Oklahoma’s preparation for the 2013 season was barely underway when the Sooners’ quarterback outlook took a hit with the foot injury of quarterback Kendal Thompson. The sophomore was poised to compete for OU’s starting quarterback job this August alongside junior Blake Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight.
“It’s never good to have a guy go down,” Knight said. “People were like, ‘It helps you out,’ it doesn’t help you out, because you like competing against a guy like that.”
Bell and Knight will see increased reps with Thompson out of the preseason competition, and it could help the redshirt freshman the most as he will have more opportunities to get comfortable with the speed and focus required to run the Sooners’ offense.
“It opens it up a little bit,” Knight said. “Obviously we’d love to have Kendal around, he’s a great guy to compete with. [But] it’s always good to get more reps in the offense, that will make anybody better.”
Less than one day into preseason camp, Bell became the clear favorite to open the season as Landry Jones’ replacement, while Thompson was headed to the operating table to get his foot repaired. As a redshirt junior, Bell’s experience gives him an edge over Knight, who has only been on campus for one season. But Bell understands, even though the job appears to be his to lose, he will have to go out and win it during preseason camp.
‘It’s a job I’ve got to go win,” he said. “With Landry leaving, it’s opened up for anybody. The only thing I can do is go out each and every day and show them what I can do. Even if they don’t say you’re the guy, you have to approach it as if you’re the guy. I did that sometimes even when Landry was here. That’s just how I think every quarterback [should be].”
Although he's thrown just 20 career passes, Bell brings much more experience to the table than most quarterbacks entering their junior season without a collegiate start. He’s scored 24 rushing touchdowns and earned the name “Belldozer” as a short yardage specialist during his first two seasons. And gained valuable game experience while performing well in the special short yardage package.
“I’ve gotten more comfortable in situations, just from being out there,” Bell said. “Being in games like Bedlam (against Oklahoma State) and Notre Dame, that prepares you for situations like that and I have more confidence.”
The Sooners will never say Bell, or anyone for that matter, is the favorite this early in their preseason camp. OU believes there’s still plenty of time for Knight to step up and make it a competition and, most importantly, it’s important for their teammates to see one of the quarterbacks win the job during preseason camp instead of someone being anointed the winner before a decision needs to be made.
That’s why Knight believes he’s still in the mix to earn the starting nod when OU hosts Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 31.
“Coach [Josh] Heupel said from the beginning that it’s an open competition and even if it wasn’t he wants us to approach every day like we’re the starter,” Knight said. “I’m taking every day like I’m preparing to be the starter and I’ll compete the best I can.”
Meanwhile Thompson will be out of sight on the practice field but not out of mind around the halls of Switzer Center, OU's football complex. His surgery was successful on Thursday and Knight said he was “in good spirits” and was watching practice film shortly after his surgery, a sign that Thompson still considers himself an active participant in the quarterback battle even though the early timetable puts his return at six weeks in roughly mid-September.
“That puts Kendal back in the mix early in the season,” coach Bob Stoops said. “We’re very pleased with what Kendal’s done and the progress he’s made showed he will be able to catch up and be a factor for us after the first couple of games.”
OU’s insistence that the quarterback competition remains open begs a few questions: What if Bell struggles in August? What if Knight looks more comfortable and confident in the pocket during preseason scrimmages than he did during the spring game in April? What if Thompson returns sooner than anticipated?
With the Sooners searching for answers for questions like those it’s easy to understand why the coaching staff balks at any assertion that Bell already has the job won. Add into the equation the possibility for Thompson to return early in the season, and it’s easy to see how OU’s situation at quarterback could get muddy as quickly as it has appeared to become clear.