Spencer Rattler finds himself in an interesting place.
On one hand, he’s the oldest player in Lincoln Riley’s quarterback room at Oklahoma. On the other hand, this is his first spring practice.
“I view myself as a veteran on this team and somebody that’s been through it — being the quarterback, being the leader of this team,” Rattler said Thursday. “I embrace that role. I know this is my first spring ball, but that’s just how the dice rolls.”
And although he’s only spent one season as the Sooners’ starter (not even one full calendar year yet), it’s on Rattler to be the elder statesman — the “old head,” in his vernacular — and impart his knowledge and insight to young players and newcomers, like Caleb Williams.
“He’s new to it like I was at one point,” Rattler said on a video press conference. “Everything isn’t smooth as you want it to be as a new guy. You’re going to go through some ups and downs, going through team runs or just learning the offense overall. But from what I’ve seen he’s been doing a pretty good job.”
Riley was asked about the early dynamic between OU’s incumbent (and All-Big 12) quarterback, and the early-enrollee freshman who said last year he was coming to Norman to play right away.
“Yeah, their relationship is very positive,” Riley said, “mutual respect for each other. Both in similar situations: coming out of high school and having to come in and learn this thing really quick. I think they’re both competitive guys and I think they’ve been good for each other. It’s always great to have other good players in the room. It pushes you no matter how long you’ve been at a place.
“Certainly from Caleb’s perspective, having a guy in there that’s been through the fire, that knows our system at a higher level than Caleb does right now and a guy he can watch the way he prepares, watch the things he does on the field, the way he communicates, all that. I think it’s good. They seem to get along very well and (are) very similar to some of the other, really good relationships we’ve had in that room over the years.”
Williams, the can’t-miss kid from Washington, DC, the No. 1 player high school in the nation, has been impressive so far this spring, Riley and Rattler said.
“Caleb is doing well,” said Riley. “He’s getting a lot of reps. He’s learning a lot. We’re throwing him in a lot of different situations. … He’s done a pretty good job of making plays outside the pocket. He’s athletic. He throws well on the move. He has some creative to his game. He still has to get consistent on the more routine plays, which is normal for this time in the offense. He’s just learning and getting started.”
“He’s athletic,” Rattler said. “He can throw the ball. I’d say tips and stuff … Yes, I’m the guy that’s been through the fire and those guys will ask me questions — him, Ben (Harris), (Carsten) Groos all those guys, Micah (Bowens). I think we all make each other better, just kind of seeing what each other does and competing against each other I guess you could say. We kind of feed off each other. He’ll be a good quarterback for sure.”
“The room is good,” Riley said. “It’s nice having some returners in there and some guys who have been in there. A lot of guys are fighting like crazy to learn it, which is fun. It’s made the room competitive. Everybody is kind of eager to learn and some of those guys are learning it for the first time at the same time, which I think has been helpful. They’ve been able to bounce questions off each other. And then it’s good for them having an older guy in the room in Spencer, who’s a little bit more down the line with his knowledge of it.”
Riley has been impressed by something else Williams has done this spring that doesn’t show up on the field.
“Caleb’s class load,” Riley said, “he’s one of two players right now that we have with this rule exception this year. Both he and Billy Bowman are taking some of their high school classes online as well as their spring semester load. Give both guys credit. It’s their first year of college and spring football and all that combined, it’s a lot on its own. The fact you’re having to take high school classes on top of that, it’s been a challenge for both Billy and Caleb. I give both those kids a lot of credit. They’ve handled it well and both their high schools, Gonzaga and Denton Ryan, have been really helpful as well.”
“He’s working hard to learn it while balancing a pretty challenging class load right now. He has a lot on his plate. He’s doing well. He’s progressing nicely. He’s got a lot of ability. He certainly has a long way to go in his knowledge and understanding and the decisions day in and day out. But I certainly see no reason why he can’t be a very good player for us as we go on.”
For now, of course, the job belongs to Rattler. Williams seems to be the first in line in case of emergency, but that’s six months down the road. Rattler said he’s focusing every day on using his first spring practice to bring his game well beyond where it was in 2020.
“I’m going to prepare like it’s my last practice every day with my guys,” he said. “These younger guys are looking up to me and all these older guys on the team. We’ve got to set the example on the field and make sure we’re doing the right things. I feel like leadership-wise we’ve got steps to take. But we’re getting there.
“I’m excited to see myself and the other leaders on the team, and how the younger guys respond to us throughout the season and fall camp and all that. We’re just trying to be a positive influence to those guys.”