‘Bruiser’ adds depth on line for No. 6 Cowboys

After losing a second experienced offensive lineman to injury

this season, No. 6 Oklahoma State needed to plug in someone else to

protect Brandon Weeden and keep the offense rolling along.

He is called ”The Bruiser.” And, for a week at least, Casey

LaBrue can also call himself the team’s offensive MVP.

LaBrue, a bulked-up former walk-on, got the honor last week

after stepping in for injured center Grant Garner, who had started

the last 17 games in a row. The Cowboys (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) wound up

matching the most points they’ve put up in the past 94 years in a

70-28 rout of Kansas, becoming the nation’s highest-scoring team in

the process.

”I knew I couldn’t come in there and miss a beat without Grant

in there because he’s really the heart of this offense and

everything revolves around him,” LaBrue said.

Oklahoma State had already lost guard Jonathan Rush to a

season-ending knee injury when Garner hurt one of his legs. Coach

Mike Gundy said he expects Garner to be able to play Saturday at

No. 22 Texas (4-1, 1-1).

If not, LaBrue has proven himself to be a capable

replacement.

”To have Casey come in and play as well as he did, it’s very

refreshing,” said Weeden, who ranks second in the FBS in passing.

”I’ve always known he’s a great player. As a quarterback, you get

so comfortable with your center. So, when that’s a change, that’s a

little bit different than losing a receiver or losing a running

back or something like that from a comfort standpoint.

”But I think Bruiser came in and just played great.”

Offensive line coach Joe Wickline had been pleased enough with

his depth early this season that he started the practice of

substituting linemen during drives to get fresh blockers in. Now,

the guys that were only in the rotation are taking advantage of

that experience in the starting lineup.

”He’s one of the best there is, and he gets all of the guys

prepared – even the backup guys. There’s not much that we don’t

know how to do,” LaBrue said. ”Guys like me, I have to prepare

just as hard as Grant does because if he goes down, I’ve got to

control the line and tell them who to block.”

While Wickline perhaps gets the most credit for aiding the

development of 2009 first-round NFL draft pick Russell Okung, he’s

also been able to steadily produce linemen. When Okung and three

other starters moved on prior to last season, Wickline had a batch

of replacements ready.

LaBrue, who got to campus as a 245-pounder from Enid, is the

latest to emerge from nowhere.

”We’ve got some guys that have a little bit of experience and

we’ve finally built some depth up on the offensive line,” Gundy

said. ”My first really three or four years here as a head coach,

we always had a great concern about losing a player.”

After facing a struggling Kansas defense, LaBrue and the Cowboys

face a different challenge this week against a Longhorns defense

that blitzes frequently. Texas lost to Oklahoma 55-17 in their

annual showdown.

”Texas is a good team. I know they probably didn’t do as well

as they really are last week but, God, they’re athletic as can

be,” LaBrue said ”They’ve got great players, they show a lot of

different looks, they play hard.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said that scheme, combined

with the difficulty of playing in a noisy stadium on the road, put

experience at a premium. And it means that any more injuries, or if

Garner can’t return as expected, would add stress to the Cowboys’

front line.

”It tests your depth. As much depth as we think we have at a

number of spots, you can’t keep losing guys and think you’re going

to be as efficient,” Monken said. ”I mean, there’s a reason why

they’re your starters.

”Hopefully, we get Grant back this week, especially against a

team that puts so much pressure on your protection.”