This was a much more buttoned-up version of Baker Mayfield than the previous editions.
The usually brash and occasionally cocky quarterback was much more choice with his words than he had been in the past as he stood in front of the media for the first time in almost a year Monday.
That’s what happens when you’re the leading candidate for the starting quarterback position at Oklahoma.
“You’ve got to contain it sometimes,” Mayfield said behind a laugh. “. . . I mean, it’s the person you’ve got to be sometimes.”
With the introduction of a new coach and a new system, the Oklahoma starting quarterback job has become a wide-open race this spring. Trevor Knight, who has more starts than the other three candidates combined, had a rough 2014 season that included multiple game-losing decisions and a severe injury that knocked him out of the final three games of the regular season.
Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma from Texas Tech but was forced to sit out a season. During that time, he served as the Sooners’ scout team quarterback and was named Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year.
Cody Thomas made three starts for Oklahoma, and Justice Hansen is coming off a redshirt season as freshman. It seems obvious that the race is down to Knight and Mayfield, though, as both addressed the media Monday.
“It’s the same mentality,” said Knight, who was named the starter for all of spring practice last year after battling Blake Bell deep into fall camp the season before. “. . . To have to compete again, it’s not a knock. It’s – ‘Let’s go make this happen.’ I’ve been here before. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
Knight added that he doesn’t feel like he’s playing catch-up to Mayfield, who played in an almost replica offense to new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s spread look at Texas Tech two years ago. Mayfield won the starting job with the Red Raiders as a true freshman.
Riley will have to make the decision between the two.
“It’s not hard to evaluate quarterbacks,” Riley said last week. “You can look at their production. How the others guys play when they’re in. They way you move the ball. The way you take care of the ball. The way they make plays. To me it’s pretty cut and dry. Either they’re doing it or they’re not, and right now, there’s flashes of all four of those guys doing it.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he’ll leave the distribution of reps during Saturday’s spring game up to Riley. He emphasized that the entire quarterback competition shouldn’t be judged by Saturday’s game and Friday’s open practice.
“There are guys that won’t be playing next year that will be out there on defense and offense, be careful to much of it,” Stoops said. “But it matters. If there’s a play there, can you make it? If there’s a play there and you throw it in the dirt of overthrow it, that matters to us regardless of who is out there.
“. . . One guy may have an advantage of another based on how it falls, which receivers are in there going against which DB and whatnot.”
Knight, who was criticized for mistakes that led to three of the Sooners’ losses, said he doesn’t feel the need to have a great showing in front of fans at the spring game.
“I don’t necessarily owe anybody anything,” Knight said. “I owe myself the fact that I should go out there and play as hard as I can and have fun with it. Hopefully, that shows up. I don’t owe anything to anyone else on the outside.”
In an offense based on rhythm and confidence, Mayfield might have the upper hand because he didn’t play last season. Mayfield, who said his decision-making has improved during the past two years, played on the scout team alongside Mark Andrews and Dallis Todd, two players who have received rave reviews during spring practice.
He also worked with Dorial Green-Beckham, arguably the best receiver on Oklahoma’s roster last season.
“We’re all getting equal reps, right now,” Mayfield said. “I’m doing the best I can. We’ll see as it plays along a little farther.”
Stoops has no intention of making a decision any time soon.
“I never believe – especially with where we’re at – that it has to be decided right now,” he said. “There’s such a long period of time over the summer. There’s 28 – double the number of practices you get in the spring – come fall. There’s plenty of time to figure that out.”