Sooners’ DE Isaiah Thomas: “Spencer just needs to be Spencer”

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The Oklahoma Sooners have spent the last two days holding their weekly zoom sessions with the media. This means coaches and players alike have been taking turns in the hot seat, fielding questions about OU’s subpar performance in last Saturday’s season opener versus Tulane.

The Crimson and Cream have a lot to clean up before taking the field versus Western Carolina on Saturday, and they would be the first to tell you that. Pro Football Focus tabbed OU’s defense as the eighth-worst in the entire Power Five after week one, and quarterback Spencer Rattler did himself no favors with two interceptions and even more lapses in judgment.

But after giving his statement on Oklahoma’s week-one blunderings, defensive end Isaiah Thomas gave a thoughtful response to a unique question from The Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson.

“As a veteran leader on the defense, have you sensed Spencer Rattler grow more into his role as a captain and a leader on the other side of the ball?” Carlson asked.

I definitely have. Like you said, we had Creed [ Humphrey] last year, and we had Mondre [ Rhamondre Stevenson], and from an offensive standpoint he didn’t have to be as vocal as he is now. He knows the position that he’s in and what we need from him and what we expect him to be. I definitely see him in practice and in workouts being that vocal leader and trying to lead by example. – Thomas

Thomas has played with multiple quarterbacks during his Oklahoma career. Does he think it can be difficult for Sooners’ quarterbacks to balance leading by example while also being the team’s vocal leader?

I think it can be a tricky spot. I think a lot of people put pressure on him because of the history of quarterbacks we’ve had, from Baker [Mayfield] to Jalen [Hurts] to Kyler [Murray] before him. I think with Spencer Rattler also playing under Coach Riley; people expect him to be like those guys as well. We tell him all the time, “Spencer, you just need to be Spencer”… There’s a lot of weight that he has to carry and a lot of outside noise he has to work through… It’s a lot of pressure that he has but its also pressure that he can handle. – Thomas

Some quarterbacks have to develop their leadership abilities quicker than others. The more talented a young signal-caller is, the longer he can sometimes go before he’s forced to adopt that final component to his game. Just because Spencer Rattler is entering his second season under center does not necessarily mean he’s entering his second season as the leader of the team.

As Thomas pointed out, Rattler could rely on veterans such as Humphrey and Stevenson to lead the Sooners through adversity last season. But they’re gone now, and Spencer Rattler must develop his own leadership style to become the captain his teammates expect him to be.

How he responds this Saturday will give us a better understanding of what kind of leader he can become and what his Sooners are capable of in 2021.

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Oklahoma football game-by-game win probabilities updated by ESPN FPI