Tight ends excelling for OU

Oklahoma could rely on a diverse group of resurgents

Every once in a while Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell will catch himself heading to the wrong group when quarterbacks coach/co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel calls.

He doesn’t belong there anymore. Bell knows it, and it’s his presence in the tight end’s room that could cause a resurgence of the position for the Sooners.

“We had great tight ends around here for a long time,” Heupel said. “... Some of what we were able to get back to last year was because of those guys inline at a tight end position. That’s something we’re looking forward to this year as well.”

It’s an eclectic group as well.

Bell is a veteran in years only because his time at the position has been short. Still, he provides an insight that most tight ends don’t have because of his experience at quarterback. Taylor McNamara has shown improvement in the run game to go along with his obvious skill set in the passing attack.

Aaron Ripkowski brings the toughness and plenty of it. While freshman Dimitri Flowers, a 6-foot-3 219-pounder, has shown incredible progress after coming to campus early and participating in spring camp.

“All of those guys, they’ll all have a role,” Heupel said. “They all have the ability to play at a high level.”

Where the biggest challenge lies for Bell and McNamara specifically, as the two guys atop the depth chart, is learning to how run block. Heupel said that has improved dramatically in the first dozen practices of the season. Pad levels are lower, hands are properly placed and the footwork is good enough to help Oklahoma seal the edge in its zone-blocking schemes.

“We’ve got four guys in our room that can be really, really big playmakers,” McNamara said. “I’m excited. I just want the year to get here. It’s close.”

Both McNamara and Bell were named to the Mackey Award Watch List, which is given annually to the top tight end in the country. McNamara has just one reception in his first two seasons because of injuries and illness, and Bell has yet to step on the field for a game as a tight end – high school or college.

But the two have leaned on each other, learning new ways of playing the position from the other’s experience.

“We know we’re competing out there. I don’t think it’s really like that,” Bell said. “I think we’ve grown closer actually, being in the same room now. He can kind of tell me some tips because he’s been playing the position and I can give him tips from playing quarterback and seeing coverages and stuff like that. It’s been fun.”

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