OU's Blake Bell, front-runner to follow Landry Jones, working on his arm
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Thursday, December 27, 2012
12/27/12 at 6:45 AM
NORMAN - Something important is happening while none of us are looking - Blake Bell, the potential successor to Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, is learning.
"Every day," said Justin Brown, the OU wide receiver who has caught Bell's practice passes all season, "he's becoming a better quarterback."
This is critical, since Jones is down to his final college game. After the Jan. 4 Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M, he'll take his book of school and Big 12 Conference records to the NFL and see if it translates.
He'll leave his old job to either Bell, Jones' backup as a sophomore this season; Trevor Knight, who redshirted and became OU's co-scout team player of the year; or Kendal Thompson, who redshirted in 2011 and didn't see the field this season.
When to name a new starter?
"I don't care," coach Bob Stoops said the last time he was asked. "We've done this for a lot of years and don't feel hurried. We like them to compete."
"You name a quarterback when you feel a guy's earned it and he's clearly the guy," said Josh Heupel, OU's play-calling offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "If it's day 10 of spring ball, it's day 10 of spring ball. If it's the Friday before the first ball game, that's when it is."
Well, if we can't anoint a starter, we can at least declare a clear leader. He's Bell, with a year head start on Thompson and two-year start on Knight in Heupel's system. Bell is blessed with a crossbow arm and jackhammer legs.
And, unlike his competitors, fortunate enough to have Stoops and Heupel build a short-yardage package around him for the past season and a half. That has given Bell the chance to take meaningful snaps in places like the Cotton Bowl, against opponents like Notre Dame.
We have all seen him rush for 24 touchdowns in 19 games. We all know he can be one deadly fullback.
The question going forward, though, is what kind of quarterback has he become? For he'll need to do more than plow ahead for 3 yards if he's going to replace Jones.
"Blake has really refined himself as a passer, his fundamentals, his technique," Heupel said. "He still has a long way to go, but he's working hard in that area."
You can't quite measure that by Bell's gameday stats - nine completions in 15 attempts for 107 yards this season - because they were mostly compiled with reserves in mop-up time. He did cross up Notre Dame with an 8-yard dumpoff to Trey Millard to convert a key fourth-and-2. And he did sub for the dazed Jones early against Oklahoma State, and zipped a 12-yard out to Brown.
What has teammates so hopeful is what they have seen on a more consistent basis, in practice where the general public isn't allowed.
"Blake is a big guy and he's got a cannon. When I first got here, he was kind of just firing the ball at people," wide receiver Kenny Stills said. "He's gotten a lot better at reading the coverages and putting touch on the ball and dropping the ball into spaces that he wasn't in the beginning."
Bell doesn't mind showing off his weapon. Recall the 60-yard scoring bomb to Jaz Reynolds in the Red/White Game last April, or the deep overthrow to Stills against OSU that initially looked like it might land in the south end zone bleachers.
What he's doing, though, is harnessing that power.
"He can make any throw on the field. ... He has a very strong arm," said cornerback Aaron Colvin, who defended his share of Bell's passes this fall. "But he's working on reading defenses and taking what the defense is giving him."
"You notice the placement of balls from us covering receivers," safety Javon Harris said. "He's making more precise throws, more crisp throws, things like that. Just like every other quarterback who's come through here in my four years, he's getting better."
Bell does have things his predecessors didn't. His 6-foot-6, 254-pound build, for starters.
"He's so tall he can make any throw over the D-line," Colvin noticed. "Plus his release is higher, closer to his ear somewhat."
Unlike every Stoops era starter except Paul Thompson (or a pre-knee injury Jason White), Bell packs a run-game dynamic. You can practically see Heupel scheme accordingly, even as he addresses the opposing quarterback at the Cotton Bowl.
"The little I've seen of Johnny Manziel, they haven't drastically changed what they're doing. They've just created some plays with his feet," Heupel said. "Sometimes the best thing you can do with a quarterback that has the ability to run is push some things down the field. If it's not there you let him use his feet to make a play."
Knight and Thompson can run, as well. It's just they have done less of it in college. They haven't carried the ball on Owen Field.
Bell has been at this a little longer. He even carries himself so.
"He does," Brown said. "He's a good leader. And he works hard, which is what you want in your quarterback."
Put another way, Bell has had more time to glean from Jones.
"The ability to live in the fish bowl and handle the ups and downs and just be really methodical in your approach every single day," Heupel said. "His attention to detail in the meeting room, that's extremely important. ... How focused you have to be. You have to approach every minute of every day like that to give yourself a chance to play successfully at this level."
Jones figured it out after replacing Sam Bradford. Bell is doing the same in his quest to succeed Jones. That should pay off this spring and/or summer, however long coaches keep the quarterback battle open.
"Blake has a ton of potential. ... And he's doing his job now," Stills said. "I feel when he gets put in his next situation he's going to do what he has to do."
Allen's future at OU remains up in the air
NORMAN - Drew Allen's place in Oklahoma's post-Landry Jones quarterback derby is uncertain at best.
Allen was Jones' backup in 2011, even as Blake Bell played extensively in OU's short-yardage package "Belldozer" package. But Bell's strides were obvious by the 2012 Red/White Spring game, and it appeared Allen had fallen to third string.
That became a reality in the 2012 preseason camp, when Bob Stoops declared Bell the backup. Bell spent the season accordingly. Allen, a fourth-year junior, didn't attempt a pass in two brief appearances.
Now there is some buzz that Allen will transfer to a school that will allow him some playing time before his college eligibility expires.
"That's not fair. That's speculation at this point," quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "I haven't had a discussion with him."
Allen continued practicing with the Sooners in their pre-Cotton Bowl preparations before Christmas break. Whether he stays with the program beyond the Jan. 4 game, however, remains to be seen.
'You name a quarterback when you feel a guy's earned it and he's clearly the guy. If it's day 10 of spring ball, it's day 10 of spring ball. If it's the Friday before the first ball game, that's when it is.'
JOSH HEUPEL, OU's play-calling offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach
'Blake is a big guy and he's got a cannon. When I first got here, he was kind of just firing the ball at people. He's gotten a lot better at reading the coverages and putting touch on the ball and dropping the ball into spaces that he wasn't in the beginning.'
Kenny Stills, OU wide receiver
'He (Blake) can make any throw on the field... He has a very strong arm. But he's working on reading defenses and taking what the defense is giving him.'
Aaron Colvin, OU cornerback
COTTON BOWL: OU vs. TEXAS A&M
7 p.m. Jan. 4
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Learning Curve
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
OU backup quarterback Blake Bell has rushed for 24 touchdowns in 19 games. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World