NORMAN, Okla. — New Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley admitted the first practice was strange.
As it ended, players gathered at the center of the practice field, waiting for their head coach to make a few remarks — both positive and negative — and send them home.
Then it dawned on Riley that they were waiting for him.
“Oh yeah, I’m the guy that’s gotta go break ’em down,” Riley said he remembered thinking after that first practice. “You know, you get in your same mode for so long.
“It feels good,” Riley said Thursday. “There was a lot of buildup. It was a bit of a mad rush there from early June to now, so just to finally get on the field and get going and do what we all love to do, it was good.”
Riley and several members of his coaching staff spoke with the media for the first time since practice began on Monday. If there’s been an adjustment period since Riley received the reins from former coach Bob Stoops, it has ended.
The demands Riley faces are nothing new.
“It’s just like last year. He was the head coach of the offense and now he’s the head coach of the whole team,” running backs coach Jay Boulware said. “Toughness is what he wants. He wants a tough football [team] and so did Bob.”
At practice, the music blared over portable speakers in the same way it did during the later years of Stoops’ tenure. Coaches yelled — anything to keep the energy up during a muggy morning at the Sooners’ practice field.
But Riley’s voice did not boom throughout practice.
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) August 3, 2017
“That’s like coach Stoops said before, ‘Knute Rockne died a long time ago.’ Those speeches are all well and good, but it’s all about the preparation before you come out here,” Riley said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of things you can say right before the moment that is all of the sudden going to change what these guys do. It’s their buy-in level right now; it’s their leadership, it’s the mentality that this team has right now. That’s what leads to great energy in great practices.”
Backup quarterback battle
Sophomore quarterback Kyler Murray wasn’t wearing shoulder pads Thursday during practice. He’s healthy, but NCAA rules say a player must go through two practices before he can put on pads.
Riley said Murray wasn’t able to participate in the first two practices but wouldn’t elaborate further.
“He had a personal situation,” Riley said. “He was here, but he had a situation that did not allow him to practice the first two days, which I can’t comment on any further, but he’s here now and full speed ahead.”
Murray and sophomore Austin Kendall are battling for the No. 2 spot behind Baker Mayfield. Riley said there’s no favorite.
“It’s going to be tight,” he said. “It’s fun because they’re all three, they all three have been here. They all three, you can tell, are further along. I think they understand the competition and it’s bringing out the best in them, whereas, last year, it was pretty settled early that Baker was going to be the guy and AK was going to be the backup. It was pretty clear cut. Now, it’s not clear cut. They feel the heat of competition. It’s making them all raise their game. Hopefully, they all play well. It’s a really tough decision.”
Cornerback competition heats up
When spring practices ended, the hottest position battle was at cornerback. Sophomore Jordan Parker suffered a foot injury late in the spring. Sophomore Parnell Motley seized the moment, making an interception and several impressive pass breakups in the spring game.
According to defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, Motley continues to progress.
“Motley’s not going to relinquish that, you all know that for sure,” Cooks said. “I’m sure if you were out here you all heard his damn mouth running at 100 mph. He’s playing his ass off. He’s had a great camp right now. Jordan Parker, he did a lot of straight-ahead running so now’s really his first time doing change-of-direction stuff so he’s still feeling his way out.”
Anderson taking contact
Sophomore running back Rodney Anderson was excused from Thursday’s practice due to a “personal matter.” But the Oklahoma coaching staff isn’t holding him out of contact.
“We’re thudding and that’s contact,” running backs coach Jay Boulware said. “For a tailback, every single time we tote the rock in practice it’s like they’re tackling us. You have to run the ball like you’re gonna go down because we do quite often. He’s getting contact every day now that we’ve put the pads on.”
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) August 3, 2017