During Lincoln Riley’s Monday press conference, the primary topic of conversation was obviously Oklahoma Sooners running back Rodney Anderson, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Riley didn’t specify the nature of the knee injury, but he did start off by pointing at that Anderson — one of the most talented players in the country — will still play a vital role as a team captain in 2018.
“[We’re] excited that we’ve still got him here — as a leader, as a captain,” Riley said. “He’ll still have a big impact on this team, just not on the field. Like I said, we’ll have other guys step up and be ready to go.”
When asked about the position moving forward, Riley referenced the situation the program faced at the beginning of the 2017 season.
“As the backs here go forward, it’s just going to be based on performance,” according to Riley. “Kind of like we were last year for a large part of the season. If all of those guys are performing well but nobody is really just totally outplaying the other, then I’m sure we’ll play a bunch of those guys. If we get a guy that gets hot or really starts playing at a high level, we’ll certainly feed him more reps, and with that, more opportunities.
“We feel good about those four,” Riley added. “It’s going to be good for TJ Pledger and Kennedy Brooks to be able to get more reps — not only game reps but just through the week in practice. That will be big for their development. It’ll be very similar to the beginning of last year, where we felt like we had good players and we just kept feeding them the ball. Guys had different big games. I think we had three different guys last year rush for 140 yards-plus in a game. So we’ve got guys that are capable. They’ve got a really good offensive line blocking for them, and we don’t expect any drop-off.”
When asked about this situation compared to the one faced in 2016 (when Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon were both out vs. Iowa State), Riley praised the current state of the position.
“The depth that we’ve been able to bring in in that room is impactful, and also because we don’t have anyone like Dimitri [Flowers] right now that could do all those different things. You hate to lose a guy like Rodney, of course, but to still feel as confident as we do in our run game — in our backs, specifically — is a good feeling.”
- When asked if he expected Anderson’s future, Riley is confident in his ability to bounce back — whether it’s with the program or an NFL franchise. “That’ll be an interesting [decision], but one that certainly doesn’t have to be made now, and won’t be,” Riley added. “I know Rodney and his family will think everything through.” He also added that the injuries Anderson had suffered previously have been isolated and have not been a continuous issue with one thing, and he cites that as one reason for his confidence in his football future. Another thing he pointed out is Anderson’s ability to rehabilitate himself, and it’s obviously something to which he’s grown accustomed. He finally added, “I told him, ‘I don’t think this injury’s going to have any impact on his career in football, other than it’s just going to delay it a few months’. This guy’s so mentally tough, he’s so physically gifted... he’ll probably come back better. I would be shocked if he doesn’t, whoever he’s playing for.”
- OU’s special teams have obviously improved since the hiring of Shane Beamer, and Riley cited postseason refection as something that prompted him to make him the 10th assistant. “That was one thing I kept going back to that I had to do better, we as a staff had to do better, our players had to do better. We really needed to step up there,” said Riley of that area of the game.
- When asked if the defense had truly been tested up to this point, he cited Chris Robison’s record-breaking performance against Air Force a week following FAU’s trip to Norman. While Robison and UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson clearly were not quite ready for the stage, it appeared that this aggressive defense was the primary cause of that.
- He went on to compliment the defense front: “I do think we’re better in the front seven. I really do. I think we’ve taken some steps there. We’re going to have to grow. We’re going to have to stay healthy. But I think we’re better there, and I think if our young plays in the secondary can continue to improve the way they are, then we’ve got a chance. And like I said, I still think people on the outside forget — we’ve played a lot of good defensive games here over the last few years. You don’t win three straight Big 12’s and go to the Playoff twice playing no defense. We’ve had some games here and there where we have not played well. I think sometimes those stand out in peoples’ minds, but we’ve had some excellent games, too.” Riley then pointed to the mentality, depth and talent as the things that will allow the good performances to to occur more consistently.
- Riley was pleased with Kyler Murray’s overall performance as a passer this past weekend, but did point to him missing short passes in the flat. One of the passes in the flat was impeded by a UCLA Bruin, but this has been one of the apparent issues over the first two games. It just seems that the touch isn’t quite there, but perhaps that will improve as his comfort level increases. Riley also pointed out that Murray had to make more decisions against UCLA than he had in the previous game, and the staff only graded two decisions as regrettable.
- One thing we’ve noticed about this year’s defense under Mike Stoops has been the heightened level of aggressive strategy. Riley confirmed that the improved personnel is what brings out the confidence. More aggressive calls and an increased level of trust seemed probable when considering the gradual increase in talent, which would in turn cure some of the ills from past seasons. Having said that, this has definitely surpassed my own expectations for this defense. We’ve obviously been critical of Mike in the past, but he’s clearly pushing the right buttons at this point.
- When asked about the status of backup QB Austin Kendall, Riley said that he’s been recovering better than expected. He also seemed confident in his potential be to available this weekend in Ames.