Philadelphia, PA – For four seasons, Landry Jones provided stability at the quarterback position for the Oklahoma Sooners, finishing his storied career ranked third in FBS history in passing yards (16,646) and fifth in passing touchdowns (123), while winning three bowl games.
However, after Jones was selected in the fourth round of last week's NFL Draft to potentially be the heir apparent to the Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, the Sooners are left with a void under center.
The good news for the program is that Bob Stoops, who's approaching his 15th season as the Sooners' head coach, has had plenty of experience turning over elite play at the position, churning out All-American gun-slingers like Sam Bradford, Jason White and current OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, in addition to Jones.
Whether or not the next great Oklahoma quarterback is on the current roster remains to be seen, but in the early stages of the offseason, the three-horse race appears to be extremely tight.
The candidates - Blake Bell (junior), Kendal Thompson (sophomore) and Trevor Knight (freshman) - have all redshirted a year during the Jones regime. Each had his chance to showcase his skills in front of more than 29,000 eager fans during the team's April 13 spring game, and all three were able to make a strong case for the starting gig.
Bell, the only quarterback on the roster with any real game experience (10- of-20, 107 yards, INT during career), garnered the most snaps and finished the game 14-of-23 for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns, although he was sacked four times for negative-33 yards.
"Overall I though I made some good plays and was pretty accurate with the ball." Bell said of his performance. "I had some throwaways, and I can always get better in a lot of areas."
At an imposing 6-foot-6 and 263 pounds, Bell, despite being surprisingly mobile, fits into the typical Stoops mold at quarterback as a big, sturdy, strong-armed pocket passer, but in the ever-changing landscape of major college football, where spread offenses and mobile signal-callers are becoming more and more in demand, the program could look to make a switch in its style of offense.
Thompson and Knight, both of whom stand at a modest 6-foot-1, each possess the dual-threat ability to bring a new facet to the offense. Thompson finished the spring game completing 11-of-17 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 36 yards. Knight wasn't nearly as efficient with his pass attempts (8-of-15, 86 yards), but he also made things happen with his legs, picking up 35 yards on the ground.
Rushing output at the quarterback position has been non-existent for the Sooners in recent years - Jones finished his career with an eye-popping negative-375 rushing yards - so the prospect of having an extra dimension on offense certainly excites the coaching staff.
"Those guys did a good job at times stepping up in the pocket and getting out of it and making a play," Heupel said. "(The offense) will be different. Our guys will take off a little more than Landry probably did during the course of the game or season."
Oklahoma's decision on who will be calling plays when the 2013 season opens up at home against ULM on Aug. 31 is still a ways off, as Stoops and Heupel have stated that the competition will remain open well into the summer months. Much of the staff's decision will be riding on what kind of offensive game plan they will be implementing, but they have made it very clear to each of the candidates that, while the competition will be tight, the most important thing is having your competitor's back through the entire process, trusting that the final call will ultimately be what's best for the team.
"All three of us are around each other for, it seems like, 24 hours a day," Bell said. "We know we're competing but you're going to be competing at any school in the country. We have three good guys just competing and having fun with it and we're all just going to work hard each and every day, and that's all we can do."
"Like Coach Heupel's been saying, the guy that makes the least mistakes is the guy who's going to lead the team," Knight added. "All three of us are going to push forward. We have fun together and we're friends, (but) I'm going to work my hardest in the summer and into fall camp and see where we end up."
Stoops is without question one of the top coaches in college football, overcoming significant position turnover year after year to win greater than 80 percent of his games (149-37), and with his history of smart decisions in terms of his quarterback, he has proven himself to be one of the most qualified men in the nation to be making this decision. So no matter who the Sooners' go with, expect the team, as usual, to be in the thick of things in the Big 12 Conference this fall.