ARLINGTON, Texas — Lincoln Riley chose not to bring Jalen Hurts to Big 12 Media Days, which is fine. Riley has also chosen not to name Hurts Oklahoma’s starting quarterback in the spirit of competition both in the Sooners’ QB room and across the team.
That won’t keep Hurts from starting the season opener against Houston, of course. Sort of like it didn’t keep Hurts from having a presence at Media Days.
“Phenomenal,” OU middle linebacker Kenneth Murray said when asked to describe Hurts. “He’s the kind of dude where it’s like...”
Murray paused. He wanted to get this right.
“... He has that OG sense to him,” Murray continued, summoning the classic Original Gangster tag meant as high praise in locker room lingo. “He’s been around so long and he’s been around so many good players that it’s like when he speaks, you knows it’s real. You know? He’s helped me a lot as a leader.”
“‘K-9, this is how it’s being done. Maybe if you said it this way, maybe you could get to that guy better. He would understand it better.’”
This could be tricky. Murray is in his third year at OU. Hurts hasn’t been in Norman seven months.
The Alabama transfer isn’t stepping on any toes, however, or egos. On the contrary.
“Considering the guy is 26-2 (as a starter) and has won the natty, something that none of us has ever experienced,” third-year wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said, “If he has something to say we’re going to buy into it.”
“When he says, ‘This is what needs to be done, this is what we need to fix in order to be better,’” Murray said, “you have no choice but to listen.”
Hurts’ development as a passer and in OU’s offense is critical. In that vein, Riley reported Monday that Hurts is progressing nicely.
“He, without a doubt, has the skills to be plenty accurate to play quarterback for us,” Riley said. “No doubt.”
We’ll judge for ourselves Sept. 1. Meantime, Hurts’ impact as a teammate, something he was as renowned for at Alabama as his dual-threat gifts, is easier to gauge.
“We’ve actually become good friends,” OU defensive tackle Neville Gallimore said Monday. “He has an appreciation for ’80s, ’90s old-school music. We chop it up about stuff like that. Sports, the latest fashion, artists. Friends stuff...
“Jalen is his own man. He knows what he wants and he’s not gonna stop at anything to get it. He’s got the right mentality. He’s not doing anything for show. He’s not trying to impress anybody. He’s trying to be his very best. I feed off that, as well as a lot of the other guys.”
Baker Mayfield had similar offense/defense crossover appeal at OU. Hurts doesn’t go around shooting from the lip like Mayfield did, but he might have the same pull on the program. He might be able to cover some of the program’s flaws (see: defense) as Mayfield did.
It sounds like he has that potential, anyhow.
“He has a very specific and detailed view on leadership. It’s something he takes seriously,” Riley said. “You can tell he’s been through it.”
Riley said Hurts has approached him about that view, similar to how Hurts has approached Murray.
Center Creed Humphrey relayed this note: “A week into the summer, we had a players’ only meeting where all the players came together. Jalen came up and talked, let everybody know what he’s about and his expectations for himself and the team. It’s real professional whenever he talks.”
Does any of this mean the Sooners are cinches to win another Big 12 championship and make another College Football Playoff? Does it enhance Hurts’ chances to win OU’s third Heisman Trophy in three years? No.
It does, however, bode well as Riley turns over his most important position, and tries to keep his offense as lethal as it was under Mayfield’s and Kyler Murray’s direction.
“I just think we know each other better, and we’re learning to expect what the other person is thinking a little better,” Riley said. “You’ve just got to be so in sync with that guy.”
The Sooners sound in sync with Hurts.
“I think this team has a vision,” Hurts said at his introductory press conference last March. “It’s very early, but we have a vision of what we want to do and what we want to be as a team, the things we want to achieve.”
If the vision has sharpened since, it’s probably because the Sooners’ new quarterback is helping show them the way.