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Quarterback Race
With season under his belt, Jones figures to have inside track on starting job

As Oklahoma’s 2009 season wound down, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson was asked if it was safe to assume that Landry Jones would be the Sooners’ starting quarterback in 2010.

“I don’t think that’s ever been the case here, that anyone has locked up any spots,” Wilson responded. “You have to earn it in practice, earn it with your work, continue to improve. We’ve had young players come in, and we try to give those players opportunities to play…

“You’re going to have to earn it, with your work and your play and your performance. Quarterback is a position where the guys have to respect you. Just because you’ve done it in the past, there are no guarantees.”

There was no hidden agenda in that statement, no message to Jones to take his looming offseason seriously. It was a simple statement of principle.

Behind Jones, the 10-game starter in place of an injured Sam Bradford last year, sits Drew Allen. He is a redshirt freshman who has been in the program over a year, a former PrepStar All-American at San Antonio Alamo Heights who closes in on his potential with every day he’s on campus.

You could see that on Allen’s first completion of the Red-White Game back on April 17, a 58-yard lob to Jaz Reynolds to convert on third-and-18. Bob Stoops credited Allen’s development throughout spring practice, not just Jones’.

Next on the list sits Blake Bell. He is another prep All-American from Wichita Bishop Carroll who arrives at OU this summer having drawn physical comparisons to Ben Roethisberger.

Last February, the day the Sooners signed him, Stoops was asked what he liked about Bell.

“Everything,” he answered. “He’s a talented guy when you look at his ability to throw the football. He’s an excellent pocket quarterback, which is a staple of what we do. But I also think Blake is more athletic, maybe, than any quarterback we’ve signed as far as being able to pull the ball down and run.
He’s a guy that I believe is gonna be big enough — being 6-6, you know, he’s 220 now, but he could be 250 easily — that you don’t mind running six or seven times a game… He’ll have the physical presence to do that, and he has the feet to do it.

“But more than that, again, we love the arm. You love that he’s a winner; brought his team to the state championship game. The guy had nine touchdowns in one game. I forget, five and four, which was pass, which was run. But counting to nine is pretty special.”

Now, will a session of summer workouts and one preseason camp be enough to prepare a player with Bell’s talent to start at a place like Oklahoma? That’s a tall order for any true freshman.

Barring an injury to either Jones or Allen, Bell could end up redshirting this fall.

Realizing that Wilson was serious about his open competition statement, look for Allen to settle in as Jones’ backup.

There are obvious reasons to hand the offense back over to the 6-4 sophomore from Artesia, N.M. Like the 418 yards he threw for in OU’s Sun Bowl victory over Stanford, a school record. And the six touchdowns he hurled against Tulsa last September, another school record. And the 3,198 yards he racked up on the season, an OU freshman record that used to belong to a player by the name of Sam Bradford.

The Sooners will want Jones under center for that production, and for the stability he brings to a blossoming offense. Wide receivers Reynolds and Dejuan Miller as well as offensive linemen Ben Habern, Stephen Good and Tyler Evans were forced to grow up with Jones in OU’s injury-ravaged ’09 season.

Now, they’re all better off for having gone through the experience together, and, along with veteran stars like Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray, poised to break through in ’10. Stoops and Wilson are fond of saying a quarterback is only as effective as his supporting cast. Jones’ cast should do him a lot of good this fall.

What’s more, they want to make him look good.

“Guys respect him,” said Joey Halzle, Bradford’s old backup who was a graduate assistant on the OU’s ’09 staff. “They see how hard he works. They know who he is. They play hard for him.”

This has been the case since Bradford went down just before halftime of the ’09 opener against BYU.
“When Sam was healthy, he was the boss,” Stoops said. “Landry’s sitting there quiet and paying attention. But I mean to tell you, as soon as Sam was down against BYU, he was on it. It was maybe a little surprising how natural it was for him. He didn’t blink a bit, and players sensed that. They were right with him right off the bat.”

By the regular season finale against Oklahoma State, Murray was saying: “Landry has been a great leader since he started playing. I haven’t heard anyone talk about Sam in a very long time.”

Imagine the kind of command Jones should bring to the Sooners this season, now that he has last season under his belt. He should carry himself with more confidence, and be a more polished football player.

“The one area where you can tell Landry’s gotten better is moving in the pocket and extending plays,” Wilson noticed during the spring. “Landry is much more confident moving around, extending the play and not getting a negative play.”

“Oh yeah, he’s feeling comfortable,” added Broyles. “Down the stretch last year, I’m sure he got more comfortable. He didn’t just throw me the ball. It might have looked that way. But you can tell, he’s taking his progressions.”

Jones is figuring out how much faster he has to be, and not just with his reads.

“When I first went in there, I noticed how the game was quicker,” he said. “In games people were flying around faster than they would in practice. That’s one thing I had to get used to.”

Jones approaches the 2010 season much more adept at handling speed rushers, blitz schemes and disguised coverages. He’s more adept at handling a lot of things.

Halzle made an interesting point during the course of Jones’ trial-by-fire freshman season: “You go from being a guy to THE guy overnight. The difference between that is huge. Not that the quarterback is the whole team, but people look at you. You’re now in the spotlight. You went from being kind of in the backdrop to the spotlight in one play.”

Jones showed up for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes fundraiser in Enid recently. According to the Enid News and Eagle, his appearance filled 50 tables.

“I think this has helped me with my leadership,” he told the newspaper. “I’m becoming more vocal and more comfortable talking with big crowds.”

That’s translating to the field.

“Landry plays with a lot of poise,” noted Miller. “He doesn’t seem to really get rattled like he did last year. He’s been in the system.”

“Being behind Sam Bradford, you’re going to get developed working behind him if you work hard,” explained tight end Trent Ratterree. “Honestly, I’d call him a carbon copy, as far as work ethic goes.”
And what about the rest?

“Landry has all the tools to be an incredible quarterback,” Halzle said. “He’s got a really strong arm. He’s an athletic kid, a big kid, and he cares a lot. He’s always doing what he can to be a great player.

“I don’t see anything holding him back to becoming a great player.”

That includes a quarterback competition that will remain open, officially, until Jones closes it during two-a-days next August.

It’s like he said at that FCA fundraiser: “I’m stepping into a bigger role with Sam gone. It’s my team to lead. It’s my thing.”

(Editor's Note: This story appears in the 2010 Football Preview Issue of Sooner Spectator. To read more or subscribe, call 405-488-0242 or go to our online store... http://www.soonerspectator.com/catalog/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=1&zenid=7tu8e7pp68trrl2pd4hrup1js3)