NORMAN, Okla. -- Few people are better prepared to explain how new Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight can test opponents defenses than Mike Stoops.
The Sooners defensive coordinator looked on as Knight opened eyes while running the scout team offense in 2012, then watched this August as the redshirt freshman continued to make plays against his defense during preseason scrimmages. First he learned to respect Knight’s ability, now he’s quick to praise his skills.
“He can make explosive plays,” Mike Stoops said. “He can make a bad play [into] a good play, he has that uncanny ability to make plays on his feet and he can make plays with his arm."
It’s fair to say Mike Stoops is a fan of OU’s decision to name Knight its starter over Blake Bell, who was the favorite to land the job.
Eyebrows raised around the country when the Sooners turned to a quarterback who has never played a game over Bell, who has spent the past three years preparing to be a starter including two seasons playing a short yardage role in the offense. But Knight beat out Bell for the job during the offseason and preseason camp by combining his terrific physical abilities with strong leadership traits and a solid grasp of the OU offense.
“It’s fair to say overall, through all of these practices, there’s just been more consistency [from Knight],” coach Bob Stoops said Monday. “He’s very athletic, has great speed, he’s got a very strong football he throws, quick release and he’s a strong leader.”
While Bell was playing an active role with the Sooners, scoring 11 touchdowns as the Belldozer in OU’s short yardage offense last fall, Stoops still noticed Knight’s unique ability as he quietly redshirted. It was at that point the Sooners veteran coach started to realize his redshirting freshman had some special abilities.
“I saw it every day at practice running the scout team,” Stoops said. “You see it early in the year then in the middle of the year it’s like, ‘This doesn’t change, it’s every day. This guy is on the mark, he throws a great ball.’ Watching practice a year ago we’d sometimes shake our head, ‘Wow did you see what he just did?’ He was making plays like that in practice quite often.”
Making plays on the scout team offense and running the Sooners’ attack are two different things. The mental tests increased during the spring and preseason as Knight had to start running the Sooners offense, including the reads and progressions required, instead of making pre-conceived reads as a scout team signal caller.
All the physical gifts would have meant nothing if Knight could not show Stoops and the Sooners’ coaching staff he had the ability to mentally process everything as well during the past eight months.
“I think for any young player it comes down to consistency and limiting mistakes and getting us into the best things we can get in,” Mike Stoops said. “And he’s done a great job of that.”
The decision to go with Knight is a clear sign the Sooners believe he is mature beyond his years with the ability to run the offense at a high level. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said during preseason camp that the Sooners’ starter will be expected to play at a high level from Game 1 and Bob Stoops reiterated that point on Monday. Stoops said the Sooners won’t strive to ease Knight into the heat of battle simply because he’s a freshman.
“He’s got to come out and run the offense,” Bob Stoops said. “Coach Heupel is very good at what are [their] favorites, the things he really likes and play to his comfort early, but you have to run your offense.”
His teammates, who were the first to start praising his talents in 2012, are confident he's ready to accept the challenge and have noticed a change in Knight since those days of making big plays against the No. 1 defense.
“He’s done a great job from then to now, we’ve seen him mature,” cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “His game has matured a lot, he just goes out there and makes plays, he can do it with his feet or in the passing game.”
As a defensive player who has had to deal with the likes of Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Geno Smith and Ryan Tannehill during his first three seasons in crimson and cream, Colvin knows how difficult it is to defend passing quarterbacks who can also take off and run. Therefore, it excites him to think Knight might be able to do similar things for OU’s offense in 2013.
“It opens up a lot of things for those guys on the offensive side,” Colvin said. “Receivers can find a way to get open longer, he can make more time for them. But he can still throw, it’s not like there’s a drop off in passing. His running game opens up a lot of options for them. I have all the confidence in the world in Trevor, I’m excited to see him show what he can do.”