USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley has a big impact on Sunday’s game between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals, not to mention the early NFL MVP race.

And Riley’s footprint in the NFL could get even bigger over the next few years.

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Riley had a hand in developing starting quarterbacks Kyler Murray (Cardinals), Baker Mayfield (Panthers) and Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles) when he coached in Oklahoma.

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Murray and Mayfield will face each other Sunday at the Bank of America Stadium (4:05 pm ET, Fox) in a 1-2 battle. The Hurts are one of the first contenders for the 2022 NFL MVP.

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And current USC quarterback Caleb Williams is on an early Heisman Trophy watchlist and could be on his way to join former Heisman winners Murray (2019) and Mayfield (2018) as the top NFL draft pick when he becomes eligible for participation in the draft in 2024.

What is Riley’s QB development secret? Maybe it’s how he builds his offense on the strengths of his quarterbacks instead of forcing them to adapt to the system. But there are other common features as well. Carolina Coach Matt Rule, who met Riley at Temple and Baylor, said all three in the NFL are “alphas and leaders.”

Rule added that each of them has a unique style, thanks to Riley, who was a high school quarterback before a shoulder injury ended his dream of becoming a college and NFL star.

“He always tailored his offense to each quarterback,” Rule said. “There were more retreats with Baker. Kyler did something [with his mobility] in a game against us, I’ve never seen anyone do that.

“In the case of Jalen, they adapted everything for him: quarterback runs, quarterback plays. That’s the mark of a great offensive coach.”

Riley’s influence on Mayfield, Hurts and Murray didn’t end when they left Oklahoma. He keeps in touch with his trio of NFL starting quarterbacks.

“I talk to them almost every week,” Riley said. “Usually I turn on the games while I watch a movie, but if not, then I check every 15 minutes and watch them play or watch them drive. In a way, I’m like a nervous parent. when they play.

MAY BE there is no better example of how Riley builds his system around the strength of his quarterback than how he used Mayfield.

Mayfield wasn’t as dangerous with his feet as Hurts and Murray. So Riley helped him realize how good he is as a leader and playmaker.

Mayfield admits that if it wasn’t for Riley, he wouldn’t be where he is now after he left Texas Tech for Oklahoma in 2014.

“He was always able to play games and put his guys in the best position to win, do what they’re best at,” Mayfield said. many times. That’s the mentality he definitely instilled in me.”

Ahead of Sunday’s match between Mayfield and Murray, Riley noted their strong work ethic.

“They are both deadly rivals. They both love football. They both love preparation,” Riley said. “I think they both really enjoy everything that goes on behind the scenes – meetings and time spent with teammates. You feel like they’re both disappointed when they leave the building.”

Mayfield passed for 12,292 yards, 119 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in three seasons under Riley, who was the Sooners offensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016 and head coach since 2017. Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy as a senior and was No. 1 overall. Selected in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.

Despite struggling in his first three games for the Panthers – 32nd in QBR (18.9) and 31st in completion percentage (51.9), there’s one thing Riley brought to the table. in a quarterback game he didn’t lose.

“Being extremely confident in what we do, knowing what I really like and when it comes to third down when we need it, [know] what game do I trust,” he said. “In these situations, no matter what the defense does, what do I know and can I perform at a high level?”

That’s why, according to Mayfield, he, Murray and Herts were ready to start in the NFL immediately. — David Newton, Correspondent for the Carolina Panthers

HURTS SPEND IT his first three college seasons in Alabama before moving to Oklahoma for the senior campaign, which means he’s also very proud of Alabama. So when asked about Oklahoma signalers being well represented at the NFL level, he made sure to point out that QB Tide is also well represented with Mack Jones in the New England Patriots and Tua Tagovailoa in the Miami Dolphins.

But there’s no doubt that his time with the Sooners played a key role in the development of the Hurts and introduced him to offensive concepts not always available in college football.

“I’m thinking of going to Oklahoma and seeing how he [Riley] After seeing the game, he had a completely different offensive philosophy, said Herts. – He had a unique ability to put players in positions so they could play. It wasn’t like the traditional West Coast system or distribution, it was his own. I have never seen anything like it and what he has done.”

Hurts bounced back strongly after he lost his job to Tagovailoa in Alabama. During his senior season at Oklahoma, he threw for over 3,800 yards and 32 touchdowns with eight interceptions while rushing for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns. Those numbers eclipsed his best statistical season at Tuscaloosa when he threw for 2,780 yards, 23 TDs and nine interceptions as a freshman in 2016, as well as 954 yards and 13 points.

He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2019 behind Joe Burrow and beat the likes of Justin Fields, Chase Young, Jonathan Taylor, Trevor Lawrence and Tagovailoa before being selected by the Eagles 53rd overall in the draft NFL 2020.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Riley,” Herts said. “Great respect for him and my time there.” — Tim McManus, Philadelphia Eagles reporter

FOUR years since Murray last played against the Rileys, but they still often keep pace with each other.

“I talk to him all the time,” Murray said.

Their conversations usually focus on life, but Riley told Sportzshala that every conversation he has with Murray involves talking about the quarterback winning the Super Bowl.

This may eventually become possible, in part due to Riley’s influence on Murray.

Murray knew how to play quarterback when he arrived in Norman, Oklahoma in early 2016 after moving from Texas A&M. However, it was Riley who helped Murray accelerate his growth. “He’s taken it to the next level,” Murray said. “His knowledge of the game, the way he trains it and the way he sees it, just his relationship with the quarterbacks, he’s great at that.”

When Murray joined the Sooners, he worked for Mayfield for two seasons before taking over the starting position after Mayfield turned professional in 2018. During this time, Mayfield became one of Murray’s closest friends, a relationship that remains strong to this day. Even though they don’t talk much during the season – the last time they spoke was after the second week – Murray said he would love to see Mayfield on Sunday.

Murray’s opportunity to see a good friend and former college teammate who is also the starting quarterback for another NFL team is a by-product of the Sooners’ system.

“It’s a testament to guys who are in the league,” Murray said. “I mean, obviously Jalen spent one year with the coach, doing his thing, obviously doing his thing now. Bake did his job and, again, is doing his job now. But I just think it’s a testament to the coach and how we did it. things, our pride in it, the way we played.

“Of course, I have many good memories.”

Riley credits Mayfield and Murray with helping each other become better players during college together.

“They are two amazing players and being in the same room at the same time has pushed each other to a high level over the years,” Riley said. “They were very, very good for each other. Both are great opponents and both are great players. And when you train guys like that, it makes my job pretty easy.” — Josh Weinfuss, reporter for the Arizona Cardinals

Paolo Uggetti contributed to this story.