NORMAN – All the talk that Blake Bell is no longer a quarterback, that he is a hundred percent a tight end now, that his days under center are absolutely, positively over?
Not so fast.
On the heels of last week’s news that Bell had been taking some snaps at quarterback during practices, Bob Stoops dropped another bombshell on Monday — the Belldozer lives.
Asked during his weekly press conference if the Sooners had the Belldozer package available, the Oklahoma coach acknowledged as much.
“Yeah, we do,” Stoops said. “How much (we use it)? We’ll see. We always think there are a certain number of plays that we can go to it.”
This is fascinating news, seeing as how the Sooners not only professed Bell’s full-time move to tight end to anyone who would listen but also moved away from the Belldozer almost entirely a year ago. The power package was an unbelievable success when run as a change of pace during Landry Jones’ last two seasons as a starter. Coming out of a backfield stacked with extra blockers, the stout Bell almost always has success, whether picking up a first down or scoring a touchdown.
Then last season, the Belldozer was shelved. Maybe the coaches didn’t want to use it when Trevor Knight was playing, fearing it might make the young starter look over his shoulder. But even when Bell took over at quarterback, the Belldozer was rarely seen. Maybe concerns over Bell’s health and quarterback depth made the coaches squeamish.
Regardless, the Belldozer has now been resurrected.
“Truthfully if you ever do (run it), you are taking some hits away from Trevor on some tougher inside spots where you can get bigger piled and you don’t want him,” Stoops said. “There’s a place for it. But how much or not, it would maybe depend on how successful we are with some of the other stuff we are doing.”
What Stoops said about the Belldozer’s return was interesting.
What wasn’t said was even more so.
First among the unspoken messages: keeping Knight healthy is of extreme importance.
Knight has been compared to Johnny Manziel in his on-field abilities, and there’s no doubt that Knight has fleet feet and a stout arm. But the truth is, one of the under-appreciated aspects of Manziel’s greatness in college was his durability. The dude twisted and flung his body into weird and compromising positions, but hit after hit, he never got hurt.
Knight, on the other hand, finished only three of the five games he started last season.
That is a concern. Knight may eventually prove the injuries that knocked him out of the West Virginia and Oklahoma State games were flukes, but until then, the Sooners have to take precautions.
Which leads to the second unspoken message in announcing the Belldozer’s return: the Sooners’ quarterback depth is of extreme concern, too.
Stoops said Monday that the coaches want to redshirt Justice Hansen. It was the first time anyone had admitted as much. No doubt the true freshman has lots of promise, but a season spent learning and growing is often for the best at the quarterback position.
So, with Baker Mayfield’s eligibility up in the air, that leaves Cody Thomas as the only available backup. He’s missed a couple practices with a muscle sprain, but even though he’s back to full strength, that doesn’t change the fact he still hasn’t taken a snap in a live college game.
Now, if Mayfield is allowed to play this season, the Sooners’ quarterback depth changes in a heartbeat. Asked on Monday if Mayfield had taken enough snaps thus far to step in and play if needed, Stoops didn’t hesitate in answering in the affirmative.
But it’s anyone’s guess when the NCAA will rule on Mayfield’s eligibility. It may be this month. It may be a while.
Remember the Jalen Saunders situation two seasons ago? His eligibility was in question after his transfer from Fresno State, but the NCAA didn’t rule until Texas week.
Who knows when the Mayfield situation will be resolved?
Add those depth problems to Knight’s injury woes last season, and you can see why Stoops and Co. would prefer to keep Knight out of short-yardage situations. Big pileups at the line of scrimmage? Lots of big bodies crashing into each other? Yeah, having Knight as far away from that as possible seems like a good idea.
Even with all of that, perhaps the biggest thing left unsaid in announcing that the Belldozer is revving up is that the trust in Bell is extreme, too. Off the charts. Through the roof.
On Monday, Bell was named as the Sooners’ starting tight end. This is a position that he has never played in a college game. Even though we’ve heard from Day 1 about how well Bell has done at his new position, the challenge of making a position change of this magnitude can’t be understated. He’s had to bulk up. He’s had to learn techniques and plays. He’s had to change duties and mindsets.
That’s a big deal.
And yet, Bell has apparently handled it like it’s not.
It’s just one more thing that has earned him the trust of coaches. He earned it as a back-up doing spot duty in the Belldozer. He earned it as an off-again, on-again, off-again, on-again starter last season. Every step of the way, Bell has been capable and mature.
So it is again.
“Blake is a guy who has always had a lot of respect from his teammates and his coaches,” Sooner co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “And I think the unselfish move to tight end and doing all the things that he has had to do to prepare himself has just endeared him more.
“I think if anybody deserves to have a great senior year, it’s him.”
Here we thought this year would be only at tight end, but because of extreme caution over Knight, extreme concern about quarterback depth and extreme trust in Bell, it seems we might see Bell in an even more familiar position — behind the wheel of the Belldozer.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.