How do you replace the leading rushing in Oklahoma history, the Biletnikoff Award winner and a potential first-round NFL draft pick?
That’s the challenge for the Oklahoma Sooners in 2017 and the spring drills are the starting point for filling in giant holes created by the loss of running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and receiver Dede Westbrook.
“We don’t want any crutches,” said OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “Regardless of who we lost, we are starting over and we have the same mentality as if we brought everybody back.
“We are happy in what we’ve done over the past two years but we will be disappointed if that’s as good as we get.”
Riley said the OU offense will be different in a lot of positions.
“The line will be asked to do different things. Baker will be asked to do different things. Receivers, too. I like the pieces we have here and the hard part is getting it all put together. We don’t look at it like carrying it year to year. This is a new group and we’ve got to find a way to move the ball and go score points.”
Riley said it’s not necessary for OU to get the kind of production from one receiver like they did from Westbrook but the Sooners need it from several players.
“It could be five other guys,” Riley said.
The OU receiver corps includes tight ends Mark Andrews and freshman Grant Calcaterra; and wideouts Nick Basquine, Zach Farrar, Sam Iheke, Mykel Jones, Chase Nevel, Marquise Brown, Dahu Green, Michael Mays, A.D. Miller, Lee Morris, Jordan Smallwood, Myles Tease and Reggie Turner.
Brown, a juco transfer, came in officially weighing 148 pounds but has already added weight and is very, very fast.
Opposing teams paid special attention to Westbrook last year but it won’t be as easy to concentrate on one player this year.
Mayfield is excited about his new group of receivers.
“We’ve got some guys who can go now,” Mayfield said. “I said it last year before the season, we are going to be more balanced but I actually think we will be more balanced this year.
“We had Dede who stepped up and he’s an amazing player but we’ve got a lot of guys who can really play right now. There are a lot of young guys who are here who are making plays. It’s really exciting. We have eight offensive linemen coming back. So if I have time to sit back there and throw it, it doesn’t matter whose out there catching. It only helps that they’re great players.”
Riley said he expects OU’s line to be the best he’s ever worked with.
“They haven’t done anything yet but we absolutely expect it to be,” Riley said.
OU’s new running backs, including Rodney Anderson, are young but talented. With the new recruits in early for spring practice, Mayfield doesn’t see a dropoff even though Perine and Mixon were great players.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons,” Mayfield said. “That’s what the spring is for – developing those guys. We get our timing down. The work we put in now comes into play (in the fall).”
Anderson, who was slowed by injuries last season, will compete with sophomore Abdul Adams, who played some last season as a freshman, and Najee Bissoon, Exel McIntee, freshman Trey Sermon and Marcelias Sutton. Sermon is a serious threat to compete for playing time.
Riley said it will be fun to have four capable scholarship quarterbacks, three of whom will compete to back up Mayfield.
“We are giving them a lot of reps to figure out what we’ve got there,” Riley said. “It’s the most talented and deep quarterback room that we’ve had.”
Sophomore Austin Kendall backed up Mayfield last season. Redshirt sophomore Connon McGinnis, a walkon, was third team last season. Kyler Murray, who transferred last year from Texas A&M, had to sit out a year but will be eligible this fall. Chris Robison is a true freshman who graduated from high school early and will go through spring drills. Tanner Schafer is a walkon redshirt freshman. Reece Clark is a redshirt sophomore who walked on.
Mayfield was arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and charged with misdemeanors due an incident when he allegedly tried to run from police and resisted arrest. It made national news and Mayfield apologized for the incident.
Mayfield said his teammates have accepted his apology as sincere and have even joked about his being caught on foot by the police.
“I have been very hard on myself and I will continue to do that,” Mayfield said. “I know that I am in a position here where it’s a special honor to play quarterback and I know that. The tradition here is very special. I know what I can and can’t do and I messed up. So it’s know that teammates know who the real me is so they can support me no matter what.”
Mayfield is not blaming anyone else for his role in the incident.
“What I did was a mistake. I put myself in a bad position,” Mayfield said. “Especially playing quarterback here, I can’t do that. I can’t what a normal college student does but that’s what I signed up for to play football here. It’s a dream come true. Why would I put that in jeopardy?”
Mayfield said his formal apology was his idea and not prompted by coaches or others.
“I honestly felt very bad about it,” he said. “I felt terrible. Because I know I let a lot of people down, including my family. It’s a mistake. It’s not a character flaw.”
Mayfield said the lesson he learned is to do the right things all the time, not just when he is around football.
“It’s hard, but I’ve got to move on,” Mayfield said.
Riley was disappointed with Mayfield’s arrest in Arkansas because he expects better behavior from him.
“You know what – we all make mistakes,” Riley said. “I made mistakes, too. I am not perfect. Our job is to be mentors and teach him, when he’s done wrong, to learn from it and to help him grow from it.”
Last year, OU won an appeal to the Big 12 for Mayfield to regain a year of eligibility he lost when he transferred from Texas Tech. Technically, he could have transferred this season but that was not an option for him.
“I couldn’t play anywhere else after playing here,” Mayfield said. “I’ve loved it too much and enjoyed it too much.”