NORMAN — Oklahoma began fall practices Thursday morning, and has already suffered a major setback with sophomore quarterback Kendal Thompson's foot injury.
Despite the quarterback battle's intrigue taking a small hit, there are still plenty of interesting storylines to follow as the Sooners — ranked No. 16 in the preseason coaches' poll — begin their 2013 campaign.
Here's a primer of some key things to watch as OU prepares for its season opener, Aug. 31 against Louisiana-Monroe on Owen Field.
Blake Bell: Has long been considered the favorite to win the job, and Thompson's broken foot Thursday would seem to solidify his frontrunner status. He's got game experience — in big moments — but it's only come in the short-yardage “Belldozer” package. Bell has shown his passing ability in each of the last two spring games, and coaches insist he's capable of manning the full OU offense.
Trevor Knight: Wowed coaches and teammates alike on the scout team last season as a true freshman. He's got a high ceiling and could benefit from the extra reps he'll earn in practice now that Thompson is out.
Kendal Thompson: Before spring practices, Thompson was widely thought of as the least likely of the three quarterbacks to ultimately win the job. But, by all accounts, he was outstanding and might have risen to become Bell's primary challenger. But his chances to start the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe were shattered with his broken foot. Coach Bob Stoops is hopeful that he'll return early in the season, and could play a role when healthy.
TOP POSITION BATTLES
Defensive ends: Oklahoma lost key contributors R.J. Washington and David King to graduation, and junior Chuka Ndulue shifted inside to defensive tackle, meaning playing time is up for grabs for inexperienced Sooner defensive ends such as Chaz Nelson, Michael Onuoha, Charles Tapper, D.J. Ward and others. Junior Geneo Grissom began his OU career as a defensive end and moved to tight end last preseason before switching back in the middle of 2012. He's a probable starter, but the other spot remains there for the taking.
Defensive tackles: Ndulue and sophomore Jordan Phillips were Oklahoma's two starting defensive tackles in the spring game. Those two remain the most likely starters — although Ndulue may be suspended for the season opener after his DUI arrest last month. The Sooners are still waiting on junior-college transfer Quincy Russell, who is still expected to make it but not until mid-August. Junior Torrea Peterson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wade will also be expected to contribute to this thin group.
Safeties: Junior Quentin Hayes and senior Gabe Lynn started with the first unit in April's spring game, but they'll face plenty of stiff competition from freshmen Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas. Junior Trey Franks — who, along with Hayes, was suspended for all of last season — switched from receiver to safety and played well in the spring game, so he could be in line for some playing time, also.
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