The Norman Transcript

March 7, 2014

Knight assumes role as top signal caller on depth chart to open spring practice

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Spring football is about competition. Younger players get a golden chance to prove they deserve playing time in the fall. That’s the scenario that will occur for most of Oklahoma’s roster.

At quarterback, however, the spring will serve a different purpose. The Sooners have defined Nos. 1, 2 and 3 for the first time in years with Trevor Knight, redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen occupying those spots. It is a stark difference between the spring of 2013 when Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson were in a daily contest for the starting spot.

Knight is now the unquestioned starter after his Sugar Bowl MVP performance to close the season. Bell is now a full-time tight end. Thompson is focused on graduating so he can complete his transfer to Utah.

“It doesn’t change anything,” OU coach Bob Stoops said Thursday when asked how an established quarterback pecking order will affect spring drills. “You ask our players, we’ll go out and practice and no one thinks twice about it. It doesn’t mean anything to us. Just the outside world loves to talk about it, but what we do everyday, it doesn’t change a thing.”

There’s still a lot of development needed at the quarterback spot. As good as Knight was against Alabama, he’s still only made five career starts, thrown for 819 yards and has nine touchdowns. The way his last three starts ended were great, but it’s not enough to call him seasoned. The 15 practices OU conducts beginning on Saturday and over the next six weeks are designed to get him closer to that status.

“We’re excited about the fact that he’s only a sophomore, and development we feel will just continue in a really strong way,” Stoops said.

Getting Thomas and Hansen ready to play is going to be important. Knight showed toughness last season, but he did leave two games last season due to injuries.

It will be a busy spring for Thomas. He’s playing baseball as well. Fitting football practices among a baseball schedule gobbles up his afternoons six days a week — not to mention road games — isn’t simple.

Stoops said it’ll be up to offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, baseball coach Pete Hughes and Thomas, who’s had just four at-bats and played a handful of innings in right field thus far, to find a schedule that works.

“I don’t see it being a problem. I see it being something we’ll all have to manage with coach Pete and Josh. They’ve already communicated really well through the winter here,” Stoops said. “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.”

Hansen is still just three months removed from his last high school game at Edmond Santa Fe. But since he enrolled in school early, the spring will be a very intense introduction to college football. Stoops said it will likely be the most work an early freshman enrollee has ever received.

“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,” Stoops said.

Ideally this spring will not be one where the quarterbacks are slipping up and down the depth chart. OU believes that is solidified. Hansen may have great potential, but OU has redshirted every freshman quarterback during Stoops’ tenure. That is the plan for Hansen in the fall.

Reality, however, has shown more than one quarterback is necessary to get through a season. Knight is the guy. Developing the potential he showed at the end of the 2013 season is essential this spring. So is coming up with Plan B.

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

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com

 

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