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Oklahoma Sooners Football Press Conference Notes: Plenty of respect for Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic

Also, most of the position battles are still open.

Marshall v Florida Atlantic Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Game week has arrived for the Oklahoma Sooners, which means head coach Lincoln Riley and select players will now be doing weekly pressers. Not much was revealed Monday, as most position battles still appear to be ongoing — publicly, at least. Additionally, the team is relatively healthy, so there’s thankfully not a whole lot to talk about on that front.

Riley did, however, mention that redshirt freshman wide receiver Charleston Rambo is questionable for the opener vs. FAU with a lower body injury. Fullback Joe Castiglione Jr. (out for season, shoulder surgery) and wide receiver Sam Iheke were also mentioned in the injury update.

The winners of most the of the position battles went unannounced, but Riley did mention that Carson Meier will indeed be Oklahoma’s starter at the H-back position. Standing at 6’5” and weighing in at over 250, the former Tulsa Union standout brings a bit of a different style to the position. He’s thrived in blocking situations over the past three seasons, but expect him to make his share of plays this season — particularly in the red-zone situations.

Much of the conversation during Monday’s presser revolved around the threat posed by Oklahoma’s opponent — the Florida Atlantic Owls. After finishing 11-3 under first-year coach Lane Kiffin in 2017, FAU isn’t being taken lightly. Far from it, in fact.

“Really impressed as we’ve studied them throughout the offseason, and then here as of late with their program and what Coach Kiffin and that group have done, the transformation that’s happened there over the last couple of years is pretty remarkable,” Riley said. “I remember watching them being in a similar league at a similar level when I was at East Carolina a few years ago. Just the change, first, in the talent base that they have there. Their talent level is very, very good.”

“They brought in a number of transfers. they’ve recruited well. They’ve hit on some guys in-state, which you expect in the state of Florida, and you turn on the film and you see a very talented football team. You also see a very, very old football team. A lot of experience coming back — one of the most experienced teams in the country. So they’re going to be a great challenge. I think they are without a doubt easily one of the top 20, 25 teams in the country — no question about it. I can’t say how impressed I’ve been with them, and I think our guys — now that they’ve had a chance to watch them on tape — certainly have a lot of respect for what they do and realize the challenge that we’re going to face here this Saturday.”

“Offensively, it starts with their tailback, [Devin] Singletary,” Riley added. “As you look forward to this season, you sit there and say, ‘Man, this lines up to be a year where we’re going to play a lot of really good tailbacks’, and this guy’s absolutely at the top of the list. [He rushed for] over 1,900 yards last year — which that’s hard to do anywhere, any time. He shows big-play ability, shows consistency, very tough to bring down. And then Lane [Kiffin] and those guys have done a tremendous job scheme-wise of building it around his talents. He’ll be tough to handle — no question about it.”

“The top guys defensively — there’s several that stand out,” Riley continued. “There are so many returning plays, but of course the middle linebacker, [Azeez Al-]Shaair, is phenomenal. I would say if we played him last season, the only guy guy that played on his level would be Roquan Smith from Georgia. You’re talking about a fantastic player — one of the nation’s leading tacklers, all over the field, smart, great tackler. Just really, really stands out. Then the safety, Jalen Young, as well. An elite kind of ball-skill guy — also does some things for them in the return game. Another very good tackler, and they’ve done a great job with that defensive skill. A ton of those guys back there — they run, they hit. I knew they were going to be a good team. Obviosuly, you don’t win 11 games, win your league, go on the run that they did and really separate from a ton of opponents like they did at the end of the year — you don’t do that without being a really good football team.”

Other takeaways

  • Riley still sort of pleads the fifth when asked about Kyler Murray’s future. The Oakland Athletics obviously plan on having him next year, and there’s no reason to believe Murray will do anything else, but it seems like Riley just doesn’t want to make any definitive statements on the matter.
  • The battles at center, WILL Linebacker and the safety spots are still open, according to Riley. He did mention that multiple safeties have been nicked up throughout fall camp, so the coaches are now finally getting a chance to see all of them together. Despite the fact that Caleb Kelly didn’t take contact during the spring, I am a bit surprised that he hasn’t separated himself from Curtis Bolton at this point. Perhaps the coaches just want to see a bit more of him at this new position.
  • Justin Broiles was praised for his abilities as a communicator in the secondary, with Riley noting that he “brings a lot of juice” to the group. He added that he used the redshirt season to develop his body and mind, but also added that he was close to having his redshirt pulled in certain instances.
  • He’s definitely happy with the situation at cornerback, stating that it’s much better than it was at this time a year ago. It’s tough to argue with that.
  • When asked about former OU and current Owl QB Chris Robison, Riley complimented his family and called him a “great kid”. He seems happy that things are working out for him in Boca Raton. “I’ve got nothing but respect for him and his family and wish him nothing but the best”, he added.
  • Kenneth Murray, who was in Robison’s recruiting class, also has a soft spot for the former Sooner:
  • Riley seems to be legitimately confident in the defensive line this time around. He cited the mentality of the group as one thing that encourages him the most, and he also mentioned the benefit of having a full year with both Riffin McNeill and Calvin Thibodeaux coaching the unit together.
  • When asked about the return game, CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown and Rodney Anderson were mentioned. Lamb, the returning starter in the role, makes sense, but the latter two give me a bit of pause. Marcelias Sutton, TJ Pledger and Mykel Jones were the names brought up to return kicks — which seems perfectly fine. Someone like Marcelias Sutton could really do some damage if more holes come open on returns this season. Also, a starter at deep snapper has still not been determined.
  • When asked whether he has a name for his offense, which has veered away from the standard Air Raid, Riley confirmed that he doesn’t. He added, “Hopefully just a championship offense. That’s all I care about”.
  • When asked about Gary Gibbs being at Oklahoma State in a consulting role, Riley mentioned that OU would have loved to have him back in some type of role if there was a spot, but also mentioned that the timing wasn’t right in terms of openings. He stated that the two have a good relationship and that there is “no ill will”.