NORMAN — Blake Bell's opportunities to demonstrate his passing ability for Oklahoma fans have been few and far between.
Despite 24 rushing touchdowns and the cult-hero status he's earned over the last two seasons, whether Bell can effectively and consistently lead the full Sooner offense remains to be seen.
“He's ready to show that he's a full-fledged quarterback; he's not just a Belldozer,” said Sherry Bell, Blake's mother. “The only way you can do that is to go out there and show people. I know Blake's a competitor, and I think that's what people are gonna love about him.”
Almost exactly one year ago, Blake Bell completed 14 of 19 pass attempts for 179 yards — including an impressive 60-yard touchdown pass off his back foot — in Oklahoma's 2012 spring football game, a performance which helped him beat Drew Allen in the competition to be Landry Jones' backup last season.
The junior will likely need a similar showing Saturday afternoon, when Oklahoma holds its 2013 spring game on Owen Field. Bell is battling sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight to be the Sooners' starting quarterback.
Entering his fourth season on campus, Bell holds the experience edge, in terms of time in the program and game opportunities. Still, most of Bell's game moments have come out of the short-yardage Belldozer package, in which he'd enter the game, take a shotgun snap and plow ahead for first downs and touchdowns.
Last season, Bell attempted just 16 passes, five of which came in a 69-13 rout of hapless Florida A&M. The most important game pass Bell has thrown came as a surprise out of the Belldozer.
Down by six points in an eventual loss to Notre Dame, Bell entered the game on fourth-and-2 at the Irish's 9-yard line and completed a crucial first-down pass to fullback Trey Millard.
“It's all about moments, and he's had some great ones in the Belldozer package, but this is a whole nother deal,” said Mark Bell, Blake's dad and a former NFL player.
Bell also demonstrated open-field running ability in the Sooners' win over Baylor. He entered the game on a third-and-1 — a typical Belldozer situation — but burst through the line of scrimmage and sprinted for a 55-yard touchdown.
That sort of athleticism is what Oklahoma coaches hope to add to the quarterback position next season.
“All three of those guys have similar traits and are slightly different in ways too,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “We've said this before, but I think our guys may be able to use their feet a little bit more than we have in the past here. We'll find ways to utilize that skill.”
OU's three quarterbacks have stayed fairly even through these spring practices, and the battle — Oklahoma's first quarterback derby since the 2007 preseason — figures to rage on into fall camp.
Bell and those close to him have insisted that he never took the starting quarterback job for granted despite his game experience and time in the program. Still, lots of outside observers have long expected the job to be safely Bell's.
After Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in its third game of the 2012 season, a vocal segment of Sooner fans were convinced that Stoops should bench Jones and begin the Blake Bell era early.
Bell dismissed those sentiments after Oklahoma's 41-20 win at Texas Tech in early October.
“I don't even worry about that,” Bell said then. “I know what Landry can do, and I know the player he is, and he showed it out there today. My time will come.”