NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was talking about Johnny Manziel as his team prepared to face Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in the Cotton Bowl. Yet his words revealed the driving force behind the Sooners’ change in recruiting strategy at the quarterback position.
“Sometimes the worst thing you can do is cover everybody,” Stoops said in December.
It’s every defensive coordinator’s nightmare to play great defense, have all receiving options covered, then watch helplessly as the quarterback scrambles for a big gain. It happened time and time again during the Cotton Bowl as Manziel set a Cotton Bowl record with 516 total yards against OU.
The Sooners are hoping they’re on the positive side of that equation this fall and beyond. With Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, the Sooners have quarterbacks who can make defenses pay with their feet if they’ve run out of options through the air.
A glimpse at the skill set of OU’s quarterbacks has led to speculation that the Sooners offense would undergo drastic changes with a shift towards an offense that features the quarterback run game.
There are several signs that will not be the case, however. The Sooners signed four receivers on Wednesday, a sign that receiver-heavy formations are here to stay.
Most importantly, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel is very diligent on the recruiting trail in his search for athletic quarterbacks who are passers first. Mental makeup, intangibles, accuracy and arm strength sit alongside mobility on the Sooners list of priorities when recruiting quarterbacks.
OU’s 2013 quarterback signee Cody Thomas (Colleyville, Texas/Heritage) is the perfect example of what the Sooners are now looking for in a quarterback.
“He is one of the best athletes in the whole class,” Stoops said on Wednesday. “That’s what you want at quarterback.”
The Sooners’ 2014 quarterback offer Justice Hansen (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe) is in the same mold as Thomas and the quarterbacks already on campus. All five quarterbacks are quality passers who have the ability to create problems for defenses with their feet.
With an interesting battle to replace Landry Jones on the horizon this spring, expect OU’s starter, whoever wins the job, to end up with numbers more similar to Baylor’s Nick Florence or Arizona’s Matt Scott then Manziel, who rushed for 1,410 yards and passed for 3,706 yards for Texas A&M, or Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. In offenses that didn’t feature a large number of called quarterback runs, Florence and Scott each passed for over 3,500 yards while rushing for at least 500 yards in 2012.
Major changes don’t appear to be on the horizon for OU’s offense. Instead, expect a system that takes advantage of the athleticism of the Sooners quarterbacks while continuing to make its mark as one of the most explosive passing offenses in the nation.
“What it looks like might change a little bit,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “What we do offensively has always been to try to reflect our talent.”
All good offenses are organic and the Sooners’ offense will continue to change to take advantage of their personnel, much like it did in 2012 with the four-receiver set that became a staple in the second half of the season.
“I don’t see the overall style changing much,” Norvell said. “We want to take advantage our perimeter players whether it’s running backs, receivers or tight ends.”
Even though the Sooners will feature an athletic quarterback behind center in 2013, ultimately OU’s success offensively will rest on that quarterback’s arm, not his legs.