On a beautiful day in Norman, the Oklahoma Sooners took their first steps toward contending yet again in the Big 12 in 2013.
The annual spring game took place on Saturday, following the traditional format of a four-quarter, 12-minute game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as the Red and White teams played a 28-24 finish in favor of the White squad.
Coming into the spring, the big storyline is Oklahoma replacing four-year quarterback Landry Jones (as reported by Jeff Latzke on Yahoo! Sports).
Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight are the three major candidates to take over for Jones, with Bell being the front-runner coming into spring practice.
Each QB commanded different portions of the offense, with Bell getting most of the snaps with the first-team offense.
He continued to make plays with his feet in a blue jersey, but the development of his arm will be a big story as the season progresses and Oklahoma gets its 2013 season underway.
Bell wasn't overly impressive through the air, but he did connect with Durron Neal for a touchdown.
He threw another touchdown to Roy Finch, who scampered 49 yards to the end zone in the fourth quarter to help give the Red team a chance to win the game in a two-minute drill at the end of the day.
After moving the ball into the White team's end of the field, Bell could not avoid two late sacks, and the Red team finished as four-point losers on Saturday afternoon.
While Bell did nothing to hurt his case, Thompson and Knight both had successful days.
Thompson, the OU legacy looking to carve out a role as a dual-threat option, looked like just that. He was making plays with his feet and had good pocket presence—catching the eye of former Sooner Dusty Dvoracek:
Dusty Dvoracek @Dusty94_WWLS
Kendal Thompson can definitely extend the play! Has made several plays with his legs4/13/2013, 8:26:26 PM
Like Bell, Thompson's arm is not his greatest strength yet, but he clearly has a feel for the game, commands the offense well and should thrive both in the short and long term as this offense continues to evolve with new recruits.
Knight looked like the most pocket passing-ready QB, struggling a bit in the first half before coming out strong in the second, throwing a few nice balls and connecting on a late touchdown that helped the White team put itself in position for the win.
This battle is still beginning.
There were a fair share of hiccups on both sides, including a Lacoltan Bester fumble recovery for a touchdown on a Damien Williams fumble on an early drive and a Knight fumble that led to a defensive touchdown.
So goes the spring, and Oklahoma is just like every team in the country—trying to avoid big mistakes when the fall begins.
Elsewhere, the depth on offense looked extremely nice.
The wide receiving corps took a big blow when Kenny Stills headed for the NFL, but Jaz Reynolds, Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard and Trey Metoyer are all back in the lineup while Neal, Bester and Derrick Woods are also in the mix for playing time.
While somewhat inexperienced, this group has a lot of talent.
As does the running back group, complete with Williams, Brennan Clay and surprise star David Smith, who had a nice day.
The big question will be what to do with Roy Finch, a guy that didn't play a lot in 2012 after a good 2011 season. If the Sooners can find a way to use his obvious speed and elusiveness like West Virginia did with Tavon Austin, this offense could be clicking.
On defense, a major question comes on the defense line.
As noted on the Fox Sports broadcast, getting pressure with just four linemen is a big factor for success in 2013, and getting to the quarterback wasn't bad on Saturday.
The new defensive tackles and ends had a good day, getting to Bell several times and making things extremely tough on Thompson as he scrambled around the field.
The linebacking group was solid.
They were nothing to write home about but nothing to complain about, either, which is what you would expect from the group that has the least amount of question marks on a defense that has quite a few.
In the secondary, the day belonged to Trey Franks. The converted wideout had a couple of big hits and showed the ability to get the ball—something the OU defense struggled with in 2012.
Overall, you can make your own observations from the annual clash of the Red and White.
Bob Stoops can certainly be happy that none of his contending QBs took this battle lightly, and that is always a good problem to have at a big program.
Let's check out some grades from the game.
QB Blake Bell: A-
Bell had a slow start commanding an offense that will likely be his in Week 1, but he really picked things up in the early going—and we didn't get to see his running prowess much with a blue jersey on.
Tossing a couple of touchdowns and avoiding any major turnovers, Bell did what was asked of him without the threat of his ability to compact the defense with his feet. While he's not the same player, I think OU can use Bell in a Collin Klein-type way in 2013.
OU Insider felt after the game that Bell put himself apart in the race:
Blake Bell has looked pretty impressive so far today. He's really starting to separate himself.4/13/2013, 8:35:40 PM
That remains to be seen, but Bell clearly has a command of the terminology and is improving as a passer. Plus, the offense can evolve around his ground and pound style.
Right now, Bell has the edge.
QB Kendal Thompson: B
Thompson might be the most raw of the current three QBs, but if he develops as a passer and Bell falters, the job will be his before the end of the season.
While we didn't see much of his arm, what we saw with the legs was enough to provide a glimpse as to why the offense is shifting to a pistol-style attack over the next few seasons.
If not for the blue jersey on his back as well, we might have seen some long, scrambling touchdowns against a defense that actually tackled better than it did in 2012.
The future is very bright for this young man, but he might still be on the outside looking in this year.
RB Roy Finch: A
Finch touched the ball just 21 times (nine on offense, 12 on special teams) during the 2012 season after two solid years as a speed back out of the OU backfield.
He could find a role with Williams, Clay and Trey Millard grabbing most of the action in OU's downhill running style, but there is a place for a guy that can turn a short dump pass into a 49-yard touchdown—something he did on Saturday.
Expect Stoops to find something for Finch to do in 2013.
Whether he lines up in the slot or becomes a screen candidate on long downs, the Sooners have to find a way to incorporate him into an already loaded set of skill players.
DB Trey Franks: A
Franks has been looking for a role on this team since emerging as a freshman receiver, and it appears he'll have the chance to do so in a secondary that needs to replace three of its five starters from 2012.
If you followed Jake Trotter or Allen Kenney on Saturday, you would get the impression that his presence on the field is invaluable to impending success:
Allen Kenney @BlatantHomerism
@Jake_Trotter based on this, franks will need to see the field this fall4/13/2013, 8:45:07 PM
The defense is the main focus of the 2013 improvements, meaning the entire roster should be up for those spots. Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin are the two returning starters, but the Sooners will need depth and talent to emerge to avoid another letdown against the pass in the Big 12 this season.
Inserting Franks could be a way to do that, a guy that could also help in run coverage if you look at how he laid the wood on Saturday.
Overall, the Sooners had a good day of action on Saturday.
QB is the position fans will be most excited to see how it all plays out, but the offensive skill spots and improving defense stood out in Norman as the Sooners try to improve on and avenge their somewhat down season with a strong showing in 2013.