ESPNU Radio Visits OU on Spring Camp Tour
NORMAN — Oklahoma is one of 15 college football programs being featured on ESPNU Radio on SiriusXM as part of the channel's 2018 spring camp tour. Chris Childers and Charles Arbuckle were at the Switzer Center on Thursday gathering more than an hour's worth of interviews with Head Coach Lincoln Riley, running back Rodney Anderson, wide receiver Marquise Brown, linebacker Caleb Kelly and cornerback Tre Norwood, as well as with Athletics Director Joe Castiglione.
Below are multiple comments from each of Thursday's six interviewees, with much more material being discussed during a two-hour, OU-dedicated show that will air Friday, April 6 at 6 p.m. CT on SiriusXM channel 84. The show will re-air multiple times on future dates.
HEAD COACH LINCOLN RILEY
On the loss of several offensive starters, including unsung H-back Dimitri Flowers:
"In a weird way, and there may be some people out here who think I've lost my mind for saying this, but he could maybe be the toughest one to replace of all those guys. It's just hard to find those guys. And to be able to do all the things that that guy did well, you just don't find it often. A guy that can mentally can go play every receiver position, he can H-back, he can play in-line tight end, he can play fullback. Even two years ago when Joe (Mixon) and Samaje (Perine) were out for a game, he went in against Iowa State and rushed for 100-some yards and played tailback on one day of practice. So mentally he could handle it and physically was really good as well. He was a big part of our offense. We've got some guys we've recruited who are battling to replace him, but those are some big shoes to fill."
On replacing Baker Mayfield at quarterback:
"We've got a good battle going on a lot like we did a few years ago. And those are fun. They're fun for the team, it's fun in our quarterback room. It's different now because all of the guys making a run for it have been in the system now for multiple years, whereas when we first got here and had Baker and Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas, it was all new to those guys at the same time. So we're a little bit more experienced back there. Both Austin Kendall and Kyler Murray have played and have served as back-ups, they've been through it, they've both been here now multiple years. They're going at it. They definitely are. They've both improved a lot. You can kind of feel the tension of the competition. That's what makes you better. So yeah, we've got a couple of good players there. We're going to continue to evaluate these guys and give them a bunch of reps, let them get in sync with our skill guys, but I feel like we have what we need in that room to play the way we want to play."
On the need to limit explosive plays defensively, especially in the run game:
"Yeah, we did control the run for most of the year; had a couple games where it got away from us a little bit against a couple of good football teams, especially against Georgia, which had two of the better backs you'll ever see at once. But as you get more dominant on the front seven, you don't have to take as many chances to stop the run. When you're average like we were, you've got to take more chances to stop the run. And when you take those chances, if one pops, instead of going 15 yards it has the chance to go 50 yards. So that's a big point of emphasis for us. We've got to be able to get pressure with just our front four, and we've got to be able to stop the run without having to commit so many bodies to it. We're recruiting like crazy there and that's a big reason we've invested as far as having two defensive line coaches, which a lot (teams) don't do. And that's paid dividends. We're starting to bring in some really nice talent there."
JUNIOR RUNNING BACK RODNEY ANDERSON
On the leadership role he's playing with younger guys in preparation for the 2018 season:
"There's a bunch of different ways you can lead. You can lead by example, you can be a vocal leader. I think everybody plays in different types of ways. I'm a leader by example. So I just always give 100 percent in every single rep that I take, whether that's on the field in practice, in the meeting room; just whatever I'm doing, do it 100 percent. Maybe people see me and follow the same way."
On how he views the offense for 2018 after losing Baker Mayfield, Mark Andrews, Dimitri Flowers, Orlando Brown and Erick Wren:
"Yeah, we definitely have a few spots to replace but I have complete faith in the people who stepped in. We've filled in on the line, Kyler (Murray) and Austin (Kendall) are competing (for the starting quarterback spot). I have faith in our offense. I feel like we're not going to miss a step."
On why Norman and OU were the right places for him coming out of high school:
"It just seemed like a really family-oriented atmosphere. I felt like the coaches were genuine and always in my corner. Even before I got here I could always call them and ask them questions. They'd never turn me down and would always call me back. I'm not saying that other teams didn't do that, but I just felt like I could call this place a home."
JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER MARQUISE BROWN
On what it was like to play with one of the all-time college football greats in Baker Mayfield:
"It was great to play with him. He honestly made me play better. He made me have the season I had. At the beginning of the season, a lot of times I was down and he would come encourage me, just talk to me. He's great. He's a great player."
On how what he's doing with teammates now that he's taking on a bigger leadership role:
"I just try to preach consistency. Last year — I tell CeeDee this all the time — we had games where I was on and then we had games where he was on. I just felt like we needed to put it all together. And A.D. (Miller), he's a great player, I'm just letting him know, 'You gotta come and we've gotta win every day in practice.' Everything we do on game day, we did it in practice. You practice how you play. For me, I've just been focusing on my strength, route running and technique."
JUNIOR LINEBACKER CALEB KELLY
On what was going through his head when he forced the fourth-quarter fumble in the Rose Bowl that Steven Parker ran back for a touchdown:
"That was awesome. We did that in the south end zone, and all our fans — and I had about 40 people there — were in the north end zone. So I ran all the way to the other end zone and was flexing and blowing kisses to the family and everybody over there. I got to do that in front of my family, so that was awesome. I was also thinking I could be a legend for a play like that. I was like 'Shout-out to Steve for scoring.'"
On making the adjustment from outside linebacker to inside (Will) linebacker this spring and what he's doing to get ready despite sitting out due to offseason shoulder surgery:
"Just being totally involved still; just because I'm out doesn't mean I'm totally out. I'll help the guys at my (new) position, and even at my past position, helping guys with techniques and little critiques. That's going to help me out as well. I know that the more I tell them, the more repetition I get in my mind. That will help me out on the field when I'm thinking about it. And even last year, I played Will a little bit when we were in (our) nickel (package). I was the second-string Will, and so having that opportunity to get those plays in, I have a lot of those plays known by heart. So coming in this year it's just kind of refreshing (them), and now I'm just focusing on one position."
SOPHOMORE CORNERBACK TRE NORWOOD
On what defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks has been preaching to him and other players this spring:
"The biggest thing overall is just putting on weight and continuing to work on my technique. We have a motto this spring as a defensive backs group: 'We Win With the Points.' That's our biggest thing; cut down on the points, try to eliminate the big plays and make more plays on the ball. Get more interceptions and more tips on the ball. When the ball's in the air we're coming to the receiver and making the play."
On having a short memory as a cornerback, especially in the Big 12:
"That's exactly how it is. You have to have a short memory at the defensive back position. It's a competitive position. Each and every play, every down you want to compete. You get beat, you come back with the same mentality that the receiver can't beat you the next play. Just continue to play."
ATHLETICS DIRECTOR JOE CASTIGLIONE
On what made him think Lincoln Riley was the guy to replace Bob Stoops as OU head coach:
"I had a chance to watch Coach Riley and talk to Coach Stoops about him and his skill set, and literally from (Riley's) first few months he was on campus he struck me as a person who seemed to be wise beyond his years; meaning he had far more maturity, far more skill than you would think (when) looking at his chronological age. Also, he'd been in a lot of great situations. We'd been in the (College Football) Playoff his first year as a coordinator, won the Sugar Bowl the next year, and we had this fantastic offense that he helped create. It's never about one person — we always know that here; our culture's always about playing for something bigger than one person. But he just showed so much.
"When Coach Stoops came to see me and talk to me, we had those deep (retirement) conversations about whether this was just a reaction he was having to something, or if this was something he truly was internally at peace with. Obviously found out that he really was. Then I had to think about time of year, where we were, what was best for our players, for our team and program. Not just put the right person in there, but what's best for everybody around.
"I knew Coach Riley had already been a highly sought-after coach. In fact we had talked to him just several months earlier, after several institutions had approached him, about his own goals. We didn't know this situation was going to present itself. But we were thinking about him. 'He's going to get a head coaching opportunity,' but we just tried to talk to him about making it the right one. We wanted him to be a little more selective, thinking he goes somewhere, has some successful years, Coach Stoops does finally retire somewhere down the road and we get (Riley) back. No guarantees, but that's how the whole process went. And then of course the face-to-face (interview) to understand whether he was the right leader at the right time, and we absolutely concluded that he was in every respect."
On OU's facilities and the focus on the student-athlete experience:
"Everything we do we reinvest it into the student-athlete experience. The No. 1 agenda item for us day in and day out: what are we doing to invest in their experience. This facility that you see, yes, people want to talk about the glitz and this and that, but what does it do to help the student-athletes be better. I call the facilities that we have here 'The Players' House,' for two reasons. One, you've got to remember the people who played here before the ones who are here now. They created the success...we took that and reinvested it into the program. And we hope they get the idea that their legacy is to leave it better for the next group that comes in.
"When we have our guys in the NFL coming back and working out now, they're walking into this place and they're saying, 'Oh my goodness!' They'd heard about it but they never saw it. And they say, 'Why didn't I have this when I was here?' And you know what my answer is every single time? 'We have this because you were here. And your legacy is to help make it better for the next group.' That's how you build upon that tradition. We may have those little moments where programs aren't at the peak, but you don't ever want it to drop out. You want it to be highly sustainable. Part of it's not only how we're making student-athletes feel so welcome and appreciated and valued when they get here — all of the orientations that they go through — to how we're tracking their progress, leadership development, psychological health and wellness; all those kinds of things. And obviously to get their degree and to be the best they can be in their sport with great coaching. That to me is the financial investment that we're making in them."