- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Justice Hansen could look back upon this spring as a turning point in his life.
The Oklahoma quarterback enrolled early to participate in spring football with his new team. And, with Kendal Thompson’s departure and Blake Bell’s shift to tight end, Hansen is getting plenty of opportunities to impress.
The Edmond, Okla., native is showing slow but steady improvement during his first semester at OU, even though he’s being challenged in new ways on a daily basis.
“It’s extremely hard on every one of our players who come in here, but especially on our quarterbacks,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s extremely difficult. There’s so much thrown at you so quickly. Within six weeks of being here, you’re on the practice field going against guys that have been here, they’ve been through the system and understand the system.”
The Under Armour All-American and former ESPN 300 prospect's talent has been on display, but so has his inexperience.
“Justice coming right from high school has the biggest adjustment,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s really a talented guy with his arm and how he’s worked.”
Hansen is having the normal ups and downs of a freshman with good days and good throws alongside bad throws and mental mistakes. But, more importantly, he’s improving and learning from the setbacks.
“It’s overwhelming at times,” said Heupel, who also coaches the Sooners’ quarterbacks. “But the first four days before spring break you saw him get better each day. Since they've been back, he’s comprehended things even better.”
OU needs Hansen or redshirt freshman Cody Thomas to prove they’re ready to handle backup duties behind starter Trevor Knight. Saturday’s spring game could go a long way in showing if Hansen is ready to handle the task or if he’ll have to postpone his arrival as a impact player until a much later date. With some much to learn, Hansen would have to be considered the dark horse candidate to earn the No. 2 quarterback role as he joins Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who is ineligible for the 2014 season, as lone newcomers to the quarterbacks room. Yet, if his development continues or even accelerates, he could be ready sooner rather than later.
“I think by the time you finish spring ball, you get through summer and you come back into fall camp, he’ll be really comfortable with what we’re doing,” Heupel said. “I expect him to grow leaps and bounds by the time fall ends.”
No matter what happens, the early enrollee has impressed Knight, who is the veteran of the group even though he’s preparing for his redshirt sophomore season. One trait in particular has stood out to OU’s incumbent starter.
“His composure, he stays really composed, it’s not a 'rah, rah' thing,” Knight said. “He takes constructive criticism extremely well. He comes in the meeting room and works as hard as he can and he’s answering questions, he’s done a really good job.”