NORMAN- Plenty of concerns have been raised about Oklahoma’s lack of spring football and summer workouts due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sooners are replacing their quarterback for a third consecutive offseason, but have no experienced signal-caller like Jalen Hurts waiting in the wings.
The defense has to replace their most consistent playmakers at every level in Neville Gallimore, Kenneth Murray and Parnell Motley.
Lincoln Riley announced Oklahoma will bring their players back to campus July 1, later than most of the Big 12 and the country.
While each of those concerns will present their own unique problems, the forced delay of in-person team activities may have stunted the growth of another key to a successful team – filling the void in leadership.
Hurts and Murray were the most visible leaders on the field last season, setting the tone by addressing the team at mid-field before the season opener against Houston. They publicly preached the desire to always improve, even when things were rolling for the Sooners early last year.
Both players were the first guys to give their teammates credit for Oklahoma’s success and take blame for the failures.
On the offensive side of the football, the importance of the quarterback position will anoint the mouthpiece of the unit overnight. Spencer Rattler or Tanner Mordecai will be looked upon for leadership the second they step foot into the huddle.
Returning Creed Humphrey to anchor the offensive line should ease the transition for the new quarterback as well, easing the transition.
The defensive fix won’t be as straightforward.
Smart money would say Caleb Kelly is next in line to take the mantle, but after him there is no celar number two.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch did an exceptional job motivating the much maligned Oklahoma defense to the biggest turnaround in school history.
In year two, it may be harder to maintain the high level of production when the message turns from “nobody believes in you” to “keep up the good work.” Strong leadership from other members of the defense will be essential to keep the momentum and to make more progress on the field this fall.
The loss of spring practices could hamper the emergence of other leaders for the defense.
Players step into new roles in the spring as a generation of teammates graduate. Spring practice and voluntary summer workouts are a proving ground not just on the field, but also in motivating and holding each other accountable.
One advantage today’s players have is the technology available to keep them connected. College football teams across the country have utilized video conferencing apps like Zoom to continue to run team meetings despite campuses being shut down.
Oklahoma is not alone in needing leaders to step up despite life changing across the country. The Sooners have unique experience in turning a grieving community into a positive however.
In the wake of the 2015 SAE scandal, the Oklahoma football team came together not just as a unit but to be a voice for change in the Norman community.
Looking around Oklahoma City and Norman protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Sooners players once again are being recognized as leaders in the community. Justin Broiles, Chance Sylvie and Jadon Haselwood have all been seen at protests across the community over the past week and a half.
It appears once again the Oklahoma football team has come together to speak in once voice.
The organic emergence of leaders will be more difficult than ever with limited in-person contact, but perhaps the Sooners can once again turn a negative into a positive heading into the 2020 football season.