NORMAN — Six years ago, the year before he won the Heisman Trophy, three years before he was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, Sam Bradford entered two-a-days focused on earning Oklahoma's starting quarterback job.
In a three-way competition similar to the on for the 2013 season, Bradford was the favorite over junior-college transfer Joey Halzle and learning-on-the-job true freshman Keith Nichol.
Bradford, though, wasn't officially named the starter until Aug. 21, the third week of two-a-days.
“It was a lot of fun, great competition,” Bradford said. “I remember every day you had to be on your A game because I knew Joey and Keith were going to bring their A game. Every snap, every practice mattered. It brought out the best in me and those other guys.”
Junior Blake Bell, like Bradford in 2007, is the favorite ahead of sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight entering this year's fall camp.
“Obviously it's going to be different,” Bradford said. “It's going to be the first time in 3½ years Landry (Jones) won't be taking the snaps. It's going to be different for everyone involved, the fans included.”
OU fans have become accustomed to Bradford and Jones, who have combined to start OU's last 81 games.
For the first time in six years, the Sooners will open a season with a quarterback who has never started a game.
While no official announcement has been made about who will start the Aug. 31 opener against Louisiana-Monroe, Bradford said it will be an important day.
“When they named me the starter, it allowed me to step into that leadership role the quarterback is required to fulfill,” Bradford said. “The hardest part going through a three-quarterback competition is that it's hard for one guy to emerge as the true leader.”
The year Bradford redshirted, quarterback Paul Thompson was a marginal passer. Adrian Peterson and Allen Patrick combined for more than 350 carries to carry the offense.
The following season, the Sooners were committed to air it out again like the Jason White and Josh Heupel days. Forced to compete for the starting job, Bradford said two-a-days helped him develop confidence.
“I hope the three guys going through the competition right now will embrace the battle and be competitive with it,” Bradford said. “If all of them compete hard it will make each one of them better.”
Unlike Bradford in 2007, Bell has some experience, although most of it's been short-yardage situations in a ground-and-pound package called the “Belldozer.”
In two seasons in a reserve role, Bell has attempted only 20 passes. He was 9-of-16 for 107 yards last season. Bell has a cannon arm, but halfway through his career he's rushed for 24 touchdowns but is still looking for his first passing TD.
During occasional summer workouts in Norman, Bradford has spoken a handful of times with OU's quarterbacks, including Bell.
“If there's ever a time I feel something needs to be said or he comes and asks me, I have no problem helping,” Bradford said. “I've said a few things to him in the past. Hopefully it helps him a little.”
Bradford said veterans like fullback Trey Millard and cornerback Aaron Colvin must be leaders while the Sooners are transitioning to a new quarterback.
“While this competition is going on, guys that have been around the program and have played a lot of football have to step up,” Bradford said. “The older guys have to be leaders, especially the early part of the season.”
If Bell wins the starting job, as expected, OU's offense will look a little different because of his “Belldozer” skills. Still, the passing game will remain the foundation of OU's offense. The Sooners will continue to stretch the field and use swing passes as pseudo-running plays.
It's unrealistic to expect Bell, or whoever wins the job, to throw for 4,175 yards and 35 touchdowns, an “average season” for Bradford and Jones the past six years. But the new quarterback will have to prove he can direct a fast-paced offense and have success through the air.
Bradford said the new quarterback simply needs to run OU's system.
“I was extremely nervous before my first start against North Texas,” Bradford said. “After I played well in that game (363 yards passing, 3 TDs in a 79-10 rout) and the following week against Miami (205 yards, 5 TDs in a 51-13 mismatch) I was able to settle down.”