Lincoln Riley was asked about a possible comparison of freshman receiver Marvin Mims to that of another recent Sooner rookie who showed up ready to contribute big plays: CeeDee Lamb.
“Their skill sets are pretty different,” Riley said, “but the the comparison to me would be, one, they’re mentally ready to play at a young age as far as handling — not only picking up the offense but just handling all that comes along with playing football at a university like this. There’s just a lot to it and Marvin handles all business off the field. He’s very, very dependable even at a young age. Kind of feels like he’s been here for a long time and guys that give you that feeling normally are able to contribute early. So that's probably the biggest similarity.”
As a true freshman from Richmond, TX, Lamb caught 47 passes for 807 yards (17.5 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns.
“They both have a good feel for the game,” Riley said. “They’re both tough, competitive kids. They both know that they belong. Kind of from the psyche standpoint, there’s a lot of similarities.”
Mims, a 5-foot-11, 177-pound true freshman from Frisco, TX, ranks eighth among Big 12 pass-catchers with 19 receptions. He’s sixth with 328 receiving yards. And he’s tied for first with six touchdown catches.
Riley said another similarity they shared was in their willingness to return punts. Lamb returned 13 punts for 78 yards (just a 6.0 average) inn 2017 before breaking out with 17 returns for 218 yards (a 12.80-yard average) as a sophomore.
Through five games, Mims is averaging an eye-popping 17.9 yards per return (that would lead the Big 12, but Kansas State’s Phillip Brooks brought back two touchdowns last week and has a whopping 29.5-yard average).
“Punt return’s one of those things that you can tell pretty quick if a guy wants to do it or not,” Riley said. “Everybody says that they want to and actually, very, very few people on your football team actually want to be the punt returner. It takes skill but it also takes a lot of guts and it takes somebody that wants that opportunity, and he’s showed that, showed a dependability for catching the ball, making good decisions back there and then, honestly, his after-the-catch or with the ball in his hands, he’s probably been a little bit more advanced than we would have guessed in that he runs fearless, he gets vertical and has outstanding speed and quickness.”
Better than advertised
Consider that Oklahoma’s best overall position so far this season has, without a doubt, been the defensive line.
Now consider that the Sooners played at that level for the first half of the season without their two best players (end Ronnie Perkins is suspended, tackle Jalen Redmond opted out).
“Has it been one of this team’s strong suits this season? Without question. Without question,” Riley said. “I just can’t say enough about those guys.”
Now consider that this unit lost virtually every important player last season, starting with new Dallas Cowboy Neville Gallimore.
OU being third in the conference at 3.0 quarterback sacks per game and fifth in tackles for loss per game at 7.4 is a good statement about the way the defensive line is playing.
Riley said the play of the defensive line this year is a reflection of the Sooners’ recruiting and development at that position.
“Yeah, I think that’s a fair statement,” he said. “I don’t know many fronts that would lose a high draft pick, lose I think we lost four other guys, four other seniors on the defensive line last year, and then you start the season without arguably your two most talented defensive linemen and still be able to produce the way our guys have. I do.
“I think it first speaks to the character and the drive in that room of our players. I give our defensive linemen right now the most credit because they have been the ones to go make the plays and take the hard coaching and to not let the expectations or standards drop in anyway because somebody else might not be there. So first and foremost, great job by them.”
Rush linebacker Jon-Michael Terry has only one start this season but he leads the group with 14 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss and has one quarterback sack. Nik Bonitto has five starts and is right with Terry at 13 tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Defensive end Isaiah Thomas is the top down lineman so far with 13 tackles, 4a team-high 4 1/2 TFL and 1 1/2 sacks. Noseguard Perrion Winfrey has 10 tackles, 3 1/2 TFL and a half-sack. And defensive tackle Josh Ellison, also with just one start, has eight tackles and half a TFL, while returning starter LaRon Stokes has eight tackles and 2 1/2 TFLs. Also, Jordan Kelley (5 tackles, 1 TFL) is back from injury, Kori Roberson (3 tackles, 1 1/2 TFL, 1 sack) is contributing, Marcus Stripling (3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) has stepped up, and true freshman Reggie Grimes (2 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) has made plays in his brief opportunities.
“Coach Thib (Calvin Thibodeaux) and coach (Jamar) Cain have done a great job as well,” Riley said. “I think it does (show) we’ve hit on some guys from an evaluation standpoint and been able to develop some of these guys. I know we talked about Isaiah but Jordan Kelley I think is another example of a guy in there that’s just really continued to develop and get better and better. Marcus Stripling is coming on and doing some nice things. Jon Michael-Terry has really developed through his years here and he was our defensive player of the week last week.
“There’s just a lot of positive vibes there, a lot of hard work, a lot of competition and guys – we’re not paying attention to who’s not there. We’re just going and playing at a level that we expect to play regardless and that’s a great mentality for us to have.”
Speaking of recruiting, evaluation and development, this OU team — particularly the defense — continues to be led by local kids.
Of the Sooners’ 58-man two-deep, 14 are from Oklahoma — 24 percent. There are nine on the 32-man defensive two-deep, or 28 percent.
“It’s important,” Riley said, who said Oklahoma kids were “central parts of our team.”
The starting defense includes defensive backs Tre Brown and Pat Fields (Tulsa Union), and defensive linemen LaRon Stokes (NOAH) and Isaiah Thomas (Tulsa Memorial). Center Creed Humphrey (Shawnee) is a captain for the offense.
Drake Stoops (Norman) has been a surprise contributor at receiver, Terry (Tulsa-Victory Christian) is a major player on defense, Justin Broiles (OKC John Marshall) has found his way back into the rotation, Bryan Mead (Owasso-Rejoice Christian) has gotten plenty of time at linebacker, Jordan Kelley (Union) is making an impact after bouncing back from injury, running back Marcus Major (OKC Millwood) scored a big touchdown against Texas, and Brey Walker (Westmoore) and Andrew Raym (Broken Arrow) have been steady backups on the offensive line.
In all, 23 Oklahomans dot the OU roster.
“We do recruit nationally,” Riley said. “There’s not many places we won’t go and that we don’t have a shot at a player. But there’s always still an importance of having a presence from your home state. Lot of these guys grew up watching this place, seeing all the great teams, great players that have come through here. Their families did. And I think that’s important.
“I think it helps teach some of our, maybe, players from out of state that don’t know as much about our history, when they come in, about the place and the expectations and the fact that they are still — these Oklahoma guys on our team, even though they are here at the university, are still ‘home’. Where a lot of our guys are coming from hundreds if not thousands of miles away.
“I think that helps kind of create that family atmosphere here and that feeling of home that we aim to have and be able to put in front of our players. So, I think it's important on many, many levels."
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