Officially in starter role, Jalen Hurts’ main focus remains leadership

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts arrives during Meet the Sooners on Aug. 2 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

NORMAN, Okla. — Before naming Jalen Hurts his starting quarterback, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley tried to paint a picture of what preseason camp had been like for the Alabama transfer.

At 6 feet 2, 219 pounds Hurts doesn’t lack size. He has a reputation as a dangerous, tough runner. And Riley believes he has a strong and accurate enough arm to propel his offense.

“So for him it's been more mental,” Riley said last week. “It's just been learning our stuff. And certainly in that regard there's no question he's made a big jump.”

How hard has learning that offense been? Hurts wouldn’t elaborate after being named the starter over redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai and freshman Spencer Rattler.

But being atop the depth chart officially, Hurts alluded, allows the team-building process to move forward. That’s one of his biggest focuses.

“Everybody can't lead the tribe,” Hurts said. “It takes a special person to do that and I think people lead because their peers let them lead. They've accepted me and it's an honor, a huge honor, and I take it personal and I want to be the best version, best quarterback, best leader I can be for this team and hopefully we can make it a special year."

Wednesday, Hurts didn’t have much time for questions about his accuracy while meeting media for the first time this preseason. He has completed 62.9 percent of his passes in three college seasons; some question if that number is good enough to excel in Riley’s offense.

Now that he’s receiving the bulk of practice repetitions, Hurts can improve any of those issues. But he’s confident that he’s a different quarterback than “I was as a freshman at Alabama, sophomore at Alabama, junior at Alabama.”

Of bigger concern? Making sure the team jells.

"I think my duty as a quarterback is just to be consistent,” Hurts said. “I definitely think there will be a lot of things that are answered once we get those live bullets and we are able to compete as a team for the first time, because I'm that guy that I've never competed with this group before, so I'm anxious to get out there with this team and get that done."

There’s been change in culture since his arrival, Hurts senses.

“I think you’ve got to try to be the coffee bean,” he said. “When I say coffee bean … You’ve got the carrot, the egg. You put an egg in boiling water, it hardens up. It doesn’t affect anything. The carrot softens up. The coffee bean spreads and gets stronger and impacts the people around you. You try to be that coffee bean.”

Hurts says he doesn’t drink coffee. But ask teammates about him, and they perk up.

“He has that ‘it’ factor. He’s a very smart guy,” cornerback Jordan Parker said. “My locker is by him so in talking to him a lot, just picking his brain. He’s a very smart guy. He’s a great leader.”

Riley wouldn’t elaborate specifically how Hurts pulled ahead of Rattler and Mordecai. It wasn’t because of the legs that rushed for 1,976 yards at Alabama. OU’s other two QB candidates possess that threat, too.

It was more than Hurts’ experience in college as well, with Riley also recognizing the potential benefit of a younger player starting for the next 2-3 years.

The biggest intangible remaining? Leadership.

"He's been to the top of the mountain,” linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “When you've got somebody that's been to a national championship — we haven't been to a national championship since 2000, so we're trying to get there. Whatever he says, whatever he's talking about, how we need to do things, things like that, those are things that you need to listen to.”

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