It goes without saying how important it is for the offensive line to keep their quarterback clean. It’s not some concept nobody has suggested before.
But it has to be a point of emphasis for Oklahoma. Now in the spring and certainly going forward into the 2016 season with Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield plays with a certain swagger, we all know that. He plays fearless, we understand that. In 2015, it felt like that was OK because experienced guys like Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas were waiting in the wings.
This upcoming season, though, it’s true freshman Austin Kendall on standby. Although the coaches are incredibly high on Kendall and his potential, that would be one heck of an adjustment to go from high school to the Big 12 in less than 12 months.
“I wish we had more bodies there, but I’m not concerned,” offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “Austin has done a really nice job so far. I like his make up and I like that he’s mature. He doesn’t act like a guy that should still be going to high school classes, honestly. He’s doesn’t act like that at all. He acts like he belongs.”
Belonging on the practice field and belonging in the game are two totally separate things. The one thing that OU can’t do is expect Mayfield to change his style.
Change is too big of a word. Maybe adapt sounds better. Mayfield was sacked on average three times per game last season. He was the first to point out that it wasn’t all about the offensive line.
A good portion of those sacks occurred because Mayfield simply wouldn’t say no. He kept fighting to make something happen but nothing was realistically there.
That’s the competitive spirit in Mayfield that has made him who he is, a Heisman Trophy candidate last season and among the names listed for the award in 2016.
“I can try and tell him, but it’s live by the sword and die by the sword,” Riley said. “It’s what makes him a good player. You’ve gotta balance that. Are there times he cannot take an unnecessary shot? Of course. Those are the ones we’ll try and eliminate. At the same time, football is a dangerous game. If you play it hesitant or tentative, it doesn’t matter if he’s out there or standing next to me, it’s not gonna work.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Mayfield will adapt his game, but he’s changed his body. Noticeably trimmer than he was in 2015, he looks as fit as he can be at this point of the year.
The whole dynamic is different, too. Mayfield knows it’s his team. There is no competition. All there is going forward is grooming guys like Kendall and Kyler Murray (eligible for 2017) for what’s to come.
Mayfield has been through just about everything there is. Kendall and Murray are soaking it all in, and Mayfield is not shy to be that type of mentor to the guys.
“They respect Baker and he knows about those guys and he respects them. They work together well. It’s different. That room last year, right when I walked into it, had such a strong bond. That room, I was the outsider in that room for a while. That was probably the easiest quarterback room to manage in the history of football.
“This room is different because there are different guys at different points. You have new guys coming in. They are all three talented guys. Baker, more in the present, but all three really have bright futures. You can see how everyone is starting to grow and them starting to help one another out a little bit more, get a little bit closer and trust each other a little bit more.”
The goal is to keep Mayfield clean, but he’s putting in the work now to make sure the Sooners are ready just in case he doesn’t stay that way.