I like watching football. I like studying what teams are doing. I like seeing how players are progressing.
Those are some of the major pluses of spring games.
On the other hand, big-picture conclusions that aren’t warranted invariably get drawn from them. Cody Thomas looked like OU’s best quarterback in last year’s Red-White Game. A year earlier, Trey Franks made waves as a potential contributor at safety. And on and on.
When it comes to talking about football, few things get my eyes rolling faster than hearing the qualifier “well, in the spring game” at the start of a sentence. Naturally, therefore, I decided to write up a two-part preview of what’s going to amount to a glorified game of two-hand touch.
In part one, we’ll tackle what to watch on offense. I reckon there are three key themes.
Quarterbacks Not Named Baker Mayfield
Honestly, the only benefit of Mayfield playing on Saturday would be to see how the receiving corps functions in something approximating standard playing conditions. We all know what No. 6 brings to the table. The guys behind the The Guy are the big question marks.
With Thomas auditioning for a pro baseball career and Trevor Knight off to Texas A&M, true freshman Austin Kendall has locked up the backup spot by default. (That might come into question in the fall on the off chance that Thomas decides to resume playing football.) Whiz kid offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley handpicked the Rivals 100 recruit out of North Carolina, so that counts for something. Even so, the prospect of tossing a rookie to the wolves if Mayfield misses significant time doesn’t sound ideal.
In his high school film, Kendall looks like a classic Air Raid QB. Namely, he gets the ball out quick with nice touch and accuracy. Hopefully, the coaching staff opens up the playbook for him this weekend, which would give everyone a chance to see what he can really do. I doubt we’ll see much more than a stripped-down version of the O if Kendall is pressed into meaningful action this season.
Tantalizing transfer Kyler Murray is equally intriguing, even though he won’t see the field in the fall. Murray didn’t set the world on fire as a freshman at Texas A&M as a passer, completing fewer than 60 percent of his throws. He did show potential as a runner, though, averaging more than 6 yards per carry.
As things currently stand, Kendall and Murray will compete for the starting job in 2017. Consider this a sneak preview of the future QB derby.
Offensive Line: Familiar Faces in New Places
Center Ty Darlington served as something akin to the nerve center of Bill Bedenbaugh’s offensive line for the last two seasons. He also took on a fairly clear leadership role in 2015. His loss to graduation, consequently, leaves a big hole in the line that goes beyond just blocking.
Jonathan Alvarez is sliding into the vacated spot after impressing last season as a full-time starter at left guard. He showed massive potential as a brawler, but center requires a somewhat more cerebral presence.
Does Alvarez have it? Unfortunately, we won’t get many hints on Saturday against what will surely be a fairly vanilla defensive scheme. We will get a chance to gauge his level of comfort in his new role, so I guess that’s something.
Meanwhile, word is that Bedenbaugh has experimented with last year’s starting right tackle Dru Samia at guard. I don’t fancy myself an expert in the art of offensive line play, but I’ve heard tell the feeling is that the sophomore’s skill set works better inside.
Keep an eye on where No. 75 lines up on Saturday. Also, pay attention to how whomever rotates in at tackle handles their business.
Receiver 3 and Receiver 4
We can safely say two pass catchers have secured a spot among OU’s core four wideouts: Dede Westbrook and Mark Andrews. Plenty of contenders are vying for the other two spots.
Presumably, Dennis Simmons recruited graduate transfer Geno Lewis from Penn State with the intention of getting him on the field right away. From what I saw of Lewis in Happy Valley, he has the ability to make a Justin Brown-like impact in just one year after slogging through four seasons in the Nittany Lions’ stodgy offense. Here’s hoping he gets a few looks in the passing game.
Another name that keeps coming up in spring practice reports: A.D. Miller. A 6-3 target would make for a nice option on the outside. (Assuming he can actually, ya know, catch the ball and whatnot.) Spring buzz doesn’t mean that Miller will necessarily pass somewhat proven commodities such as Jeffrey Mead on the depth chart, but it would be nice to see what all the fuss is about.
Do the Sooners have a dependable slot receiver? Senior Jarvis Baxter made his mark quickly last season with 20 receptions, but he didn’t exactly lock up a spot in the rotation. Likewise, everyone keeps waiting for Michiah Quick to break out. And John Humphrey made some noise this time last year.
Maybe two clear frontrunners have already emerged. We might find out Saturday. Keep a particularly close eye on personnel combinations and who is lining up where.