2014 Spring Prediction: The Blake Bell Move To Tight End Will Work (Kind Of)

Image via dallasnews.com

That headline warranted, in my opinion, a qualifier like ‘kind of’ mainly because of what I’ve seen from some with respect to the expectations being placed on Blake Bell as he makes the transition to the tight end position this spring. I’ve seen, in multiple places, people who follow OU and whose opinion I respect list Bell at the top of their projected TE depth chart.

Now it’s not fair on my part to assume these same people, by placing Bell at the top of the depth chart, believe he is going to come in and set the world on fire. The reasons to be skeptical are pretty obvious. (1) He’s never played the position before. (2) Blocking at 6’6″ 260+ seems like it would be easy(ish), it won’t. (3) Running routes isn’t quite as simple as ‘go down field eight or so yards and cut in.’

Yeah, I know he played some wide receiver in high school. But that was, what? Like six, seven years ago? And he wasn’t playing WR back in the day at 260 pounds.

Don’t get me wrong, the guy can and probably will make plays. I’m just saying the move isn’t going to be as seamless as I feel some are insinuating it might be.

I’m not here to tell you it’s impossible that he finds himself at the top of the depth chart at the end of this spring/summer. I’m just here to say I think it’s unlikely.

All that said, I still believe the move can be a successful one so long as OU fans are able to manage their expectations.

If you’re expecting Bell to win the starting job and/or the tight end position to become an important part of this OU offense again because — at least on some level — of his play, then you are probably going to be disappointed.

If you’re expecting Bell to contribute, at times, to this offense and maybe even come up with the occasional big play or two, then you are probably going to be pleased with the move.

I don’t believe Bell has to put up Jermaine Gresham type numbers for this move to TE to be considered a success. In fact, I think you can pretty much guarantee that’s not going to happen. But if the coaches can pick-and-choose their spots with him, maybe even come up with a package of plays that either feature him or utilize him to get others open, then I can certainly see that type of scenario helping this OU offense.

Despite all of the Josh Heupel evidence to the contrary, I do believe the tight end will once again become a part of this offense in 2014. But the guy I expect to play the lead role in that actually happening is Taylor McNamara.

Admittedly, that’s more of an hunch educated guess at this point as his one career reception doesn’t lend much credence to the theory. But he was in there at some key spots during the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, and I’m taking that as a sign of things to come.

McNamara was considered one of the best tight ends in the country back in 2012 for a reason. And, yes, recruiting services miss on kids all the time, but I don’t believe that’s the case here. I think the kid has struggled some with both (1) injuries and (2) the transition to the college game. But now entering his third year in Norman, if he’s going to make that jump this would be the time to do it.

Again, much like with Bell, don’t take that to mean I’m expecting McNamara to be the next Gresham. But if I’m betting on a guy to stand out at tight end this year, I am putting my money on McNamara being that guy.

I think some combination of an effective McNamara and Bell is certainly a reasonable expectation and, more importantly, would be a valuable asset to this OU offense. An asset, mind you, they’ve been missing for some time and one with a reliable intermediate target (or two) that could help take both the offense and Trevor Knight to the next level.

  • Sooner Ray

    Jordan , I was going to comment my thoughts on Bell’s roll but you pretty much covered the way I feel about it in your post so….nice job.!

    • Jordan Esco

      Thank you, sir

      • Mark hale

        I love Bell. His attitude and his love for OU makes him a special person. However, his quickness may be an issue, especially coming off blocks and getting into routes. Bell has decent top end speed and he’ll find ‘open space’ over the middle. He’s a competitor and he’s smart. He has ‘pedigree’ NFL training from his father and uncle. I would not rule him out at TE. He has a history of ‘rising to the occasion’. Thanks for the good article!

        • Jordan Esco

          Agree w/ a lot of what you said. Don’t mean it as a knock on Bell, but when has he shown that agility I feel you need as a route runner (even at TE)?

          Still think he can make plays, but I don’t think he’s going to be the nightmare match-up some think he’ll be.

      • Gary Robbins

        Excellent article as usual-thanks. If you was Heupel would you incorporate some Ace(no offense to our Zach) up the sleeve type play’s for Bell(as an x-qb). Just something that DC’s would have to worry about. McNamara is kind of like Alex Ross it’s time to turn that switch on.

        • Jordan Esco

          Not sure how ‘gadget’ I’d get w/ it, but if you’re going ahead w/ this move I see no reason to not come up w/ a “trick” play or two.

  • Steve Johns

    I’m not expecting much from Bell this year and still believe if Knight goes down early he’ll be back at QB. The sudden move to TE is still perplexing, with him being a Sr.

    • Alexander

      First, tip of the hate to Blake for being a great teammate and solid guy. Believe its going to be a very difficult transition for him. From watching his runs his footwork looks bad. Long strider with slow t
      acceleration, & turnover so getting in & out of breaks will be difficult. Be surprised if he ran more than 4 routes on the tree. Expect all of them in the 5-15 yard range aside from a possible screen with trips to let him get some YAC yards been good at. Bottom line is, Blake is a baller with ice in the veins. If there is a defining 4th down conversion or late score seeing Bell on the receiving end of that throw from Trevor as he’s scrambled from the pocket avoided the pressure with the receivers (resetting in a sense) making adjustments to their routes as they were initially covered & finding that open area of the field, the roommate & great friend of #9 will be there

    • nate g

      No, Cody Thomas is the passer. Bell is done at QB.

      • Steve Johns

        The comment was prior to the start of spring training and Stoops saying Bell wouldn’t be taking any snaps at QB.

  • Zack

    I think one thing to consider for bell is that knight seems like a really good dude, maybe the best role model at QB for a major school since Tebow. I think knight will look for bell when he’s on the field.

    • ToatsMcGoats

      A lot of people have compared Bell to Tebow. some have even been rude about it, calling him the “dime store version” of Tebow, but here’s the deal: Bell has more brains than Tebow simply because he GETS it. He knows he’s not going to be a successful QB at the next level, so he wants to give himself the best possible chance to help his team as well as himself at the same time. I personally love this kid!

      • Zack

        I compared bell to tebow myself as far as I thought he’d be a real motivator. We didn’t see much motivating from Landry and somewhat from Bradford who had his moments when it came to firing guys up. But yes Bell is a great teammate and I think he and Knight have a good bond and I look forward to them leading the team.

        • nate g

          I don’t put much stock into “see motivating”.

      • Sooner Ray

        I don’t understand why a lot of the radio guys think Bell was forced into TE instead of giving him credit for being smart and realizing his future potential.

        • soonerbred4ever

          When it was first announced that Bell was moving to tight-end, the writer said Bell and his Dad and uncle met with Bob to decide what the best move for Blake would be. If someone said he was forced to change positions, I would say they don’t have a clue as to what happened.

  • SoonerPhins

    I have a feeling, being his last year in Norman, that Bell will put all he has into the position. Whether its the starting job or back up duty, I think he will put in all the time and effort to excel at TE. Just have to wait until spring practice or game time to see.

  • SoonerfanTU

    Are we not expecting much out of the JUCO TE this year?

    • Jordan Esco

      I wouldn’t say that. I just think it’s going to be a group effort. And specific to Ijalana, OU’s JUCO guys have traditionally had a fairly steep learning curve. There are exceptions of course, but at TE I don’t see him being one of those this year.

      • wolfbuilder

        I pray that your wrong only do to the fact for us to have 2 good TE this year I think it will have to come from one the juco kid plus he is already working with the team and 2 I don’t expect much from Bell, and I hope I’m wrong there. 2 me Bell is the 3rd best ath at TE, the 3rd quickest and fastest from what I have seen on video, and with only 8 month or so to really learn how to block he might be the worst roster, and like I said I hope I’m wrong cause I’m a BIG BELL FAN but it might be the hardest pos to learn cause u have to put ur hand in the Dirt and get nasty with the big boy and also run routes and catch the ball

  • OUknowitscomin

    I love that he’s transitioning, kid is a player and wants to be on field as much as possible helping team. Regardless of success, the attitude is a great thing to have in huddle and around starters coming and going. While I was never a fan of him at QB, his leadership qualities & team 1st approach are a very valuable assets.

  • ToatsMcGoats

    From what I witnessed against Alabama, and from what I read in the “Notes from inside the program” articles (which are fan-friggin-tastic BTW) regarding the “badass offense” that we are going to run next season…I can’t help but think that Heuple was telling the truth when he said that the offense was “this close” to getting where it needed to be. I think that Bell will probably be used as more of a distraction than anything (at first anyway), but I believe that he will contribute in a positive way down the stretch. I really can’t wait for the spring game…

    • Sooner Ray

      Also love the notes from inside, good stuff.

  • Boomer4life

    I have nothing but high expectation for him, and it’s not just homerism. Bell plays with the heart of a Lion! He will do whatever it takes to be the best in whatever position he is in.

    • Sooner Ray

      Gotta love the hell out of a team first guy!

  • John

    Gawd I love this site!! Thanks. Good read and excellent analysis. I agree about McNamara. He was young coming in. Real young. Maybe now he has matured enough to make a difference in the offense.

    • Jordan Esco

      thanks for reading!

  • akbuc

    I don’t think that Bell will see any type of meaningful time as a TE. There are too many talented TE on the roster for him to see the field by the time falls around. He may still come in now and then in the old Belldozer package and he’ll definitely be a solid backup QB if Knight goes down, but OU has McNamara and a monster recruiting class of TE. At least a few of them are going to get the playbook down. They’re all faster than him. Bell has been a great Sooner, but he is what he is and that’s a QB not a TE.

    • nate g

      Nope. He’s going to be the guy. At least to start the year.

  • Eric Tauriainen

    JE – my expectations for BB @ TE are in line with yours. BB has already contributed in epic fashion and will go out a winner in my book of OU history no matter how his senior year turns out.

    • Jordan Esco

      I tend to agree. Trust me, I’d be happy to be wrong and would thoroughly enjoy him putting up 50 catches and 10 TDs. That would be fantastic.

      Just b/c I don’t think that will happen does not mean I’m rooting against it.

  • captfoss

    For my two cents, Blake Bell’s success at TE will be defined not by his production on the field during the season but his draft stock after the season is complete.

    I think Bell has what he needs to become an NFL-caliber talent, but I don’t think he has time for the light to come on soon enough for us to get the benefit of it.

    I think it’ll be like Lane Johnson moving to tackle, where he grows into an elite talent by the end of his first season… but we won’t be getting that full year of elite play out of him afterwards.

    This is in no way a criticism of, or knock on, Bell, because he’s been nothing but a team-first guy his entire career… but I see his move to tight end as entirely motivated to get him into the NFL, and as a result, I think that’s where you gauge the success of the move.

    • Sooner Ray

      Good point

  • nate g

    Bell will begin the season as OU’s starting TE. I’ll put $ on it.