By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — The opportunity to name Oklahoma’s starting quarterback came and went Saturday. OU conducted its Media Day at Owen Field. Head coach Bob Stoops and co-offensive Josh Heupel had clear shots to name “the guy” for the 2013 season.
Both passed, sticking with what’s become a tradition for the Sooners. Without an established starter, the job must be earned throughout the preseason. It’s the way Sam Bradford won the job. Good enough for him, good enough for junior Blake Bell or redshirt freshman Trevor Knight.
“When we chose Sam Bradford, they knew seven days before kickoff, basically. That worked out pretty well. Whenever the guy earns the job, that's when we'll name a guy,” Heupel said. “I think the way that all of our guys at that position have approached everything that they do on and off the field, in the meeting room, the way that they compete in the weight room, their discipline, their toughness, their approach. They have the respect of everybody on our football team. Whoever ends up being the guy, I think our guys are going to have a lot of confidence in him.”
They’ll only have confidence in the guy that leads the Sooners to victories. In that sense, only Bell has done any on-the-field inspiring. He’s never thrown a touchdown pass, but the 24 touchdowns he’s scored over the previous two seasons carry weight.
But Bell has always tried to carry himself like he was the catalysts for the Sooners’ offense. Jones still threw the passes, but Bell believed his time to run the offense was coming.
Jones played his final game in January. Since then, Bell has known this is him time to take the reins. No longer was he working with the second-team receivers in seven-on-seven drills.
“One of the biggest ways it’s been different for me is Landry being gone,” Bell said. “He’s usually been taking the No. 1s and me, Drew, Trevor and Kendal have been taking the twos and threes. This time it’s been odd because now it’s us. We take control.”
OU’s coaches haven’t talked about which quarterbacks are getting what reps in practice. Obviously, the foot injury to Thompson, which will have him on the mend for all of training camp, has created an even bigger opportunity for Bell and Knight. Every play — and there are hundreds during a training camp practice — is chance to make a quality impression.
“It opens it up a little bit,” Knight said. “We’d obviously like to have him out there. He pushes us and he’s a great guy to be around. But, yeah, with two guys out there — and (true freshman Cody Thomas) is taking some good reps as well — but it opens things up a little bit and it’s always good to get more reps in the offense; that will make anybody better.”
At some point, one of them will reach the level of the starter. It’s not an easy bar to get over. Heupel said Saturday that OU’s quarterback will be expected to play at a “championship” level when he steps onto Owen Field Aug. 31 in the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe. The idea of learning curve isn’t part of the decision-making process.
When that determination will be comes down to feel by the coaching staff.
“Don’t have a target date,” Stoops said. “Again, I go back, this isn’t anything new to us. I know you don’t want to hear it (but) we’ve won eight Big 12 championships with six different quarterbacks. Not one or two: six. Our method of doing it has been fairly successful and we feel good about what these guys are doing. We’ll keep bring them along the way we feel we need.”
But this is a rare time. Not since Bradford beat out Joey Halze and Keith Nichol in 2007 has there been a true competition for the starting job.
Jones was the only option when Bradford was injured in 2009. Paul Thompson assumed the position when Rhett Bomar was kicked off the team right before training camp began in 2006. Nate Hybl got the starting job in 2002 when Jason White was hurt early in the season. Heupel had the offense handed to him when he signed with OU in February of 1999.
The quarterback torch never seems to pass the same way twice. The Sooner quarterbacks are OK with the process.
“We are all getting even reps. All we can do is go out there and show the coaches what we have individually,” Bell said. “All of us quarterbacks, we feel like we’re thinking the same thing and showing the coaches what we can do when we’re out there.”
OU football notebook: Lack of depth on D-line of no concern to Stoops
The only player on Oklahoma’s defensive line with starting experience is senior Chuka Ndulue. He’s making the move from defensive end to defensive tackle this is year.
In every from sense, the Sooners are rebuilding the defensive line. This will be the first year under new defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. And there are going to be several players getting their first real game action this season.
If OU coach Bob Stoops is concerned, he showed a good poker face Saturday at the Sooners’ Media Day.
“I believe there’s some capable guys coming up and they’re going to have a chance to be good players,” he said. “They just haven’t had the chance to be on the field as much yet. Again, there’s different positions every year that that’s very much the case.”
Stoops threw out the analogy of OU’s wide receivers last season. The group entered preseason camp very thin. But freshman Sterling Shepard emerged, the addition of Penn State transfer Justin Brown was a major boost and getting Jalen Saunders eligible midway through the season helped make the group one of the best in the Big 12.
The only potential defensive line help OU could add before the season starts is juco transfer Quincy Russell. But the defensive tackle isn’t on campus yet.
“We’re still finishing some classes. We’re hopeful that will be finished next week,” Stoops said.
Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said an essential element for the unit to improve is some impact defensive linemen.
The head coach feels like the potential is there, but admitted there’s a difference between being impactful and playing like an All-American.
“We feel we have some guys that are capable of being like that. Is there Gerald McCoy? No,” Stoops said. “That’s not going to happen every year either.”
Bob Stoops hinted at Big 12 Media Days that OU might slow down the pace of the offense to help out the defense this season.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel hopes that isn’t the case.
“When we've had the ability, our personnel has allowed us to (speed tempo), when they've had some experience with what we're doing,” Heupel said. “Last year we played with more of it. It's been a weapon for us. Certainly it's one that we want to use this year as well. It's another way to attack defenses.
“You look in the past at teams that have shifted, traded, motioned, been multiple with their personnel, played multiple formations, tempo is another way to attack. So I hope nothing changes.”
More from Finch
Roy Finch has the been the wild card in OU’s offense since 2010. The 5-foot-7, 167-pound senior has bounced around from running back to receiver. Last year, he played mostly on special teams.
Heupel has seen a different player since training camp began.
“A year ago, Roy got caught a little bit because of our situation at wide receiver heading into fall camp. He bounced around between wideout and running back. For whatever reason, I don't think he was playing the way he's capable of at any of the positions,” Heupel said. “His maturity, the way he's approached the offseason, in the weight room, academically, at practice, meetings, he's been tremendous. He's been mature in a great way. Because of that I feel like he's going to have a great year.”
Change has come
The breakout year wide receiver Trey Metoyer expected last season did not occur. The former five-star recruit only had 17 catches and one touchdown.
OU co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Jay Norvell said there was a coming-of-age process Metoyer went through last season.
“I see a different maturity in him, I see a different focus in him. He’s been rolling off the ball the last three days,” Norvell said. “When a player really starts playing with confidence on a consistent basis, that’s when you really gain trust in him. It’s really obvious around here that we’re trying to gain trust in him. He’s one of the guys who hasn’t been consistent yet. He’s had a good camp but the key is when you play a guy at the starting position, you have to trust him on every day and on every snap. He has to raise his level of understanding performance every time he’s out there. So he’s trying to do that and he’s certainly had a great start. I think our football team responds when he makes plays. We’re excited about it right now. We’re cautious, but we’re still pushing.”
New spot every day
After three practices, freshman safety Hatari Byrd has played all three safety spots.
“He’s very knowledgeable. He’s easy to coach. He wants to be great,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “His maturity level is one of the highest I’ve seen this early on in his career. His maturity physically, we know what he looks like, but his maturity mentally and athletically. It’s a very unique set of tools to work with a kid this young. He may be the biggest, fastest guy that we’ve seen at this young of an age. Again, he possess a lot of the intangable qualities, but again, it’s only three days. So far, so good. I think he has a bright future.”
The Sooners are replacing three starters in the secondary, including both safety spots.
Sign this, please
OU also held the Meet the Sooners autograph session Saturday. All the players and coaches signed for fans for about 2 1/2 hours.
What was the strangest thing Bob Stoops was asked to sign?
“A baby,” he said.
Stoops said he was asked to sign the child’s clothes.