NORMAN — Trying to define Kennedy Brooks’ running style is a challenge.
But during his weekly news conference on Monday, Lincoln Riley nailed it.
“Yeah, we were joking about one he had against Baylor, or somebody, where it looks like he’s out running in the park with his Labrador. It does,” Riley said. “It’s hard to explain, honestly.”
What’s not hard to explain is Brooks’ productivity. In his five games as an Oklahoma running back, Brooks is averaging 10.9 yards per carry — 363 rushing yards on just 33 carries. In that Baylor game, he carried eight times for 107 yards and scored two touchdowns. But his coming out party really happened Saturday in Fort Worth, when he slashed through — well, sort of — the TCU defense for 168 yards and a TD on just 18 carries.
Brooks isn’t that big. He’s just 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds. He doesn’t run with any real discernible power, like starter Trey Sermon. He’s not all that fast, maybe a 4.5 in the 40.
But essentially halfway through the Sooners’ season, he’s averaging 11 yards every time he gets the football, and he’s only just now finding his stride.
“He runs so nonchalant,” said quarterback Kyler Murray. “Everybody asks me how does he do it and I tell them I don’t know. He’s so relaxed when he’s running. It looks like he doesn’t care when he’s running.”
While Brooks’ physical attributes may not exactly jump out, he does seem to have two traits that are more subtle and harder to define, but every bit as important for great running backs: he has the vision to anticipate defensive players’ pursuit angles, and he has a sudden and decisive one-cut burst that allows him to accelerate past tacklers.
“I think it’s the vision,” Murray said.
“It’s the same thing we saw in high school,” said Riley. “We went back and forth earlier in his career about, ‘Should we offer the kid?’ He was ultra-productive and the tape was really good. He wasn’t just built unbelievably. He didn’t have 4.3 speed. You didn’t see him just violently running over people. He was in the right place at the right time — almost every single time. He’s been like that here as a runner. There’s an effortless quality to him.”
At Mansfield (Texas) High School, Brooks rushed for 7,658 yards and 96 touchdowns, including 2,865 yards and 40 touchdowns during his senior season and 3,522 yards (eighth-most in Texas preps history at the time) and 42 touchdowns as a junior.
“He finds holes,” Murray said. “He knows what he is looking for. He knows how to run off blocks. He’s patient. He bursts when he needs to burst. He’s fast. He can catch the ball. He’s got awareness. He can do a lot of things and I think everyone sees that now.”
Riley surmises that Brooks has more than just broad shoulders and fast feet.
“He’s got just some natural feel,” Riley said.
Saturday, as Murray was taking off on a scramble, Brooks took off downfield and found himself blocking three different Horned Frog defenders. That doesn’t come from the weight room, and it doesn’t show up on the stopwatch.
“We never practice it looking like that,” Riley said. “Sometimes, you try to give these guys all the looks you can (but) you’ve only got so many hours in the day and only so many reps and there’s a thousand different ways that any play can happen.
“So guys have got to have some, we call it, they’ve got to have some ‘ball.’ They’ve got to have some sense, and he does. He hasn’t seen a look like that in practice, not one time, and he made us all look really smart. That’s what really good players do. They can adjust. They understand where you’re trying to attack and if it doesn’t go exactly like we planned, they’ve got a pretty good idea of what they should do anyway.
“We try to recruit guys that have that ability, that show that they have that want-to to make plays also when the ball’s not in their hands. It’s something that we emphasize here. No matter how good they are with the ball in their hands, no great back’s ever going to touch it more than 50 percent of the time, 50 percent of your snaps, so what is he going to do? Even if a guy gets 25 touches in a game, what’s he going to do the other 50 plays? It better be good, too.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.