Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield quickly was checking off the names as if he were giving a presentation to a group of investors.
Yes, he’ll have plenty of help at wide receiver. Forget the fact that Dede Westbrook, a fellow Heisman finalist last fall, is gone. There is a bevy of receivers to take his place.
“I think we have multiple guys; that’s why Coach (Lincoln) Riley and I both believe that our receiver depth will be something we haven’t had before,” Mayfield said last week at Big 12 media days. “I could go on and on for days about these guys because I truly believe we have a lot of depth. I’ll be able to trust whoever is out there, and I’ll be able to trust the backups and whoever is behind them. It’s exciting for me — that’s for sure.”
Mayfield made the same proclamation for the running backs. Samaje Perine, the leading rusher in Oklahoma history, left early for the NFL. So did Joe Mixon, who was described by at least one NFL analyst as the most complete tailback in April’s draft.
But there should be no angst, Sooners fans. Mayfield says he has the answers on replacements.
“They’re awesome,” he said. “But it’s the University of Oklahoma, and we always have a running back step up. It’s considered one of the best places to go to be a running back for a reason. So we have guys ready to step up and reload. Like I said about (the) receiving room, I think our running back depth is something we haven’t had in a long time either.”
Oklahoma is a preseason top-10 team and a favorite to win the Big 12 because of Mayfield, who finished third in last year’s Heisman Trophy voting. This time of year, polls are weighted not by what’s happened on the field but by the quality of the players coming back.
After Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who won last year’s Heisman, Mayfield is the most significant player on the national scene. Coach Bob Stoops retired in June, but Riley has been Mayfield’s go-to coach the past two years, so the transition shouldn’t be a factor in Mayfield’s play.
But will he have the supporting cast, as he’s had the past two seasons, to make Oklahoma a truly great team? Currently, the guys at tailback and receiver are just a bunch of names on a flip chart.
Abdul Adams, who was third string a year ago, will compete for the starting tailback job. So will Rodney Anderson, who missed all of last season with a neck injury and a chunk of 2015 with a leg issue. Both were four-star recruits.
Newcomers who could find themselves in a rotation include freshman Trey Sermon and junior college transfer Marcelias Sutton. Both were early enrollees and participated in OU’s spring workouts.
“We’re going to have an open mind about it,” Riley said of the tailbacks, describing the group as “unique.”
“It’s as wide open as it can be. We’ll play the best guy, whether it’s one guy getting most of the carries or two guys like last year.”
As for receivers, Mayfield has the most chemistry with Mark Andrews, a tight end who caught 31 passes last fall. Jeff Mead (6 feet 5) and A.D. Miller (6-3) are big candidates for the outside spots. Then there’s Jeff Badet, a senior transfer from Kentucky. Badet averaged an SEC-best 21.6 yards per catch.
“I think we can replace the production,” Riley said of not having Westbrook this year. “Will we replace it with one player? I don’t know. If we do, that’s great. If we don’t, if it’s a little bit more spread out, that’s fine, too. I do think, looking at our receiving corps, that (it) would be more deep and a little bit more talented than we’ve been across the board (in) the previous two years that I’ve been there.”
Here’s the main reason, or make that five reasons, Oklahoma should be OK: With OU’s offensive line, it might not matter who’s running or catching the ball. They’ll have an unimpeded path thanks to a line that returns intact from 2016. The group is so deep that the top eight have at least one start on their résumé.
Orlando Brown, the Big 12’s offensive lineman of the year in 2016, mans the left tackle spot. He’s started every game the past two seasons, keeping Mayfield clean and upright in the pocket.
Brown could be the best lineman in the country. He’s always had the hulking size. In the eighth grade, he stood 6-7 and weighed 450 pounds. He’s since grown an inch and dropped more than 100 pounds as he’s figured out the nuances of protecting the quarterback’s blind side or springing a tailback on a zone run.
“We think our groups are great,” Brown said. “Our running back corps is great. Our wide receiver corps is great. And we just feel that although (the line) may be getting a ton of hype, we also think those groups are really good. We don’t think they would let us down, just like we don’t think that we’ll let them down.”
Mayfield put the line’s talent in perspective, which should relieve some Sooners’ preseason anxiety.
“I could play running back behind our offensive line,” he bragged.