Spring Preview: Quarterback

Could Jason White be even better in 2004? See inside for White and Chuck Long's thoughts. Plus, Long talks about the battle between Paul Thompson and Tommy Grady for the No. 2 QB spot. (AP Photo/Sue Ogroki)

NORMAN, Okla. — For the first time in three seasons there is no quarterback controversy going into the spring, or at least there isn't one with anybody that knows anything about football or with anybody that counts within the OU football team.

Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jason White returns for his sixth year at OU and is firmly the No. 1 quarterback on the roster.

For 12 games no quarterback in the history of college football had the kind of year White had for the Sooners. For the regular season White earned the Heisman Trophy completing 64 percent (265 of 414) of his passes for 3,744 yards and 40 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.

Of course, disappointing efforts in the Big 12 Championship loss to Kansas State and in the Sugar Bowl to LSU left White with a sour taste in his mouth for the 2003 season. If anybody knows Jason White, they should know that he will come back for 2004 more determined than ever to be the best quarterback in the country.

"I don't see any reason why I can be a lot better player next year than I was this past year," said White. "I will get another off-season to get in better shape and in better condition. I will have another year of learning the offense and playing football again. Most of our starters on offense are back and that can do nothing but make me a better football player, and this will be another year for me in the offense. So, I really can't see any reason why I shouldn't be a much better quarterback next season."

It is a good thing that OU didn't play KSU or LSU earlier in the season, because if they had White would have missed most of the season with injuries. White hurt his hand in the Big 12 Championship game and injured a toe in the Sugar Bowl. During this past offseason White has wore a protective boot on his foot, a cast on his hand and he had his knee cleaned out with a minor surgery. Only recently has White been able to workout hard, and this spring he will only be required to refine his game.

"Jason will practice this spring and he is still on a learning curve," said Offensive Coordinator and quarterback coach Chuck Long. "People forget he has only been a one-year starter at the University of Oklahoma. Regardless of your age and classification at a school, the fact remains he has only been a one-year starter. I still think there is still growth there and he has barely scratched the surface as far as I am concerned.

"He will go through spring and he still has things to learn. However, at the same time Paul Thompson and Tommy Grady will get a lot of reps, and that is what you need. You try to get those back-ups ready to play and get them a lot of repetitions in the spring. With three guys only going in spring ball, they will each get a fair amount of reps."

How much White actually scrimmages is still to be determined. A year ago, White insisted on scrimmaging in the spring and earned the starting job because of that determination. This spring his situation is different, but knowing how competitive White is it wouldn't be surprising to see him go through all three scrimmages.

"That has not been determined yet, but Jason last spring got a little bit of scrimmage time and even played in the spring game," said Long. "I think in his case we will see where he is at and go from there. I expect him to be healthier going into training camp than he has been in a long time here. Obviously, the other two will get a lot of scrimmage time."

The real battle is for the back-up quarterback spot between the incumbent Paul Thompson and the hot-shot rookie Tommy Grady.

The 6-foot-6 Grady is more of the prototype quarterback all programs look for, but Thompson has been the back-up quarterback for the last two years and he has improved by leaps-and-bounds the last two years.

Thompson's speed and running ability is something that no other quarterback has on the Sooner roster, and that aspect alone makes him unique in the Sooner offense. Thompson has had a great offseason and the Sooner coaches feel he is ready to take a major step under center.

"Paul has been in our program for a while, but this spring is still very big for him," said Long. "He still has a lot to learn as he has had repetitions, but he will still tell you that he has a ways to go.

"Tommy Grady is not a guy that you throw everything at right away. You give him a little bit at a time and when he absorbs that little bit then you move on to the next step. There is a learning curve with quarterbacks. With today's blitzing defenses and the way you throw the ball today it is not an overnight success, because it takes some time."

Two years ago Grady was the fourth-ranked quarterback in the country out of Huntington Beach, Calif. He worked on the scout team a year ago and impressed the Sooner coaches and the Sooner defense with his throwing ability. However, he has not thrown with the varsity, and how quickly he picks up the system will be a key whether he can actually be a competitor for Thompson or not.

"I am excited to see what Tommy can do," said Long. "It is a long year being a scout team quarterback and a redshirt year is long for anybody. You have to take advantage of that redshirt year and learn and that is what he did. I am anxious to see what he can do this spring."

With only three quarterbacks on the roster all three will throw the ball a bunch this spring. However, in reality only two will actually be in competition as Thompson tries to hold off Grady for the No. 2 quarterback job.

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