Rattler's maturation helped along by Hurts

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) throws as quarterback Spencer Rattler watches during the NCAA college football team's practice in Norman, Okla. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley has chosen Hurts as his starting quarterback for the Sept. 1 season opener against Houston over Rattler and Tanner Mordecai. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

NORMAN, Okla. — Spencer Rattler will start his first contest as Oklahoma's quarterback on Saturday, and the shoes he’s expected to fill are enormous.

Rattler, the former five-star recruit from Phoenix, Ariz., follows the likes of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts — three quarterbacks that either won the Heisman Trophy or finished as the award’s runner-up.

Rattler spent last season as Hurts’ understudy, providing him valuable time to both learn OU coach Lincoln Riley’s offense and from a veteran college quarterback.

Riley called it a “great learning experience” for his new starting quarterback to soak in as much as he could from the former Alabama graduate transfer.

Hurts, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, has been in the fire as a young college quarterback before, leading the Crimson Tide to the College Football Playoff’s national championship game as a true freshman.

Hurts fell a game short of getting OU to the same point three seasons later, but perhaps his contributions to Riley’s football program can go beyond his one year in Norman.

“I think the time is always important for a young quarterback,” Riley said, “just to kind of see how this thing works, how you install and how you game plan, what's this process like, how you lead, the ups and downs, to be able to get a feel from that and be in the middle of it without so much of it falling on your shoulders at that point is a great thing, but they've got to use it the right way and I feel like our young quarterbacks have.”

Rattler’s persona will be a sharp contrast from his predecessor, a key difference in what Riley anticipates from Rattler as the face of the offense.

The stoic Hurts, who rarely let his emotions known publicly as OU’s starting signal-caller in 2019, didn’t always lead with charisma. Rattler is much more fiery.

“He’s definitely different than Jalen,” Riley said. “Probably a little bit more outgoing, maybe somewhere between Kyler and Baker.”

Rattler’s first test will come against Missouri State. It will be the first chance for fans, whether at the capacity-reduced Oklahoma Memorial Stadium or on pay-per-view, to see how much Rattler and his teammates truly mesh.

Riley said chemistry hasn’t been an issue through the summer or fall camp, which one of his teammates confirmed.

“I think being with Hurts last year really prepped him to be in that role,” OU junior H-back Brayden Willis said of Rattler. “But honestly, we all know about the intangibles, the arm strength and everything like that. He's a great leader and he's done a great job getting us ready to go day in and day out, bringing energy to the offense. You know, a little Baker Mayfield energy. It gets everybody hyped to play.”

One of Rattler’s biggest challenges over the next few seasons is providing the same success Mayfield did for the Sooners from 2015-17.

Riley, whose glowing track record with quarterbacks is well known, expects nothing less.

“These guys are more than capable of running this offense and playing the position we expect it to be played,” Riley said. “I think they're going to do some really good things. I think we've got good players around them. Our expectations for how they play and for how our offense plays has certainly not changed.”

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Buettner is sports editor for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI LLC publication. 

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