Oklahoma's Blake Bell had an up-and-down season in 2013. Entering the fall as a redshirt junior, he was tabbed as the frontrunner to replace departed quarterback Landry Jones. But while Bell started eight games last year, he eventually lost the starting gig to redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who starred in the Sooners' 45-31 Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama.
This spring -- heading into his final year of eligibilty -- Bell saw the writing on the wall. Instead of competing with Knight for playing time, Bell opted to move to tight end. The experiment has thus far been a success, and the 6-foot-6 Bell could be a unique threat in Oklahoma's passing game.
Bell had his moments of success last season; he led the Sooners on a game-winning drive at Oklahoma State on Dec. 7. With Oklahoma facing a 24-20 deficit with 1:46 to play, he engineered a 66-yard march that culminated in a seven-yard scoring strike to Jalen Saunders.
Still, Knight's emergence as the presumed starter for 2014 left Bell with a choice: Seek opportunities elsewhere or try something new. As he told ESPN at the beginning of spring practice, Bell preferred to stick with the program he loved.
“It was a tough decision,” Bell said. “Obviously playing quarterback was my dream, but another dream of mine was to play at OU. And I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to go anywhere, so that’s why I stayed around. I love these guys, love my teammates. I just wanted to get on the field somehow.”
Fortunately for Oklahoma, Bell has some experience outside of a typical quarterback role. The "Belldozer" carried 179 times for 627 yards and 24 touchdowns during his first three years in Norman. Sooners coaches hope that same physicality will translate to tight end, and the early returns have been positive. Head coach Bob Stoops told reporters on April 3 that Bell has a knack for his new position.
Former Oklahoma tight end Trent Smith, who played for the Sooners from 1998-2001, had some of the highest praise for Bell and his commitment to the program in an interview with The Oklahoman.
"First of all, the rollercoaster year he was on last year, I respect the hell of out him for sticking around, taking the leap of faith to change positions and fight that off," Smith said. "I can’t imagine going from a guy who wore a blue jersey in practice who never had to get hit, to now being a tight end, and you’re right in the middle of that thing knocking heads, going over the middle. I imagine it’d like being a prison warden and getting arrested, and put in the same jail you used to be the warden at. All the defensive guys wanna come after you. ‘I never got to hit this guy for four years; now I’m getting after him.’
“He could’ve transferred like Kendal Thompson or any number of guys you hear about across the country. If you didn’t believe he was a team-first guy before, I think the verdict is in and he is, undoubtedly. It’s a big deal, I think, that he decided to stay and take on that new position.”
Bell suffered a slight setback during the first week of April when he sprained his knee, which kept him out of Oklahoma's spring game. But Bell -- still a fan favorite -- made an impact on the Sooners' final spring scrimmage, this time with the fans.