College football: With quarterbacks off limits in practice, coaches can't tell what they have

Protection of quarterbacks has become paramount not only in games, but in practice. Which has led to greater health but also greater confusion. Coaches truly don't know what they have at quarterback until the games start.
by Berry Tramel Modified: August 13, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: August 12, 2013
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photo - OU's Blake Bell and Clint Chelf sport the
OU's Blake Bell and Clint Chelf sport the "Do not touch" practice jersey worn by many quarterbacks. PHOTOS FROM THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES; PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY PHILLIP BAEZA, THE OKLAHOMAN

This time last year, approaching mid-August, no quarterback had been named to replace the vaunted starter who had moved on to the NFL.

It wasn't until Aug. 16 that the head coach settled on a starter.

Turns out Kevin Sumlin made an OK decision. Johnny Manziel could play a little.

By season's end, Johnny Football was running ragged not just the beleaguered defenses of Oklahoma and Texas, but the sabertooths of Alabama. Yet as kickoff neared for the 2012 season, Texas A&M didn't even know what it had.

Blame it on the black jerseys.

That's what A&M quarterbacks wear for protection, the same way Sooner QBs wear blue and Cowboy QBs wear green.

Stark colors that shout, off limits. Don't touch. Quarterbacks in practice these days are like the Ark of the Covenant. Touch it, and God strikes you dead. Touch a quarterback, and the head coach will strip your scholarship and have you flogged at the campus library.

Protection of quarterbacks has become paramount not only in games, but in practice. Which has led to greater health (though OU's Kendal Thompson suffered a broken foot when he stepped wrong, wearing blue) but also greater confusion.

Coaches truly don't know what they have at quarterback until the games start.

In Norman, Trevor Knight hasn't played at all, and Blake Bell has played only under the guise of the Belldozer, which is nothing like the quarterbacking the Sooners need.

That uncertainty is what Mike Gundy faced last season in Stillwater, where Clint Chelf hadn't played a meaningful snap and Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh hadn't played a snap at all. Turns out, all three Cowboys could quarterback, and the same is likely true with the Sooners.

But you never know. A&M didn't know.

“To an extent, that's true,” said Kliff Kingsbury, now Texas Tech's head coach but last season A&M's quarterback coach.

“Last year, Coach Sumlin stands behind the line in practice and has a quick whistle if anybody gets close.  He'd shut those plays down that are really Johnny's forte. Until you see him out there extending plays and making things happen on the field, you don't know exactly what you have at that position.”

Think about that. Remember the Cotton Bowl, when Johnny Football made the Sooner defense look like sandlot ragamuffins. Manziel threw for 287 yards and ran for 229 yards. Johnny Football wasn't tackled so much as he tired of winning an endless game of tag.

Alabama can empathize with the Sooners. Yet Sumlin wasn't sure of the best choice to replace Ryan Tannehill until two weeks before the season opener.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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