NORMAN — Oklahoma begins spring football practices Saturday with an expected schematic change on defense, possible offensive tweaks and three new assistant coaches, hired to replace those Bob Stoops sent packing last month.
Gone, too, is four-year starting quarterback Landry Jones. Still, Oklahoma's first signal-caller battle since 2007 includes an incumbent of sorts.
Junior Blake Bell scored 24 touchdowns and became a fan favorite over the past two seasons. Last fall, Stoops named Bell as the Sooners' second-team quarterback, seemingly solidifying his status as Jones' heir apparent in 2013.
Stoops, though, has said the full-time job isn't Bell's just yet. Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight shined in scout-team duty last season, and sophomore Kendal Thompson may not be entirely out of the picture, either.
Despite Bell's game experience — in big moments — and the widespread, months-long assumption the job is his to lose, he's not taking anything for granted.
“He thinks he's the one for the job, but he feels like he's gotta work for it and earn it,” said his dad, Mark Bell.
“Now, he thinks he's earned a little bit already, but again, he hasn't been the guy though every time like Landry was. He knows they'll make it a competition, and that brings out the best in everybody anyway.”
Bell (6-foot-6, 254 pounds) burst onto the scene in 2011 as a redshirt freshman, when he surprisingly replaced Jones on Oklahoma's first drive at Kansas State and plowed ahead for a 1-yard touchdown run.
He scored 13 touchdowns out of the “Belldozer” package that season, and added 11 last year, including a 55-yarder against Baylor. But Bell still hasn't thrown a college touchdown pass.
“I think the Belldozer package was special,” Mark Bell said. “It was something that was really great for everybody. It really served a good purpose. It was very successful, but it also becomes a stigma that Blake can run and can't pass.
“I hear that a lot, and it's kind of frustrating. Blake can flat sling it.”
The most important and memorable of Bell's 19 collegiate pass attempts was a surprise, 8-yard completion on fourth-down against Notre Dame. On the next play, he scored on a 1-yard, game tying run.
With less than 10 seconds remaining in Bedlam's regulation, Bell entered the game on fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys' 4-yard line, broke a tackle and scored to force overtime, where OU clinched a victory.
“I think even though Blake's passes overall have been limited, the action he's had the last two years of getting hit and being in critical situations, I think all of that matters in his development,” Stoops said.
Last spring, Bell took advantage of his only opportunity to showcase his passing skills before the public, completing 14 of 19 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in the 2012 spring game.
Even though he enters this spring as the quarterback derby's favorite, Bell has to fight off serious challenges.
“I think it's definitely an advantage to have played,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “But at the same time, those younger guys showed a lot of leadership on the scout team.
“I'm really looking forward to (the competition). I think it's gonna be fun for everybody, and everybody's gonna have to step their game up because we're building a different identity with some different leadership.”
OU SPRING PRACTICE SCHEDULE
Note: All practice dates are tentative and subject to change. Practices are not open to the public.
* Saturday, March 9
* Sunday, March 10
* Tuesday, March 12
* Thursday, March 14
* Monday, March 25
* Wednesday, March 27
* Friday, March 29
* Tuesday, April 2
* Friday, April 5
* Saturday, April 6
* Tuesday, April 9
* Thursday, April 11
* Saturday, April 13 (Spring game)
* Tuesday, April 16