MOORE — The derby to become Oklahoma’s next starting quarterback officially started last week with the Sooners’ first practice of the spring. The workout was junior Blake Bell’s, sophomore Kendal Thompson’s and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight’s initial opportunity to prove which is the successor to Landry Jones.
However, the one thing made clear by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel is that winning the job is going to be a tedious process.
“We’re gonna name a guy when he’s earned it. That’s what we’ve always done here,” Heupel said this week. “That position is extremely important, I think, for that guy to go out and earn that position, earn the confidence of the guys around him. Earn the trust of the people around him so he can ultimately lead that group, that offense, in the way that we want him to.”
Trust will be what ultimately decides who takes the reins of the Sooners’ offense. The race between Bell, Thompson and Knight is distinct among past offseason competitions for quarterbacks in that this one will come as the offense is being retooled to take advantage of the group’s running ability.
All three have the ability to pick up first downs with their feet in ways Jones never could have imagined. Bell, who is the front-runner to get the job, has already proven it over the last two seasons. He’s already rushed for 24 touchdowns, using his 6-foot-6, 263-pound frame.
Neither Thompson or Knight have played an official game, but have displayed elusive running ability going all the way back to high school. Thompson ran the same offense during his time at Southmoore High.
In one form or another this is crucial the Sooners’ offense.
“To a degree it will be,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “We’ll do our best not to give away exactly how we want to do it but in the end, there will be a little bit of that, for sure.”
The Sooners saw last season just how hard it was to defend quarterbacks who could run. All three losses in 2012 — Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M — were against teams who had quarterbacks capable of running the ball.
How much OU will mirror that is something fans and opponents can ponder for the next seven months. All of the practices are closed. Only the Red/White Game on April 13 is viewable. Stoops and his staff usually keep the play-calling as vanilla as possible in the game.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Sooners will shift the offense to a run-heavy scheme either. The ability to complete passes downfield will be at the top of the grade sheet.
“We will never give up anything as far as our quarterbacks having the ability to pass — that’s our primary focus first,” Heupel said. “We have great skill guys, and we want to make sure we’re able to distribute the ball to those guys.
“But certainly, the guys we have on campus are a little bit different than Landry with their ability to extend and make plays with their feet. How many times we’ll have designed play calls for them I can’t tell you right now, but certainly that’s something we’ll probably look at in the spring.”
Players said they haven’t seen much separation between Bell, Thompson and Knight.
During the brief portion of Tuesday’s practice that was open to the media, the trio ran drills side by side. The scrimmaging was closed.
“All three of those guys had really good days. They’ve made mistakes, but they’ve all made good plays as well,” said Heupel. “The guy who will ultimately be our quarterback is the guy who makes a mistake, learns from it and doesn’t repeat it.”
Video break: OU took time out to shoot a “Harlem Shake” video Tuesday. Former coach Barry Switzer, Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims and All-American linebacker Brian Bosworth joined the current team in the 45-second video.
Fullback Trey Millard talked to reporters while still wearing a gorilla suit. The idea apparently came from the players after watching some videos other schools had done.
“We showed Coach Stoops some videos from a few teams who did it and he said if we talked to some people maybe we could get it on,” Millard said. “We definitely pursued that.”
As far as the celebrities involved, that was above Millard’s level.
“That was Stoops,” he said. “I don’t have those guys’ numbers.”
Cornerback Aaron Colvin is the one dancing in the beginning. Running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay are the ones in the bunny suits.
Here’s a link to the video: http://www.you-tube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Vmru_de1Rj0
Offensive line light in numbers: Senior guard/center Gabe Ikard was able to participate in practice but his right hand was in a cast after suffering a broken bone last week. Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said he did some drills but was held out of most of the contact.
Also, guard Tyler Evans, who missed last season due to a torn ACL, has been held out of the first three practices. Both have been starters for several seasons, but Bedenbaugh believes it’s critical for the offense to get practice as a group in order to improve.
“Those five guys working together is the most important thing,” he said. “We’ve got a few new calls and those guys are getting familiar with each other in the things we’re doing. It’s important for him to be out there, but what can you do? You throw the next guy in and go from there.”
Bulked up: Williams said he’s bulked up to 200 pounds, which is about 10 more than last season. The senior believes he hasn’t lost any speed, but feels the difference.
“I felt more powerful,” he said. “He (OU strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt) is working on our legs a lot. Going through the hole and getting off guys, I feel more powerful.”
Number switch: Wide receiver Jalen Saunders has changed his number from No. 18 to No. 8. He said it’s the number he’s always worn because it was the one his father wore when he played.