Blake Bell may be the next starting quarterback at Oklahoma, but anyone who assumes he has already locked up the job is getting ahead of themselves.
Sooners coach Bob Stoops made that abundantly clear Tuesday at Big 12 football media days when a reporter suggested Bell was the heir apparent to Landry Jones.
“You’re kind of making assumptions if you think he’s the guy right now,” Stoops said. “We’ve got a number of guys in there in competition with him that are doing really well, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight to go along with Blake Bell.
“We’ve never been real excited about naming a guy too early. So they’re working hard as well.”
One thing is for sure: Whoever takes over for record-setting quarterback Landry Jones will be expected to be just as good, if not better, immediately.
Stoops has coached the Sooners for 14 years, and he has averaged 10 victories a season over that time. They have won or shared eight conference titles and won a national championship. They never rebuild. They always expect more. Matching last year’s accomplishments won’t satisfy anyone.
“We were 10 wins last year, co-champs in the Big 12, and lost to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. No, we’re not pleased about that,” Stoops said. “But there’s improvement to be made, and our guys are excited about making that improvement, and hopefully we’ll be able to do it.”
Stoops is entitled to take his time before deciding on a starter or even labeling a favorite in the race, but all signs point to Bell taking the first snap.
Bell, a Wichita native and former Bishop Carroll standout, has experience scoring touchdowns out of the “Belldozer” formation and is coming off an impressive spring game. He rushed for 201 yards and 11 touchdowns in short yardage situations last season, and rushed for 171 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman. He is unproven as a college passer, but he has a strong arm and completed nine passes for 107 yards in limited action last year.
At 6 feet 6 and 263 pounds, he has ideal size for a quarterback. He simply lacks experience as a full-time starter. That’s something his teammates say he is ready for.
“I think he will handle that well,” offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. “He is an extremely talented quarterback. He just hasn’t had the opportunity to show it yet.”
That was to be expected playing behind Jones. But many are ready for a change. Bell, who was not in attendance Tuesday, has been a crowd favorite at Oklahoma, regularly receiving loud cheers every time he entered the game. He was named MVP of the Insight Bowl as a freshman, and can brings a much different skill set to the field than Jones, predominantly a pocket passer.
Jones could pick apart defenses when he had ample time to throw. He also made mistakes on the run. Bell is a more natural runner, and could give Oklahoma’s offense a brand new look with scrambles and quarterback keepers.
He is capable of more.
“Blake is a guy that does throw the football well,” Stoops said. “We have a history in my going on 15 years of having guys in quarterbacks that are really excellent throwers, and Blake fits that mold. We would never recruit a guy that we didn’t feel would be a great passer.
“So he works hard at it. He throws a great deep ball. So to go along with his big physical presence and ability to run it, we’re excited about the way he throws it too.”
Still, Thompson and Knight are also quick on their feet. So Oklahoma’s offense will have a new look no matter who ends up under center.
“We are going to change what we do at the quarterback position,” fullback Trey Millard said. “We will have a much more mobile quarterback. We are going to do a lot more running and have another threat for teams to worry about. I’m excited about it, anything we can do to add versatility to the offense helps us make bigger plays.”
The Sooners will have so many running options at quarterback that Stoops said they might let someone else lead the “Belldozer” formation if Bell is the starter, though it would require a new name.
“You put Kendal or Trevor back there to run it, they’re faster,” Stoops said. “So you’ve got more options there of what you’re able to do with them. Or if they happen to hit a crease, they’re not likely to be caught very soon.
“So there’s some of that to consider, and it gives (the starter) a break or gives him an opportunity to avoid taking too many hits.”
Oklahoma will also look different on defense. But the Sooners expect improvement with Aaron Colvin returning to lead the unit at cornerback and Mike Stoops settling into his second season as defensive coordinator. The Sooners could use a lift on that side of the ball after allowing 41 points to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and 48 to Oklahoma State at home.
Those are some of the negative memories that linger from last year, despite 10 victories and a shared conference championship with Kansas State. Much has changed during the offseason. But the expectations are the same.
“To be completely happy you want to win the national championship,” Millard said. “That is what we expect around here.”