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March 12, 2012

OU still behind the Belldozer, still behind Jones

Sports have produced plenty of manias over the past year. No one in these parts has been all too thrilled to be reminded of Tebow hysteria in Denver. There was enough of that for Sooner fans when they took on Florida in the 2008 BCS National Championship game.

The New York Knicks' Jeremy Lin was another interesting situation where a player grabbed hold of a fan base and became bigger than a team - and for some, maybe bigger than the sport.

To say Blake Bell and the Belldozer, the Sooners' version of the Wildcat offense with a 6-foot-6, 255-pound quarterback, were anywhere near the level of Tebow or Lin last season would be stretching the truth. But it certainly has been one of the bigger manias surrounding OU football in the last few years.

The Belldozer's finest moment had to be last season's Insight Bowl, when Bell rushed for three touchdowns and carried the ball ten times for 51 yards.

For his efforts, Bell was named the Insight Bowl Offensive MVP.

Meanwhile, Landry Jones stood on the podium with a chipped tooth suffered after he scrambled from the pocket and took off downfield before taking a vicious hit from an Iowa defender.

The play by Jones picked up a first-down, a personal foul, and put the Sooners in position to score at the Iowa 7-yard line before Bell used his feet to pick up the rest of the yardage and put the Sooners up 14-0 in the second quarter.

For Sooner fans, it was the best example of what went right for Oklahoma's offense in 2011.

While Bell was being celebrated during the last half of the season, Jones was being criticized for not being able to move the offense as efficiently as he once did with a healthy Ryan Broyles.

Every touchdown from Bell seemed to generate more whispers from fans.

Would this cause division in the Oklahoma locker room? Will this cause division between OU fans?

Bob Stoops told a story the day after the Insight Bowl about Jones giving a hard time to Bell because he didn't shower after the game. Call it a precautionary tell to those who might turn the whispers into criticisms about who should be Oklahoma's starting quarterback.

"(Landry's) getting on to Blake because he isn't taking a shower," Stoops said back in late December. "He says, 'What? I only played nine or 10 plays.' And he gets the MVP? Can you believe they gave it to him? Jeez oh man.

"Give it to the guy who has the chipped tooth that got him down there, got sacked twice and overcame it."

There have been no outward signs of division from players concerning Jones and Bell. No derisive statements inside the interview room when Bell and Jones come up in conversation. No wayward Tweets or Facebook posts have leaked out to indicate any controversy.

Although most players and coaches know some fans and media would like nothing more than to have a Jones/Bell soap opera to report on and talk about.

They know second-guessing is a favorite pastime.

Inside the program, players and coaches still go out of their way to praise both players for their abilities and their individual contributions to the offense.

Everyone continues to stand behind both players and what they bring to the table offensively.

"It's pretty much the most effective thing we had," said starting offensive lineman Gabe Ikard of the Belldozer. "It worked well last year and we might as well keep it rolling.

"It's one of those things where Blake's skillset fits that package really well. Landry's the starting quarterback, but Blake's 255 or 260 and he can run and he's powerful. It's one of those things when you can find places to put players on the field in certain situations, then that's what you do."

Quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was asked just the other day if he worries about a chemistry problem because of the Belldozer and its effectiveness.

After all, it can't be easy for a potential first-round draft pick giving way to another player on 3rd-and-short at midfield.

"I appreciate Landry for this, and I think it says a lot about him because Landry doesn't care," he said. "He wants to score points. If he drives down the field to the two-yard line and drives the ball down the field and Blake goes in there for him, he's as happy as anybody. He doesn't care.

"At the end of the day, Landry came back for this reason, and why he chose (OU). He wants to win a championship. He wants to win another conference championship and an opportunity to play for the other one and that's pretty special too."

Maybe the best example that shows why these two can co-exist was best illustrated last year in Stillwater.

Down 44-3 with just over six minutes remaining, the OU offense took over. Bell finally broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown run giving the Sooners their only offensive touchdown of the game.

What did Bell do when the Sooners finally broke the seal on the OSU goal line?

He ran back to the OU sideline like nothing had happened.

No handshakes, no high-fives. He just scored and kept on running until he got to the bench.

Bell understood the situation. The Sooners were getting embarrassed. He wasn't interested in drawing attention to himself.

Bell also realizes he can be better. If he had any designs on the starting QB job at Oklahoma, he just needs a small reminder of his 0-for-2 passing stats in the Belldozer last season. One of those incompletions was actually an interception.

It's enough for some fans to question whether he can be a successful throwing quarterback at Oklahoma.

"Does it bother me?" asked Heupel of Bell's throwing stats in the Belldozer last season. "Yeah. If you're going to throw the ball you want to be efficient.

"But It's completely different," said Heupel of throwing the ball so close to the line of scrimmage with so many defenders crammed into the box. "It's completely different. Does it bother me or concern me that I think Blake Bell can't throw because he's 0-for-2 in the Bell package? No, it does not. But does it bother me that we're 0-for-2 in that package? Yes."

The Belldozer though, as a power running option, has been an incredible succes. It's something this staff has been criticized for in the past - a lack of ingenuity - although, you'll probably find every offense at major programs across the country being criticized for the same things.

This spring, sources tell SoonerScoop.com Bell has been working some at tight end to help out in practices (the Sooners only have two scholarship tight ends on the roster).

Just last week, Heupel laughed off the talk of Bell playing tight end.

"How many quarterbacks have you seen play tight end?" he asked. "There's not a lot."

But that doesn't mean Stoops and Oklahoma aren't committed to the Belldozer package.

Even if it does create the potential headaches of messaging egos and keeping tabs on the rumor mill, it works. And to take it away, after seeing it work so well a year ago, would be even worse than dealing with the potential drama it creates.

"There was a lot of thought that went into what we're doing," said Stoops, who rarely talks about Bell without mentioning Landry. "But, to be quite honest with you, if I'm gonna throw the ball on fourth-and-a-half-yard, I'm gonna leave Landry in there to throw it. That isn't gonna change."

As long as Jones and Bell don't lose track of this being about winning, it doesn't need to.



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