OU spring review: Running backs

Oklahoma's best unit still very much in the shadows

Spring football is done at Oklahoma. The Sooners were able to get everything they could from 14 practices and the spring game and now the focus goes toward the 2015 season.

So what did we learn? Sooners Illustrated is going to take a position-by-position approach to see what we know now (or what we don’t know) going forward at OU.

Running back

There weren’t too many questions surrounding who would start at running back for Oklahoma entering spring. It was one of the few positions were that stability was granted. But there were plenty of questions surrounding freshman phenom Samaje Perine.

One of the single-most productive seasons in Oklahoma history, Perine averaged 131.8 yards per game, 6.5 yards per carry and scored 21 touchdowns. And let’s not forget the single-game FBS record of 427 yards against Kansas.

With a new offensive coordinator dedicated to the so-called, “air raid,” where was the big running back going to fit in? Who would run behind him? Will offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley run the ball enough and lean on Oklahoma’s best offensive unit?

Some of those questions have the beginnings of answers: The Sooners ran the ball 48 times in the spring game and threw it 43 times.

“Yeah, hopefully we don’t throw it to them as much as we did today,” Riley said immediately after the spring game. “ . . . I’m very confident, scheme-wise, where we’re headed. I think we’ve made some strides.”

Oklahoma threw a combined 300 passes in all of its scrimmages and was clearly dedicated to running the football in the spring game. Riley said the only thing that kept them from running more was that Perine was wearing a blue jersey – playing touch football.

Joe Mixon has been getting rave reviews all throughout spring, making Perine’s back-up question a thing of the past. Alex Ross didn’t look too bad in the spring game, either. Even Daniel Brooks could get a chance to run under Riley.

Riley had most of his offensive talent at wide receiver at East Carolina. He knows where it is in Norman, though.

“The talent here is different, with obviously our backfield being the No. 1 thing,” Riley said. “It’s been fun. There’s been a lot of things that maybe you thought about down the line that ‘if maybe I can get a guy like this, we could do this.’

“Here, we have some of those guys. I think we have done some things this spring that could make it hard on defenses if we continue to get better, and I’m excited about some of the new things we are doing.”

The offensive look in the spring game was very vanilla and for a purpose. Riley had never coached a spring game on national television before, and he wanted to keep some of his cards hidden. Mixon is one of those cards, although it wasn’t by choice that the running back was held out of the spring game. Perine got almost no touches. It would seem that there are still some secrets in the running game.

“You’re tempted, you want to do it, you want to put on a good show for the fans, but at the same time we’d rather put on a good show in the fall,” Riley said. “If you think it’s a competitive advantage, you have to hold it back and we did that.

Questions still linger about how Perine and Mixon – and even Rodney Anderson – will be used during the regular season. There’s no question that they will be used heavily.

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