NORMAN – From the sideline with a broken left leg, Oklahoma Sooners running back Rodney Anderson watched and saw a different side of the game – going through mental reps that he couldn’t take from the field. Behind standout ball carriers Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, the redshirt freshman running back took in as much as he could – keeping an eye on the way Mixon cuts and Perine’s low-to-the-ground, power running style.
Anderson spent extra time with Oklahoma strength coach Jerry Schmidt last season.
It was time that he wouldn’t have gotten had it not been for his season-ending injury against Tennessee in just the second game of last season. He’s focused on moving forward and barely wanted to talk about the injury just a few days into preseason practice.
It has made him more prepared to make an impact and give Oklahoma possibly the most depth of any running back group in the nation.
“There’s always a difference of perspective when you’re sitting out on the sideline as opposed to when you’re playing,” Anderson said. “It’s not as first-hand as when you’re playing. It’s good to get those mental reps because you can see other things that you may have missed when you were playing.”
Last year’s injury might have been an initial hit to Anderson mentally, but it became a mental catalyst that sparked him up a steep progression curve. Along with the other running backs, Anderson is also working as a kick returner in practice and is all but guaranteed a major role on the Sooners’ special teams unit.
Anderson would have played a major role last year as the Sooners’ No. 3 running back last season. He’ll have that same chance this year, but he’ll be better for it.
“He’s another monster guy,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “He’s big, physical and explosive. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s looked great. He’s a smart guy in pass protection. He can catch the ball well, too.”
All of that has resulted in running backs coach Jay Boulware happily ignoring Anderson during the first stages of preseason camp. Boulware went through a list of Anderson’s developed skills Monday – things the redshirt freshman has picked up since he got to Oklahoma, either from his teammates or from his time off.
“He’s just understanding everything,” Boulware said. “. . . Rodney is at that stage now where he understands things a lot better. When I have guys that can do everything, and I don’t have to sit there and worry about you going in on this situation: To me, that’s when you’ve progressed. That’s where Rodney is right now. I feel comfortable with turning my head and looking elsewhere when Rodney is out there because I know he’s going to do the right thing.”