Dilon Gabriel already making his mark on Sooner offense

Dillon Gabriel is the next man up in a somewhat troubling continuum of one-year starting quarterbacks at Oklahoma.

But the UCF transfer has already taken giant steps to separate himself from what has come before and build camaraderie and strong two-way relationships with his new teammates, all the while establishing himself as a team leader.

One thing that made Gabriel’s arrival at Oklahoma a bit easier was being reunited with his former offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. Lebby was the offensive coordinator in Gabriel’s freshman season at UCF, where the two combined to finish the season ranked second in the country in total offense. The UCF offense averaged 540.5 yards per game that season.

In recent seasons, Oklahoma has become a quarterback factory, and they were pretty strong at the position in the opening decade of the 2000s as well. In the last five season, the Sooners have had five different quarterbacks start games at Oklahoma two of those QBs were awarded the Heisman Trophy (Baker Mayfield other Kyler Murray), another was the Heisman runner-up (Jalen Hurts), and two others (Spencer Rattler other Caleb Williams) were leading Heisman contenders at points in their time in Norman.

That is a pretty heavy lineup to follow, and a lot of pressure and high expectations for newcomer Gabriel to come into at OU.

Gabriel certainly respects all of the success the Sooners have had recently at the quarterback position, but he is not intimidated by it. His experience and comfort with coach Lebby and the new offensive system, not to mention his individual talent and the weapons he has to work with in the OU offense should make for a relatively seamless transition as the new field general for this Oklahoma team.

“I do think he (Gabriel) is going to have production that’s unmatched,” Lebby said at the OU press conference on Tuesday. “I think he’s going to have experience that’s unmatched. I think he’s going to have leadership ability that’s unmatched.

“From those three standpoints, I think he’s got a great future and has the ability to do this for a long time.”

That’s certainly high praise from someone who knows Gabriel better than anyone on the team.

Gabriel is a junior in his eligibility standing and has up to three years remaining if he chooses to use it. The Sooner coaches would certainly like him to stick around more than a year, but what happens this season will have a lot to say about that.

Lebby mentioned Gabriel’s leadership ability. As calm and collected as he may seem off the field, this may be one of Gabriel’s leading strengths, and he is already demonstrating that skill before taking his first snap for OU in an actual game. A perfect example is the “DimeTime Retreat” he hosted in mid-June for the Sooner running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.

The weekend getaway, held at a private ranch in Lawton, Oklahoma, was an idea Gabriel picked up from former Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson, who did something similar when he was in Seattle. Gabriel saw it as an opportunity to deepen his relationships with his teammates and the Sooners’ playmakers on offense.

“It was impactful in a positive way,” Gabriel told Max Olson of The Athletic. “We were able to connect with one another and put the phones down and just mingle with guys you never really get to talk to for whatever reason.”

And for those who are wondering, he didn’t overlook the big guys upfront. Gabriel arranged a follow-up Saturday getaway and outing at a local lake to hang out with his offensive linemen.

Lebby dismissed any concerns about Gabriel’s arm strength and ability to throw the long ball:

“One of the greatest things Dillon does is throw the deep ball,” the OU offensive coordinator said to reporters at Tuesday’s press conference. “He’s got great touch on it, understands how to get the ball out of his hands a little earlier if he needs to. That’s a strength of his for sure.”

The Big 12 Preseason Newcomer pf the Year was asked at the press conference how he felt about joining a team with as many offensive weapons at his disposal as Oklahoma has:

“Everyone on our offense brings a unique skill set — speed, size, athleticism,” Gabriel said.

“I think we check all the boxes of what we want to be aggressive and set the tempo of the game. Whenever you’ve got the big guys upfront leading the charge and a bunch of skill players that can make plays, you’ve set yourself up for success.”

The Sooners are confident Gabriel is the right guy at the right time to lead them to another Big 12 championship and back to the College Football Playoff. We’ll be able to see that for ourselves beginning Sept. 3 at the Palace on the Prairie against UTEP.

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