Thursday, March 20, 2014
OU's Bell learning to get comfortable at TE
By Brandon Chatmon
Blake Bell is quickly ascending to hero status in Norman, Okla.
Oklahoma is hoping Blake Bell's athleticism and physical style translates to his move to tight end.
The Oklahoma senior saved the day, quarterbacking the Sooners on a game-deciding touchdown drive to win Bedlam, giving OU fans bragging rights over Oklahoma State supporters while robbing the Cowboys of their second Big 12 championship in three seasons. Bell started eight games at quarterback in 2013, passing for 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns as a major contributor to OU’s 11-2 campaign.
Yet, after Trevor Knight's Sugar Bowl MVP performance, there was no question who would be the Sooners’ starting quarterback in 2014. Thus, Bell had a choice to make: Stay at Oklahoma or search for greener pastures elsewhere.
Bell chose to return to OU, cementing his legacy in the minds of several Sooners fans by asking to move to tight end, a clear sign of his commitment to the program.
“It was a tough decision,” Bell said. “Obviously playing quarterback was my dream, but another dream of mine was to play at OU. And I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to go anywhere, so that’s why I stayed around. I love these guys, love my teammates. I just wanted to get on the field somehow.”
This spring is Bell’s first taste of his new position. The blue “don’t hit” quarterback jersey has been abandoned for a crimson No. 10 jersey, bigger shoulder pads and more time battling the big boys in the trenches.
“It’s just a different mindset, and it’ll take me a little bit to get used to, but it’s been fun,” Bell said. “It’s a mentality. You’ve got to flip the switch from quarterback to tight end, and I think that’s the main deal.”
Everything is different, from the physical nature of the position to the intricacies of blocking schemes. He’s gone from being a prime target in the pocket to being able to dish out some punishment of his own on linebackers and defensive linemen. It’s going to take a while before Bell’s athleticism and talent can be on full display at the position, but the senior is slowly but surely becoming more comfortable at tight end.
“It’s a brand new world for Blake,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “It’s fun to watch because he’s a good athlete and he’s got long arms. It’s a different workload for him and he’s beat up and sore. He’s got parts of his body that are bruised that have never been bruised before.”
Bell’s experience as a quarterback could make the transition much smoother for him. He won’t have to spend time trying to understand plays and concepts, allowing him to focus on technique, blocking assignments and route running instead.
“It’s helped me a lot to know the offense,” he said, while noting the ability to read defenses is also a useful asset.
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Bell earned the nickname “Belldozer” with his physical running style as a freshman and sophomore behind former quarterback Landry Jones. At 6-foot-6, 264 pounds, he gave as much punishment as he received while becoming a short-yardage specialist in 2011 and 2012. OU hopes that physical nature and playmaking ability can transfer to the tight end position.
“Blake’s got soft hands, good hands,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s running around really well. He’s a huge target. I’m sure blocking is something we’ll have to work hard on, but Blake’s athletic, Blake’s tough. He’s got size, he’s got strength, he’s got the things you need to do it.”
OU has been searching for a receiving threat at tight end since James Hanna moved on to the NFL after the 2011 season. The Sooners are hopeful that Bell will be the answer to their woes at the spot.
“It’s really fun to watch him compete and make plays for us,” Norvell said. “I think he’s really going to help us as a tight end.”