Riley will be judged on development

OU's offense is going to score, but will it keep progressing? That's the challenge for Lincoln Riley.

Scoring has never been a problem for the Oklahoma offense. With Josh Heupel running the show, OU rarely lost games because it couldn’t put points on the board.

There’s no reason to expect the scoring to drop with offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. He’s bringing a proven track record after five strong seasons at the same position with East Carolina.

Points are nice, but what is going to ultimately tell the story of Riley and how long his future lasts in Norman is going to be about development.

“I just want a great player there,” Riley said. “You can go on down the line and look at places that have used this version of the offense. We’ve had tall, we’ve had short, we’ve had fast, we’ve had slow. We have to have a guy who can make decisions.

“We have to have a guy that’s very accurate with the football. We want a guy who is a winner. We want a guy who, when he’s out there in the huddle and out there playing, the other 10 guys out there with him play better.”

When Heupel was just the quarterbacks coach, he was superb. Sam Bradford and Landry Jones are two real quality guys to say you helped lead in their development.

But once Heupel added co-offensive coordinator to his title, so, too, did the development. Highly recruited quarterbacks like Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson never materialized. Bell obviously still found a home at OU and finished his career at tight end. Thompson left following the 2013 season and played at Utah last season.

Trevor Knight was the selection for the 2012 class, and with it, a change in the offensive philosophy. The zone read became a vital part of the OU attack. Knight made as many big plays with his legs as he did with his arm.

Will it disappear with Riley running the show?

“We’ve been selective about when we’ve used it,” Riley said. “I want to keep those guys healthy. Their number one job is going to be to lead ad distribute. I do think there’s a time and place for it.”

Riley said the key is to look at the personnel and then make the right decision from there. Riley, a disciple of the Mike Leach and his Air Raid offensive attack, has shown the ability to adapt to his personnel.

The question heading into the spring is whether or not OU has the personnel on its roster for Riley to be able to bring out the best in them and for the Sooners.

When Riley addressed the media Saturday, it’s clear he believes in who he has on campus. Knight, Baker Mayfield, Cody Thomas, Justice Hansen – Riley has faith he will make it work.

“I got a chance to watch Baker as a freshman at Texas Tech,” Riley said. “We tried like heck to get him at East Carolina when he left. He’s a very good player.

“We’re going to be very blessed in that quarterback room. I’ve heard people on the outside say that’s a question mark. To me, we have three guys in that room who have started major college football games.

“We have what we need in that room to be successful. We have to get it implemented and get those guys coached. I’m excited about Baker and all the guys in that room.”

The debate with OU the last couple of seasons has been have the receivers lacked in production because of the lack of development at quarterback or is it the lack of quarterback development is why the receivers haven’t produced.

Knight has had as many good moments as bad, and Bell never quite found a home at the position although he, too, certainly had some memorable times as a Sooner.

It’s one of the reasons OU cleaned house with its co-coordinators. Riley, who was the offensive guru for the Pirates and their record-setting numbers, can attest to both sides after also having a stellar background working with wide receivers.

“We’ve got to be completely in sync,” Riley said. “When you play as fast as we do, there has to be a lot of trust with everybody involved with it. That’s one nice advantage that I have, having coached receivers and moving on to quarterbacks.”

The question is out there about the logic of OU hiring someone who seems tailor made to run the offense Heupel was so good at it. The numbers were nice, but the development wasn’t.

OU coach Bob Stoops felt it was time for a change, or as he says, everything has its time. For Stoops, it’s time to go back to the dance with the one that brought you there.

“If you look at the top 13 total offenses in the country, six of them are from this body of work,” Stoops said. “Six of the top 13 in the country, total offenses, are from this family. That’s pretty strong.”

Stoops is confident Riley is the man and is confident going back to the past will lead him and the program where they want to be in the future.

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