Hurts impresses Riley, but QB job still up for grabs

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley still isn't ready to name Jalen Hurts the Sooners' starting quarterback, but said the Alabama graduate transfer has endeared himself to teammates with the way he has embraced the competition, and that OU hopes to use him a little differently than he was used at Alabama.

Hurts was 26-2 as a starter at Alabama and played in six College Football Playoff games for the Crimson Tide, but lost his starting job last season to Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts is vying with redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai and true freshman Spencer Rattler for the OU starting job.

"The experience, intangibles, maturity and poise are really, really good," Riley told ESPN on Monday. "You know what you're getting from Jalen with those things. The goal with us has been how quickly can we get him comfortable with this system, and he's getting closer every day."

Riley said he made a conscious decision to not go back and watch much of Hurts' tape from his first two seasons at Alabama, but watched every snap from a year ago.

"I saw a guy, I thought, who needed to be freed up a little bit, in my opinion," Riley said. "Our goal with him has been freeing him up and letting him play a little more open and free. I saw the makings of that last year and thought he did a lot of really good things. At times, they moved it just as well or even better when he was in there, and obviously Tua was absolutely phenomenal last year. But I thought Jalen was really, really good, too, and I think he's better right now than he was last year."

Riley said Hurts was told from the outset that he would have to win the job at Oklahoma and that was the way Hurts wanted it, and more importantly, he has practiced that way.

"He was never a guy that just walked in and expected to be handed anything," Riley said. "Just like any player that comes into our program, whether it's a freshman defensive tackle or a graduate transfer quarterback from Alabama, the message is: You're going to have opportunities, but we don't hand out anything and never will.

"Now that I've gotten to know Jalen, I think he actually liked that about this situation because I promise you he wasn't told that at most of the other places he looked at, and he's approached it that way. No entitlement. Just go prove it."

Riley, who has coached the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield, said he doesn't feel rushed to name a starter, although he expects to make a decision well before the season opener.

"There will be a point in the next week or two where we will step back and take a look at the body of work and see what we think," Riley said. "None of these guys have been in the system very long. But I could argue that, top to bottom with those three guys, that it may be as talented a quarterback room as we've had. It's also, within the system, the most inexperienced group we've had, too."

Oklahoma star receiver CeeDee Lamb said he has grown close to Hurts and especially likes the way Hurts has kept a low profile and "been about his business on the field." Hurts has done just two interviews, both in group settings, since arriving at Oklahoma this spring.

"Jalen is just a winner, man. He's a baller," said Lamb, who caught 11 touchdown passes a year ago. "He wants to go out there and get the job done and wants to do it the right way. If he feels something is wrong, he's going to go back over it and over it. That's one thing you want in a quarterback, and he's a specimen. He's as big as a linebacker and can throw like anybody. With Coach Riley and him in the same room, along with some others, we can do something very special."

Lamb said the manner in which Hurts handled his demotion at Alabama and was there to "save" the Crimson Tide in last season's SEC championship game, when he filled in for an injured Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter and rallied Alabama to a 35-28 victory over Georgia, gave Hurts instant credibility with the OU players.

"He's a team-first player," Lamb said. "Many people in that situation probably would have left or wouldn't have been ready to make as much of an impact as he did. He's a great teammate, and everything about him tells you he's focused on what we're all trying to accomplish, and that's winning a national championship."