques, the mentality and the nastiness that we need to play with, and we just took it from there."
Powers: "That's a testament to Coach B and the amount of work we put in. It's great because all four of us came to Oklahoma together. We all graduated high school in 2015, came in here and got so close together. It's special, we're such a close-knit unit and we're all such good friends."
Samia: "I know exactly what Cody [Ford] and Creed [Humphrey] are good at, what they need help with. They know my deficiencies and the things that I'm good at on the field. Just being able to know somebody so well and the way they play the game, it only makes it easier when you're out there on the field."
Powers: "We've played so much ball together that I know how Bobby is going to play a certain block and I think that was great. I know how Bobby's going to react to certain looks and this and that, and I think that's part of the reason we played so good."
What was the difference between Mayfield and Murray as leaders?
Samia: "Baker would technically be the more vocal person just on a day-to-day basis. Kyler was obviously a vocal leader, he was a great leader in my opinion, led by example perfectly. But Kyler didn't talk too much when it was unnecessary, and I feel like that led the team so, whenever Kyler spoke, people listened because it wasn't him just talking to talk, it was because we need a leader in this moment. Kyler would pick and choose his moments a little more carefully, whereas Baker was an all day, every day-type deal."
Powers: "They're both so calm under pressure and I think that just comes with being great. High-pressure situations come and you just know that they're built for this. Kyler is a better athlete but Baker's a better leader - with no disrespect to either one of them. They're both such great players and those are the only differences I could tell you between them."
Did Murray's ability as a scrambler help or hinder you?
Samia: "I'm not sure it makes it any harder. I felt with Kyler in the backfield he makes thing easy on us to a degree where if we mess up a block, Kyler can turn that into a good play or Kyler can break the pocket and make something out of nothing. I never sat back there and thought, 'Man this is tough to be moving around', I've only been grateful that we have a quarterback that's so fast and talented."
Powers: "It definitely helped because what he was doing was extending the play. As much as we were protecting him, he helped us get out of bad situations. We complemented each other so great. Was it tough to know who and when and where to block the defender? Yeah, but you just kind of do it."
Do you buy any of the criticism of Murray?
Samia: "As soon he gets into the building, if not already, these teams will fall in love with him. You know exactly what you're getting with Kyler. As far as the 'questions' that are surrounding him right now I feel like those are just talking pieces. When it's all said and done Kyler's going to be a baller in the league and that's just how it's going to be."
Powers: "I see so many different articles about Kyler and I'm tired of it because I talk to him on a daily basis, I know the guy. All these articles, they're just there to get people to click on them. It's just complete garbage."
How did you find the challenge of facing [Alabama defensive tackle and likely top-five pick] Quinnen Williams, in the College Football Playoff semi-finals?
Samia: "I learned that you gotta play physical and you've got to trust your technique at the same time because when you face someone like a Quinnen Williams, those are the type of guys you're going to be facing every single day in the league, so you can't overcommit one way to try to stop his power, you can't overcommit leaning forward to try to stop his power because he's going to swat you by and take advantage of that. Quinnen Williams is just the start of it, once we all get into the NFL, these players are too good, you can't give them any opening, you can't give them any advantage so just being more patient while remaining physical is going to be the key."
Powers: "I loved being challenged like that, it gets to show you how good you really are. If you're practicing or playing against guys that aren't the best then what's the point? Being able to play against the best is great. I love it, I look forward to it."