Oklahoma Football: Transition to TE for Blake Bell Won't Be Seamless

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Oklahoma Football: Transition to TE for Blake Bell Won't Be Seamless
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Blake Bell's move from quarterback to tight end, made official by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops on Wednesday, felt like a long time coming. 

Bell, presumed to be the starting quarterback last offseason, was instead passed over in favor of redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. Bell and Knight split playing time in 2013, but with Knight's four-touchdown passing performance in the Sugar Bowl, he enters the spring as the favorite to start once again.   

That left Bell with a choice to make: stay at quarterback and likely play as a backup in what will be a crowded group, or switch positions. The latter option could give him a chance to see the field sooner and more often. The Sooners haven't had a playmaker at tight end since James Hanna in 2011 and Jermaine Gresham before him.

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Since Bell is entering his final year of eligibility, it's understandable he wants to make the most of it. Maybe he has a future at the next level at tight end. Maybe Oklahoma will use him in a variety of different ways. 

The transition is going to take a lot of reps and development with Sooners tight end coach Jay Boulware, though. Switching positions, especially at this stage in the game, is rarely easy. Some players can make it look seamless, but that shouldn't be confused with the idea that it automatically is. 

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There's no doubt that Bell, at 6'5" and 252 pounds, is built like a prototypical tight end. The move certainly make sense on body type alone. 

Bell's also athletic, but there are different types of athleticism. Bell is a powerful, straight-ahead runner. He doesn't have great burst, but he's hard to bring down once he gets going. 

Knight, on the other hand, is more elusive. One type of athleticism is not inherently better than the other; rather, it depends on how coaches are looking to use it. Running the zone read or option was better suited for Knight, not Bell. 

Will Bell's athleticism translate to tight end? As B/R's Michael Felder explained in last week's mailbag, there is more to being a tight end than just athleticism. There are a lot of responsibilities, too:  

Tight end means doing a gang of things that Bell has really never done before. Putting his hand in the dirt. Firing off the ball. Crashing into people on purpose. Blocking for the run and for the pass. Running routes and catching footballs.

The modern picture of college football's tight end is that of a big-bodied pass-catcher, oftentimes split out into the slot. With tight ends becoming a larger part of passing games, it's easy to see why. It's likely that same picture is being painted of Bell. 

It brings to mind the conversation about former Florida Gators and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. As recently as last year, sites like ESPN pondered if Tebow could make the transition to tight end or H-back. 

However, former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe told CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson that transition doesn't just happen without the proper mental preparation

"It's a mindset," he [Sharpe] said without hesitation. "I don't know if he [Tebow] has the mindset for that. I understand that if you play in the National Football League everybody's tough, but there are levels of toughness. And for a quarterback to think he's going to play something elseespecially one of those positions...now a quarterback can move to wide receiver, but to move to a fullback, H-back or tight end, that's a whole different mentality. 

Bell has obviously put himself in the right mindset to change positions, or at least started the process of doing so. Now comes the physical part of the game. How will he do blocking at the line of scrimmage and at the second level? How good of a route-runner will he be?

Those questions will be answered as the 2014 season gets underway. Who knows, Bell may look like a natural from Week 1, or he may look lost and need all 12 regular-season games to figure out what he's doing. 

Whatever the outcome, there should be an appreciation—or, at the very least, an understanding—that Bell's transition from quarterback to tight end isn't a seamless one. It will be a big adjustment involving a lot of hard work. 

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. 

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