By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — The decision to go with Trevor Knight at starting quarterback is going to analyzed until the redshirt freshman shows why he beat out junior Blake Bell for Oklahoma’s quarterback job.
Since Knight’s only public showing was April’s spring game, there isn’t much to judge.
However, his teammates and head coach gave their insight into what he’ll bring to the table Monday.
“The things he can do on the run are very impressive,” OU center Gabe Ikard said. “He’s very athletic and when he gets in the open field he can go. There were several moments in camp where you knew he was fast.”
OU coach Bob Stoops, he made his first public comments since naming Knight the starter last week, said it wasn’t one particular aspect or trait that won Knight the job. It was an entire body of work.
“I think it’s just fair to say that overall, through all these practices, there’s just been a little more consistency in the different areas that we’ve been looking for,” Stoops said.
Whatever it is that won Knight the job will be on display when the 16th-ranked Sooners play host to Louisiana-Monroe Saturday in the season opener.
The game will unveil all the changes OU has made since the 2012 season ended with a blowout loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl Classic.
One of the major changes expected are all the intangibles that go along with a quarterback who can run.
“He’s a freak athlete. He’s really fast,” fullback Trey Millard said. “You saw a little bit of that in some of the spring game. He can definitely run the ball and run it quickly. As far as the quarterback stuff goes he’s a great thrower. He’s still learning some of the reads. He’s still growing as a player, but he’s going to be a good one.”
How good remains to be seen. Linebacker Corey Nelson set the bar pretty high Monday, comparing him to Texas A&M Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.
“ I feel like if you put him in Texas A&M’s offense, the same way they have with Manziel and you take Manziel out, it will be the exact same Texas A&M offense that they have,” Nelson said. “His skills are equivalent to Manziel’s. He’s able to run, he’s so mobile and he can throw it on the run. He’s outstanding.”
Stoops is still tight-lipped about what it will all mean for the offense. He’s entering his 15th season as head coach. Outside of Bell in the short-yardage package OU has run the last two years, the quarterback has never been part of the run game. Nor have they been asked do much other than throw from the pocket.
Both are expected to change.
“That’s something we’ll see as it goes, but there will be, just, some,” Stoops said.
As far as what that means for Bell, Stoops said there’s still a role for him in the game plan. The coach and his teammates went out of their way to heap praise on the junior. After all, he spent last season, the spring and the initial part of preseason practices as the presumptive next in line at the position.
Stoops insists Bell still has a role beyond the second spot on the quarterback depth chart.
For one, the short-yardage package Bell has quarterbacked for 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons is still in use.
“We’ll feel comfortable even expanding on that and giving him more opportunities other ways in that package,” he said.
The other issue that is still hanging out there is Knight will be playing in his career game Saturday. It’s the one part of the quarterback competition that is still incomplete. Neither has been the starting quarterback before.
What happens against Louisiana-Monroe will decide whether or not there’s another phase to the quarterback competition.
OU’s excited about Knight’s potential, but it needs see it on the field in the real game before it’s finally settled.
“I think it’s fair to say we’ll see as it goes, you know, what we do and don’t do with the two of them,” Stoops said. “I think a lot of it is predicated by what happens once he’s on the field.”
OU football notebook: Ndulue, Johnson to miss OU’s opener
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops confirmed defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue and cornerback Cortez Johnson will miss the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe due to one-game suspensions.
Both pled guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from offseason arrests. Both were projected starters on the two-deep depth chart the Sooners released Monday.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez will start at the right cornerback spot. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery is weighing options at defensive tackle in the wake of Ndulue’s absence.
“Certainly that limits our rotation a little bit and we have to go a little bit deeper this weekend than we normally would,” he said. “That’s OK. It gives someone else an opportunity.”
Whether or not that opportunity falls to junior college transfer defensive tackle Quincy Russell hasn’t been decided. He’s only been practicing a little more than a week. Thus far, the coaches have been impressed with Russell’s performance. He start against UL-M, but Stoops expects him to be on the field quickly.
“I think he’s just growing into the position and understanding what we’re doing,” Stoops said. “I think it’s going to take a while, but I’m hopeful we can get him 20 to 30 snaps Saturday night.”
Running back race? OU hasn’t named a starting running back. The depth chart released Monday listed senior Brennan Clay or senior Damien Williams at the top spot with Roy Finch at No. 2.
“I like what all of them are doing. So, it’s hard to please everybody out there who wants to see all different guys all the time,” Stoops said. “But (running backs coach Cale) Gundy has a good idea of how he wants to play them. It’s fair to say all those guys, through a long game, or through a, hopefully, 80- to 85-snap game, are going to have to be in there and help each other.”
Target practice: The season opener will be the first game under the NCAA rule in which players can be ejected for helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless players.
Stoops believes the players are as informed about the rule as they can be.
“We’ve had two sessions of DVDs sent out from the league detailing what they look for, what is and isn’t targeting. We’ve had two 20-minute sessions reviewing that and talking about the severity of it and talking about the consequences,” Stoops said. “If you do it the second half of a game, you are out the first half of the next game. We talked about it with our Big 12 officials when they were here on campus in one of our scrimmages. We’ve done it as much as you can.”
Captains named: OU has named center Gabe Ikard, fullback Trey Millard, cornerback Aaron Colvin, linebacker Corey Nelson, deep snapper Austin Woods and kicker Michael Hunnicutt captains. The selections were made by a vote of the team and coaching staff.
Different feel: With the season beginning Saturday, OU has entered game-preparations for UL-M. But there are other differences players notice.
“The whole atmosphere is different. It’s game week. You know that,” nickelback Julian Wilson said. “You feel it around campus. You hear fans coming by yelling ‘Boomer Sooner.’ Little things like that, you know the game is close.”
Tighter scrutiny: Colvin said one of the differences between this season and past seasons is the coaching staff has been a little edgier over the last month.
“I mean, in the past, you might’ve been able to get past some stuff if you slacked off or you did some things that you weren’t supposed to do. They might’ve let you slide. But right now, they’re catching everything and … you’re getting punished for it,” he said. “That’s what we needed. I can’t say I’m mad about it because I know that we needed it. It builds character, it builds toughness. It’s just given us our swagger back so we appreciate them for doing it.”