Number 2: Quarterback
Each spring, the quarterback position is always one of the most watched and anticipated positions. In the spring of 2005, you had the much-anticipated battle between junior-to-be Paul Thompson and redshirt sophomore Rhett Bomar. When the smoke cleared, the competition was still too close to call.
But Bomar eventually won the position two games into the season and showed signs of developing into a big-time collegiate quarterback.
This spring, there is no quarterback controversy or race — at least at the beginning. However, that doesn't mean that the position is void of intrigue. Gone is offensive coordinator and very successful quarterback coach Chuck Long; in is former Sooner quarterback great Josh Heupel, who has a national championship on his resume.
Heupel comes to OU from Arizona, where he was the tight ends coach for Mike Stoops. The opportunity to return home to teach the quarterback position was just too much for Heupel to pass up. Now, he will look to establish his own style of coaching within the OU offensive system.
"There is no doubt that there are always adjustments that you have to make," said Heupel. "Spring football is there to get your young players a lot of reps. We have young quarterbacks in Rhett and Joey Halzle that need to push hard in those 15 days and get a lot better throughout the course of spring ball.
"It is also a time where you get a chance to implement new ideas and tinker with some things that you didn't do the past year. Or you change some of the things that you did the previous year. It is a great opportunity for us to tinker and mold our offense and find out what we are going to be heading into the 2006 season.
"We do have a lot of changes with the offensive staff," Heupel said. "With the new O-Coordinator and myself at the quarterback position, I know for me it is time to kind of change some of the things that I might want to do differently than the previous coach at my position, and it will be a good opportunity for the players to get comfortable with what we are going to be doing. Change is a positive thing for the most part. Coach Long did a lot of great things with the quarterbacks.
"Obviously, with some of the things that I will be doing there will be some carryover, but there will be some changes as well. As a quarterback you look forward to it and wait with anticipation for some of the changes that can make you a better football player."
Bomar has established himself as the starter of the present and the future, but at Oklahoma that only means if he continues to play well.
The Sooners went out and signed a very talented junior college quarterback in Joey Halzle (6-4, 212, 4.65) from Golden West Community College in California. Halzle threw for 2,077 yards and 13 touchdowns this past season. Better yet, Halzle was able to sign with the Sooners at semester so he could participate in spring football.
"Everybody on our team is pushed by another great player. We all know that we can't go out there and relax and play terrible all spring," said Bomar. "I can't throw bad passes all spring. That would never be good. I feel that I am the guy and that I am going to be the guy here until I leave. I am confident about that, but I am going to go out in the spring and try to improve even more and just try to play my game and not worry about anything else.
"If I continue to improve and play up to my top capability, then I will have nothing to worry about. I am looking forward to spring football just so I can get back on the field with my teammates. We finished on a great note in the Holiday Bowl and we take a lot of momentum into the spring. I am looking forward to seeing how that makes us a better offense in the spring."
Bomar started all but one game a year ago and finished the season completing 167 of his 308 passes for 2,018 yards and 10 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
"I am looking forward to working with Rhett for the first time," said Heupel. "There is no doubt about that. Rhett is a great competitor. That was easy to see during the brief time that I was around him during the bowl preparations. He is an extremely bright young man and he has all the physical tools that you want in a quarterback."
"Physically, he is a big, strong kid with a strong arm, great feet and he can make plays outside of the pocket. He can run the ball down the field and he is a great competitor who loves to win in everything that he does. He demands a lot out of himself and the people around him. When he handles all of his attributes, I think he has a chance to go a long way."
This spring will be Halzle's first time practicing at the D-I level and Heupel is looking forward to getting a first-hand look.
"I think the first day out there in a new system, the speed of the game will be extremely fast to him and it will be a big change from junior college football," said Heupel. "I think he will make tremendous strides from the first spring practice to our spring game and last spring practice. I think he is an extremely bright kid, as he picks up things very quickly on the board. But I know that is different than live action under center. I think he has a chance to be a good quarterback for us."
Halzle is also certainly looking forward to the opportunity to compete.
"Obviously, Rhett is a very good player and he is considered the starter," said Halzle on the day he committed to OU.
"However, I am looking forward to going to Oklahoma to compete for the job. Competition is what athletics are all about and I am going to Oklahoma to compete for the job. I was told that I would be able to go in and compete for the job. They told me that they would play the best player — whoever that turned out to be. I can't wait to get involved with the program and I am looking forward to spring practice so much."
"Both of the quarterbacks that we have heading into spring ball are extremely bright and they both pick up things easily," said Heupel. "I am very excited to get the chance to work with Rhett and Joey and see how the competition unfolds."
Just this week, we caught up with Joey and he reports that he's currently weighing in at 205 pounds, but says that Jerry Schmidt would like to see him play at 210-212 this fall. We asked him about other aspects of Schmitty's workouts.
"This is definitely the most difficult workout program I've ever gone through. What I like about it is that everything is geared to making you a better football player. There is no time wasted out there on anything else. You are working hard and it takes a lot of discipline and mental toughness, but that's why Oklahoma is winning championships, because of the workout program we are going through right now."
Halzle has never had a problem in the classroom and attended a year of junior college for physical maturity. We asked him to compare his first month at OU to his last year at Golden West C.C.
"Junior College really didn't prepare me for what I found when I got here." He said. "The all-around situation is a lot better here because of the support structure you have at OU. Times and schedules are all laid out for you, and that allows you to stay disciplined. If you want to stay on track here, it's easy to do because they really have a great system in place for student athletes. So, all in all, it's much better than junior college. For me, it's been a good adjustment."
Halzle's arrival provides a perfect solution to a missing link for OU, which needs more than one quarterback going through spring. But it's also a great thing for Joey Halzle, as he can immediately get quality reps, mature and develop without a lot of pressure on him.
Obviously, Halzle has it together and is also bright enough to realize that he has to learn the offense before he can worry about trying to immediately unseat Bomar. So, we don't have a controversy at quarterback in the spring, but we do have competition. And with the quarterback position, that always makes things interesting.
Key to Spring: Can Rhett Bomar continue to improve at the same pace he showed last fall as he ended his first season by winning the Holiday Bowl MVP award? And, can Joey Halzle learn enough of the offense and develop physically to provide Bomar and the Sooners a quality fallback in 2006?
Prelude to Spring: Quarterback
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