By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
DALLAS – Over seven months have passed since Oklahoma’s Cotton Bowl Classic loss to Texas A&M. The lingering questions from that game still have few, if any, answers.
Will the defense improve after giving up over 34 points in four of the last five games?
Will the staff shakeup that brought in new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, defensive line Jerry Montgomery and special teams coordinator Jay Boulware reinvigorate the program?
Only games results can answer those two.
Sooner coach Bob Stoops punted on the one over who will be the quarterback when OU faces Louisiana-Monroe Aug. 31 when he took the stage Tuesday at Big 12 Football Media Days.
“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,” he said. “We’ve never been real excited about naming a guy too early. So they’re working hard as well.”
The winner of the competition will take over at a unique time. Yes, the Sooners have some question marks entering the season. Outside of the quarterback spot, the offense seems settled. There are seven offensive linemen back with starting experience. Three running backs that have started and played well in big games and two receivers that back after breakout seasons.
History predicts what train-wreck seasons tend to look like. The foundation for OU’s eight-win seasons in 2005 and 2009 were built new quarterbacks with little experience around them.
OU lost the last vestiges of its 2003 and 2004 teams just as Paul Thompson and Rhett Bomar started competing for the job in 2005. In 2009, Landry Jones was thrust into the starting job due Sam Bradford’s shoulder injury, that included an inexperienced offensive line and a new group of receivers.
“Unlike in 2005 when we had a new quarterback, everyone else around him was inexperienced. A whole new offensive line, a bunch of new receivers. I knew it was going to be more difficult,” Stoops said. “I feel, and we’ll see how it works, but I feel whoever comes in this year will have a bunch of experience around him. A very experienced offensive line, three senior running backs, a bunch of receivers that have all played. It should help and support him in a better way.”
Supporting the winner – and there’s still a widespread belief that it will be Bell jogging onto Owen Field for the first snap Aug. 31 — is the key to the Sooners’ offensive success.
Bradford had it in bunches when won the job in the 2007 and has talent quickly blossomed because of it.
The Sooners want a similar transition.
“We’ve made it a point all summer that the offensive line can make whatever quarterback they put behind us life a lot easier if we open up the run game more than we did last year. We need to get higher yards per carry,” OU center Gabe Ikard said. “We’ve really emphasized that because it can set up all the play-action and boot game we can utilize with those mobile quarterbacks.
“We’re taking it as the offensive line’s responsibility because we’re veteran guys who have played a lot of football here. We can make those guys’ lives a lot easier.”
Playing quarterback at OU will never be tranquil. It’s a pressure cooker where the spotlight never fades and every mistake is in stunning high-definition.
But creating an atmosphere where either Bell, Thompson or Knight can ease into the spot is the goal. There are some parts of the process that can’t be avoided. No matter what, the quarterback is the director of the offense. However, there are issues that can be kept off his plate.
The Sooners believe they’ve created a situation where the weight of the world – physically and mentally — won’t be on the quarterback.
“When you have that many guys around you that know their job and don’t have to be told their job at the line, it allows a quarterback to be more of a player than a coach on the field,” fullback Trey Millard said. “For a new a quarterback, that’s a positive.”
The final decision on a starter likely won’t come until next month. Stoops hasn’t given a timetable for the decision, but it could come as late as a week before the opener.
The coaching staff wants the trio to compete. They believe the experienced personnel around them will the best to present himself.
“I think it should help him a lot. I really believe whoever it is at that position should be supported in a positive way with the experience in the line and everywhere else,” Stoops said. “Hopefully it works out that way. It should work out that way.”