Lincoln Riley often calls it like he sees it.
When the offensive line underperforms, Riley acknowledges it. When his quarterback doesn’t play up to certain (lofty) standards, Riley leans in.
And when Oklahoma’s wide receiver had a spotty year like they did in 2020, Riley doesn’t shy away from the hard truth.
“Although we had some great moments,” Riley said this week, “that was a position that we weren't real thrilled about the way we played last year, and know that we can that we can play better there.”
To be fair, Marvin Mims graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’s best receiver in the country last year — but even if he did lead the team in catches, yards and touchdowns, he was a true freshman. As dynamic and exciting and reliable as he was, Mims has plenty of room to grow.
That’s one of the things that playing in the shadow of CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown and Dede Westbrook and Sterling Shepard gets you: in addition to a spot in the NFL and million-dollar contracts, it also gets you unfair comparisons and ridiculously high standards.
Again, Riley embraces that.
“Part of it,” Riley said, “is we have such a high standard for the play of receivers here at Oklahoma.”
Riley said Thursday that “we’re gonna move some guys around, create some interesting, I think, position battles.
“We told the guys from day one when we came back that ‘We’re wiping everything that any of you guys have ever done and we are starting with a clean, blank slate.”
PFF records and catalogues everything, of course, and what held this uber-talented group of wideouts back last year was dropped passes — specifically, nine dropped touchdown passes. Everybody had a turn — even Mims, who let slip what would have been a 73-yard bomb at Texas Tech right through his fingers.
Blocking is massively important for a big-play offense. Running precise routes is a must for any receiver on the major college level. Reading defenses and knowing one’s assignments against a given formation needs to be part of a good wideout’s DNA.
But catching the football is Job 1 for any wide receiver on any level.
“I think we've got some really well-defined goals for that group for the individuals,” Riley said. “A lot of our offseason with those guys has been kind of dedicated to challenging them in the areas that we weren’t as good as we needed to be, and really finding guys that are going to attack those areas and turn those maybe what were weaknesses into strengths. And those are gonna be the guys that we play with.”
So it might be a big year for the 5-star trio of 2019 — Trejan Bridges, Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease — or it might not. Mims might have a breakout sophomore year — or a sophomore slump. Drake Stoops’ last name apparently won’t carry any more weight than his first name.
And incoming freshmen like Cody Jackson and Mario Williams (and maybe Billy Bowman, although he’s listed as a defensive back on the initial spring roster) won’t be behind anyone.
“I think it'll be some of the most interesting position battles that we have this spring,” Riley said. “ … Just, the standards are really, really high. And, and we believe we got the people in this in this building to to play and perform at those standards. So It'll be fun.
“hose guys have had a great offseason so far, so I can't wait to see them on the field and see how these battles unfold.”