By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
NORMAN, Okla. – A year ago, Blake Bell was Oklahoma’s presumptive starter at quarterback, replacing Landry Jones. In the opener, though, redshirt freshman Trevor Knight – surprise – was the starter.
Knight struggled, was injured and replaced by Bell, who helped the Sooners reach the Sugar Bowl with a clutch, game-winning drive in Bedlam. Knight – surprise, surprise – started against Alabama and won MVP honors as OU posted a 45-31 victory. That outcome has boosted the enthusiasm and expectations for this season.
As Sooners head into the 2014 season expecting to make a run at the school’s eighth national championship, Bell will spend his senior season as a tight end and Knight is firmly entrenched as Oklahoma’s starter.
“During the first three days of practice, it’s evident that he’s really confident at the quarterback position,” coach Bob Stoops said Saturday during OU’s on-campus media day.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who led the Sooners to their last national title in 2000, sees Knight continuing to improve.
“You can lead by example but until you get it done on the field it’s hard to be a leader as a quarterback; now he’s speaking with a lower voice,” Heupel said. “He’s more calm and confident. If he makes a mistake, he’s not worried about winning the job. He’s more confident with his decision making and he’s more accurate throwing the football.”
Bell, at 6-6 and 260 pounds, gained fame as a freshman and sophomore running the Bell Dozer package in short yardage situations. Before the Sugar Bowl, he approached Heupel and asked to move to tight end. Stoops says he has an NFL future at the postion.
“Blake Bell has really been looking great,” Stoops said. “He can run, he has soft hands. He’s really gonna help us at that position. He looks like he’s played tight end his whole life.”
Two players whose status is up in the air could have impacts at positions where the Sooners could use some help.
Freshman running back Joe Mixon, the top player in this year’s recruiting class, has been suspended from team activities team as police investigate allegations that he punched a woman during an altercation in Norman last week.
And OU hopes that Dorial Green-Beckham, a receiver who transferred from Missouri, will gain immediate eligibility. The school plans to appeal to the NCAA to allow Green-Beckham to play this season. The Oklahoman quoted school sources as being confident that the NCAA will rule favorably on the eligibility issue.
“That’s just somebody speculating,” Stoops said Saturday.
* For the first time in his 16 seasons, Oklahoma doesn’t have a junior or a senior at the running back position. When presented with that fact, Stoops’ response: “I didn’t know that.” Sophomores Alex Ross and Keith Ford saw limited action last season. Freshmen Samaje Perine and Dimitri Flowers have earned praise in the short time the Sooners have practiced.
* Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops on linebacker Eric Striker: “He’ll line up in a lot of different places. He’s gonna rush some but he’s also gonna drop into coverage in order to keep the other team honest. We don’t want them to slant their blocking schemes if they think he’s going to be rushing the quarterback all the time.”
* Bob Stoops said that the defense is “light years” ahead of where it was a year ago as it adapted to a new 3-4 scheme. Mike Stoops, who is in his third season after returning to join his brothers staff, said, “This is the most complete group of 11 players we’ve put on the field the last three years. Our strength is our experience across the board.”
* Oklahoma’s offensive line needs to replace center Gabe Ikard, the leader of last year’s unit. But Stoops says that senior right tackle Daryl Williams has stepped into a leadership role: “Daryl truly has been remarkable as he stepped forward in the winter, spring and summer. “He’s been one of the best leaders I’ve been around in 16 years. He’s always been a bright, great worker, great teammate, but now he’s taken ownership of being a leader.”
* Senior Chuka Ndulue is part of a defense that is expected to be one of the best at OU in the last decade. “This is Oklahoma. From the Selmon brothers to the national championships they’ve won, to the history and past. Theres a tradition, there’s just a code that’s followed. Hey, you’re expected to win and go out there and be dominant.”
* Senior kicker Michael Hunnicutt made 24-of-27 field goal attempts in leading the Sooners in scoring last fall and was a semifinalist for the Groza Award. When the team received iPads for their playbooks this week, Hunnicutt’s had one simple instruction: “Kick the ball through the uprights.”
Skywriters Tour, Year Seven
So what is the Skywriters Tour? It was born in a previous era of college football … and media/communications. In the late 1960s and 1970s, sportswriters and broadcasters would gather in a central location and embark on an annual conference-wide tour, traveling from campus-to-campus to cover preseason practices and conduct interviews with coaches and players. The tour provided fans with unprecedented daily coverage from each school by moving the group between campuses by charter bus or air service and thus was dubbed the Skywriters Tour. Since 2008, the Big 12 has revived the tradition and staged its own preseason campus tour to preview the football season.