By John Shinn
NORMAN — Oklahoma is 10 days away from the Red/White Spring Game. As far as naming a starting quarterback goes, neither Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson nor Trevor Knight has solidified themselves as the No. 1 guy.
“You hope somebody separates themselves. If they don’t, you go into training camp. You can only name a starter once somebody has earned that position. None of those guys have earned it yet,” co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel said Tuesday. “It doesn’t mean they’re not playing well. It’s just nobody has earned that spot. All three of those guys have continued to get better day by day, week by week. If they continue to do that the next six or seven practices, they’re giving themselves a chance to play at the level we expect them to play at.”
The spring game is April 13 at Owen Field. All three will show where they are in that game. Heupel likes the way the trio has progressed throughout the spring.
“They’ve all made their fair share of mistakes, too. But they’ve learned from them and haven’t repeated the same mistakes. They’ve gotten better,” he said. “They’re competing against each other in a really good way, pushing each other. I’m not excited or pleased with where they are, but I feel like they’re going in the right direction.”
OU has a field-goal kicker in place with Michael Hunnicutt. However, he’s never had to handle the kickoff chores. Finding a kicker to fill that role is something special teams coach Jay Boulware has made a priority.
“I think that’s the one area where I feel like we’re not as far along as we need to be in terms of a kickoff specialist,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said.
OU currently has three kickers on the squad. Junior Nick Hodgson and sophomore Eric Hosek join Hunnicutt on the roster. None have shown the power Boulware desires.
“I’m used to a guy who can put it in the stands. We should have that here and we’re going to get that here. We’re going to get a guy that can put the ball in the back of the end zone from the 35-yard line, which isn’t very far in my opinion, on a consistent basis,” the coach said. “As far as field goals go, I’m pleased with where (Hunnicutt) is. He’s an 80 percent field goal guy. The majority of field goals he’s taken has been inside of 40 yards. We just need to continue to work and progress in field goals outside of 40 yards. That’s what we have to work on now.”
The defensive lineman who is drawing raves from OU’s offensive linemen is tackle Jordan Phillips. The 6-foot-6, 324-pound sophomore has become a force this spring.
“He’s so athletic and moves so well and he has long arms,” center Ty Darlington said. “I have ended up in some mismatches with him sometimes. He’s made me look like a child a couple times. He’s a handful.”
Phillips only had six tackles in 11 games last season. The feeling among the guys he’s been butting heads with all spring is his production level will rise.
“He’s come a long way. He’s a big, strong, physical player that’s also really quick and can move,” guard Bronson Irwin said. “I’ve gone against him two years now, and I see him developing a lot and learning the game and technique-things and becoming a solid player.”
Don’t change it
In both the NFL and college football, rule changes have been made to reduce the impact of kickoffs. Kickers are kicking off from the 35-yard line to create more touchbacks. Blocking rules have been changed in recent years to reduce collisions.
Boulware, however, believes kickoffs are the most exciting part of the game.
“I love the enthusiasm that it brings to the game. I think that, when you kickoff and you have fans in their seat … the very first kickoff of the game, there’s nothing like the first kickoff of the game and the excitement that it brings,” he said. “On the other side of it, from the return standpoint, I like that part, too. When you come back in the second half and the other team kicks to you and you ram it down their throats, that’s pretty exciting. That can change the whole outcome of a game.
“The swings of a game can be dictated in your kickoff and kickoff return units. They have the ability to do that and I like that part of the game. I don’t want to get rid of it, but it’s not my decision.”