NORMAN — Trevor Knight played baseball until his junior year of high school.
Stole a lot of bases, too.
Which means he can slide.
If only the Sooners could get him to use that skill a little more on the football field. After all, injury knocked him out of almost half the games he started last season — two of the five — and this season, the Sooners simply can’t afford that kind of attrition rate from their quarterback.
Their championship hopes hinge on his health.
Bob Stoops is quite aware of the need to keep Knight on the field.
“Some injuries you just can’t avoid,” the Sooner coach said. “But at the quarterback position, regardless of how much or how little we run him, when he has the opportunity and he is out on the perimeter running, we want him to avoid and take as little contact as possible. Step out of bounds. Slide. Get down.
“If you already got 13 (yards), that’s good enough. Someone’s closing in on you? Slide. Get down. Avoid the big hits.”
Stoops said the coaches talked with Knight about that a year ago but would make it a topic of regular conversation this year.
I’m thinking that conversation might go something like this — “SLIDE!”
The Sooners need Knight healthy in part because of the way he elevates their offense. What he did with his arm in the Sugar Bowl, throwing for 348 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, took the offense to heights unseen for several seasons.
But the importance of Knight staying healthy goes beyond what he can do on the field; options behind him are currently scarce.
Last season, the Sooners were flush with seemingly capable quarterbacks. Knight. Blake Bell. Kendal Thompson. But now, Bell is playing tight end and Thompson took his talents to Salt Lake City.
Could Bell return to quarterback in the most dire of circumstances? Paul Thompson did, after moving to receiver, then moving back to quarterback when Rhett Bomar got booted. But all indications are that Bell is set at tight end.
That leaves redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen backing up Knight. Neither has taken a snap in a game.
Baker Mayfield, of course, is also on campus, but his eligibility is uncertain. The NCAA might grant his appeal. It might not. If Mayfield is available, quarterback depth isn’t nearly as much of a problem. But as things stand right now, it’s thinner than a runway model.
Encouraging Knight to be careful will be a delicate balancing act. Running is one of the skills that makes him effective. He didn’t run a ton against Alabama, but the mere threat of him taking off kept the Crimson Tide honest and the passing game clicking along. But when the quarterback run wasn’t part of the plan in the spring game, Knight’s effectiveness dropped dramatically. Receivers weren’t as open and passes weren’t as easy.
Knight must run and scramble to keep defenses guessing and to be at his best. But even he knows he has to strike a balance.
“Being smart with the ball,” he said.
“Getting it into my playmakers’ hands and allowing them to do the work.”
It’s entirely possible that the injuries Knight suffered last season were just flukes, never to happen again. And yet, neither play was out of the ordinary.
When he hurt his knee late in the first half against West Virginia, he was running up the middle when a defender dove to wrap up his legs. The defender’s helmet hit Knight’s knee.
Bizarre? Uncommon? Strange?
Same for the play on which Knight separated his shoulder in Bedlam. He was scrambling up the sideline and heading for the end zone. He dove and landed on his shoulder. Nothing crazy. Something he might do a time or two a game.
So, was Knight just unlucky or does he need to be more careful?
And the fact that he already knows a thing or two about how to slide is a big help. There are lots of quarterbacks who shouldn’t slide because, frankly, they aren’t very good at it.
“Hopefully,” Knight said, “I can do a decent job.”
There’s no guarantee he’ll always be safe, but his chance of staying healthy goes up and the Sooners’ chance of winning a title goes up, too.
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.