By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – The derby to become Oklahoma’s next starting quarterback finally entered the public phase Saturday. Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight each had their chance to show what they can do.
The traits they all share signaled to the change in the Sooners’ offense — all three bring speed and agility the position has lacked since the wishbone days.
However, it’s still the ability to throw the ball and execute the offense that will win the job.
“The main thing for me this spring is all I’ve done is run and run and run. I want to show everyone I can sling it a little, too,” junior Blake Bell said after Saturday’s Red/White Spring Game.
In that sense, Bell had the most productive afternoon in front of more than 29,000 fans at Owen Field.
Bell completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards along with two touchdown passes. The 23 passing attempts eclipsed what Bell did with his arm in the previous two seasons as the short-yardage quarterback.
The Belldozer alignment wasn’t part of the game plan Saturday, but taking advantage of the mobility all three possess was ingrained from the beginning.
Bell had the least productive day running the ball because he took a couple of the Sooner defenses’ four sacks.
Thompson, a sophomore, rushed for 35 yards on eight carries to go along with another 86 yards on 8-for-16 passing and a touchdown pass. Knight rushed for 36 on seven carries and was 11 for 17 throwing the ball for 151 yards and a touchdown.
“You can always see things you could’ve done better. All us quarterbacks were just treating this as another practice and for us to compete against the defense,” Thompson said. “We’re working hard as group to improve and we’ll move forward from today and continue on through the spring and then the summer and two-a-days.”
Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has said all along mistakes are going to be the deciding factor. None of the quarterbacks threw an interception, but Knight did have a fumble that middle linebacker Frank Shannon returned for a 2-yard touchdown.
“It was my first meaningful snaps in front of fans here, and it was a dream come true,” said Knight, a redshirt freshman. “I made a lot of mistakes and I made some plays, too. The good thing is we don’t play next week, we don’t have a game. We have the whole summer to get better.”
All three alternated with the first and second teams. Bell got the start, but Heupel said the pecking order was based on age. The major difference OU’s offense showed as a whole were several designed quarterback runs along with using bootlegs to get them outside of the pocket.
For the last decade, the Sooners have thrown the ball from the pocket under Heisman winners Jason White and Sam Bradford and the previous four years with Landry Jones at quarterback.
“It will be different,” Heupel said.
How much it actually changes won’t be known until the Sooners open the season Aug. 31 against Louisiana-Monroe.
While the veil was pulled back on what OU has spent the last six weeks working on, what wasn’t revealed was a clear-cut leader in the quarterback race.
Bell threw the ball best and was most comfortable in the pocket. Thompson appeared to be the most explosive with his legs and displayed a powerful, accurate arm along with making good decisions. Knight is the youngest of the group and that showed at times. However, he did lead the last scoring drive.
“That was a drive that I needed for my confidence and everything,” Knight said. “Yeah, I felt more comfortable throughout the day.”
The Sooners still have one more practice this week before the lid shuts on the spring. Then it’s two months of offseason workouts until preseason practice begins in August.
OU coach Bob Stoops didn’t have any complaints and was quick to remind those interested that OU lacked its full assortment of offensive weapons.
“They played with a little bit of a tougher hand but that is good. You get a chance to see them stretched out in some tough situations,” he said, “but I thought overall that they did a nice job.”