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March 6, 2014

Sooners must focus on finding Knight's backup this spring

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Neither Bob Stoops nor Blake Bell seem to have any second thoughts about making the move from quarterback to tight end.

As spring football practices get underway this weekend, Bell will start his new career as a tight end. Stoops says Bell won't take any snaps at quarterback during spring practices as he prepares to make a complete transition.

"He's a tough, competitive athlete that I believe will handle that well," said Stoops of Bell's move. "Blake's made a great transition to tight end. Really has done a great job continuing to build his strength and size. He's up to about 257, moving well."

SCOOPHD: QUARTERBACKS

Stoops was most excited about Bell winning a tug-of-war conditioining drill against a defensive linemen as the Sooners have been in winter conditioning over the last eight weeks.

"We're fired up about that," Stoops boasted.

Stoops refused to shut the door on the Belldozer in the future while saying Bell will stay right around his current weight to play the tight end position.

"I think a year ago, to stay a little looser, he intentionally kept a little (weight) off," said Stoops. "Now he can gain five or six, eight pounds, and he doesn't need much."

Losing Bell as a quarterback means Trevor Knight will need to develop a capable backup over the next 15 practices. Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen will see plenty of snaps this spring behind center.

Hansen just arrived in Norman, but he'll be relied on to run the OU offense in the coming weeks more than any early enrollee quarterback has ever been called upon in the Stoops era.

"Just with Kendal (Thompson) moving on and Blake moving to tight end, it opens that window for those reps and that opportunity. I'm sure it will be the most that (an early enrollee QB) has been able to get," said Stoops. "But watching Justice workout, he physically fits the part of being here and belonging so we'll be excited to get him those snaps and see how he does."

Thomas also has a baseball career to attend to during spring camp. He's currently appeared in four games for Pete Hughes' on the diamond but has yet to gain a hit as an OU baseball player going 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts.

"I don't see it being a problem. I see it being something we'll all have to manage with coach Pete (Hughes) and Josh (Heupel)," Stoops said. "They've already communicated really well through the winter here. We want him to have success at both and I know they want him to too. We'll do the best we can to manage it. Again, So far it hasn't been a problem."

If Thomas isn't available, Stoops still has walk-on Baker Mayfield to turn to this spring. Mayfield won't be eligible to compete in 2014, but he can still practice with the Sooners.

"Baker, obviously as thin as we are at that position, we're elated that he decided to do this and he'll have his opportunities as well.," said Stoops. "We don't discriminate in any fashion here. He'll have opportunities like everyone else does.

"But looking at him, running around as an athlete out there, he looks really good. His attitude, work ethic, all that stuff, he fits right in. I've noticed the other quarterbacks helping him out. We'll see where that goes."

While the Sooners may struggle to identify a solid backup quarterback heading into spring, they no longer have the problem of defining a starter after a rollercoaster ride at the position in 2013.

Knight's Sugar Bowl MVP performance elevated him to the clear starter heading into spring football.

"Trevor Knight, with the way he performed in the Sugar Bowl - and really, what we've seen not just in that game but over the last year and a half - we're excited about the fact that he's only a sophomore and his development, we feel, will just continue in a really strong way."

For Stoops, and the OU football program, this spring is about finding that backup quarterback.

"It's a big part of our team's success - those guys coming around and getting a really consistent and good feel of what we want to do at the quarterback position," said Stoops. "It'll be really important that we do a good job with them and that they work hard throughout the spring."



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