Lincoln Riley's QB work with Spencer Rattler, Tanner Mordecai a mental test

OU's Spencer Rattler warms up before the Red River Showdown Oct. 12, 2019, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. (Kyle Phillips / CNHI Sports Oklahoma)

The Big 12's amended policy that now allows coaches four hours of virtual activity with players per week must have Lincoln Riley feeling encouraged.

It doubled the amount of virtual access coaches were allowed previously.

Spencer Rattler and Tanner Mordecai aren’t learning Riley’s offensive system at Oklahoma from scratch like quarterback Jalen Hurts did last spring.

But with in-person workouts suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, Riley needs all the time he can get with his top two QBs, who haven’t been engulfed in a college football season yet.

And as it turns out, virtual coaching isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

“You can do a ton,” Riley said.

Such as film study, and lots of it.

Coaches aren’t allowed to oversee physical workouts. Riley has emphasized both players continue throwing at live targets, which as of last week both were doing, he said.

But instruction is still limited. Adjustments to things like footwork and throwing motion require some forethought and a classroom approach.

“Just like I’m in the meeting room drawing something up on the board, they can see it all right there [on an electronic screen],” Riley said. “It gives me a chance to see their faces, to quiz them, to ask them questions, to kind of check in and see how they’re doing. And we continue to come up with new things to do."

“It’s purely a mental deal right now. But it’s something we’re going to be creative with. We feel like we can use it very well.”

Rattler and Mordecai have appeared in a combined 11 collegiate games. Rattler, who’s already being given odds at winning the Heisman Trophy, is considered the favorite for the job after appearing in just three games.

Face time with Riley — no pun intended — is important as they sit atop OU’s depth chart for the first time.

“One thing that neither one of them have a ton of right now is live, game experience. They would have gotten better throughout spring,” Riley said. “They’re competitive guys, they’re self starters. They’re at home working their tails off right now.”

OU’s last three quarterbacks transferred into the program with some level of experience before getting more acclimated. Either Rattler or Mordecai is set to become Riley’s first QB at OU who was recruited straight from high school.

The idea of them missing an entire spring of practice, with the possibility existing that summer workouts could remain off campus, might make some coaches nervous.

Riley’s trying to approach this as an extended summer period, where coaches’ access is strictly limited. And although Rattler and Mordecai’s don’t have many game repetitions to lean on, they’re steeped in the system.

He’s confident in both of them.

“You'd like to have a bunch of receivers and a bunch of group workouts, and not all of those things are possible right now, and we get that,” Riley said. “But also, there's a chance to continue to study film, continue to work on themselves physically, continue to work on the fundamental parts of this game … Anytime you're limited on what you can do, you put a greater focus into those other areas, and sometimes you end up better in those areas than you would've without it.”

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