The change to college football’s redshirt rule will redefine roster management across the sport, according to Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley.
How? He’s not quite sure.
Under the new rule, players can play in up to four games in a season without sacrificing a year of eligibility. Previously, a player could not participate in any games in a given season to qualify for a redshirt. Riley will join every other FBS-level coach in testing out the redshirt rule in 2018.
“It completely changes [how coaches manage players’ redshirt years]. I don't know if people on the outside or even maybe us on the inside understand how different that rule is,” Riley said during Big 12 media days.
A few members of OU’s heralded 2018 signing class will play so much this year that they have no chance of qualifying for a redshirt. Defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles and defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins seem like two of the surest bets. Meanwhile, a knee injury has already knocked out blue-chip defensive tackle Michael Thompson for the season.
In theory, every other rookie on the roster could find himself in play for a redshirt this fall. Here are the five freshmen on OU’s roster most likely to be affected by the rule this season.
DaShaun White, Inside Linebacker
While the majority of the Sooners’ 2018 recruiting class signed letters of intent on the early signing date in December, White waited until February to make his decision. Since he wasn’t in Norman for spring football, he’s entering the upcoming season a little behind the curve in terms of learning the MIKE linebacker position. He still needs to add more weight to his 220-pound frame, too, if he’s going to play inside.
White will likely start the year sitting third on the depth chart at MIKE behind Kenneth Murray and Jon-Michael Terry. That should give him extra time to bulk up and hit the books in case he has to play a game or two late in the season to offset any casualties among the personnel ahead of him.
Tanner Mordecai, Quarterback
Although Riley maintains he doesn’t know who will be OU’s starting quarterback yet, it’s safe to say that it won’t be the true freshman Mordecai. The Waco, Texas, product will occupy the third-string spot on the depth chart for the entire year.
Unless Kyler Murray or Austin Kendall gets hurt, of course. In that case, Mordecai will move up to backup, which almost guarantees he will see some spot action in a game or two.
Jalen Redmond, Edge
Redmond debuted in the spring to rave reviews from OU’s coaching staff. In fact, there was talk that he might even have a chance to earn a starting role at some point in the year.
A blood clot issue reportedly popped up for Redmond over the summer, and it appears destined to set him back by at least a month or two.
With Redmond’s status for the year undetermined, it leaves a door cracked open for the touted JACK linebacker to still see some run in November and keep an extra year of eligibility.
Patrick Fields, Defensive Back
Fields makes the list because OU’s depth at safety remains one of the team’s biggest question marks. The Sooners are currently sorting through candidates to replace Will Johnson and Steven Parker.
Fields probably won’t win a starting role, but a backup spot isn’t out of the question. It almost certainly wouldn’t put his redshirt in jeopardy.
Bradyen Willis, Tight End/Fullback
You could argue that OU will miss do-it-all fullback Dmitri Flowers in the coming season nearly as much as Heisman Trophy-winning QB Baker Mayfield. Flowers gave the Sooners a devastating blocker out of the backfield to go along with an offensive threat running and catching the ball.
As one of the later additions to OU’s 2018 recruiting class, Willis won’t see much in the way of hype over potentially replacing Flowers. On top of that, we’re talking about what generally amounts to a thankless position.
Even so, Willis could find the coaching staff calling upon him late in the season to play -- if for no other reason than to evaluate him relative to redshirt freshman Jeremiah Hall.
-- Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.