With their trip to the College Football Playoff in the rearview mirror, the Oklahoma Sooners continued preseason practice on Friday as they prepare to live up to the lofty expectations surrounding the team.
Both head coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley spoke with the media after practice, and here are some of the key takeaways:
Lincoln Riley wants Baker Mayfield to stay aggressive
Baker Mayfield returns as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation, but it just so happens that he's the only Sooner quarterback with any type of experience at the college level. But just because the Sooners lack depth at the position doesn't mean Riley wants his star quarterback to dial back his style of play.
"Of course we want to keep him healthy and we don’t want to do anything reckless there, but if he doesn’t play aggressive, then we’re not going to score a lot of points anyway and it’s not going to matter who’s at the quarterback," Riley said. "He’s got to play aggressive and we’ve got to be smart about it, but at the same time, that’s why we have more than one quarterback here and that’s why when we go to practice we rep more than one quarterback, and we've got a couple guys behind him who’ve shown they’re ready to go.”
True frosh Austin Kendall showing improvement
Mayfield's backup will be true freshman Austin Kendall, who graduated from high school early and moved down to Norman for the start of spring classes to ensure he had Riley's offense down pat. With the season approaching in only 15 days, both his coordinator and head coach had a lot of good things to say about his improvement.
"This past week and a half he’s been great," Bob Stoops said. "He (Kendall) continues to improve, his decision making, throwing the ball really well. He’s taken a big jump I think in the last week and a half, that’s really been positive. He really looks comfortable and throwing the ball great."
Along with soaking in advice from a great offensive mind such as Riley, Kendall has the luxury of learning from Mayfield on a daily basis.
"Baker can relate in that he was in a situation as a true freshman when he had to play early, so maybe pass along some things that maybe he’d wishes he would’ve done better," Riley said of Mayfield and Kendall's relationship.
Riley claims Mayfield's mentality has been helpful for Kendall, but said it's beneficial for Mayfield as well.
"And it’s been good for Baker that one of the best ways to master somethings Is being able to teach it," Riley said. "Last year, Baker’s trying to learn it all just like all those other guys are, where now he can help teach Austin, which helps Austin but actually it helps baker a lot too.”
Lincoln Riley also said there's no doubt the OU offense is deeper across the board than it was last year. #Sooners— News 9 Sports (@News9Sport) August 19, 2016
Alvarez and Wren continue to battle for starting center spot
With three guys returning with plenty of experience, Coach Stoops feels good about his big blockers in the trenches. But one spot that still needs to be worked out is the position of center.
Jonathan Alvarez started at left guard last season, but it was assumed he would slide over to center this season since he played the position in high school, but that may not be the case.
Walk-on senior Erick Wren is pushing for starting spot at center, and coach Stoops said the position battle is going really well.
"Jonathan knows that if Erick ends up being the best guy in there at center, then he's a guard," Coach Stoops said. "He's (Alvarez) played a lot of good football for us already. Coach Bedenbaugh does a great job continuing to develop all of those guys."
Stoops said Jonathan Alvarez and walk-on Erick Wren are battling for spot at center, and if Wren wins, Alvarez will start at guard #Sooners— Brett Coppenbarger (@BrettCope) August 19, 2016
OU returns Orlando Brown at left tackle, while Dru Samia could move to right guard after starting at right tackle for most of last season. Coach Bedenbaugh has said throughout camp that Bobby Evans is also pushing for a starting spot at right tackle, while guys like Cody Ford and Alex Dalton have a chance to either start or see playing time at guard.
With so many guys capable of playing up front, Coach Riley believes it can help the tempo of the offense.
“It makes a huge difference, it gives you more confidence to do it as a coach," Riley said. "It gives you the confidence that if a guy gets nicked up here or there, that you can keep going with it.”