One-time quarterback Blake Bell, in case you’re wondering, is all about being a tight end.
He’s taken to it, loves it, wants to continue to improve and hopes to one day soon earn an NFL roster spot with a number 80-something on his back.
“It has been a crazy ride,” Bell said as he prepared for Saturday’s East-West Shrine game in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he’s hoping to impress NFL scouts enough to get his name on some draft boards.
Bell, from Bishop Carroll, dreamed as a kid about playing quarterback at Oklahoma. And he realized those dreams – for a while.
After two seasons of being Landry Jones’ understudy, and a “Belldozer” ground weapon at the goal line, Bell became the Sooners’ starting QB in 2013. Until he wasn’t. He started 8 of 9 games, the last of which was a 41-12 loss to Baylor in which Bell threw two interceptions and was replaced by Trevor Knight.
He was the hero of the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State, coming off the bench to throw the game-winning touchdown pass with 19 seconds to play. But it was back to the bench for the Sugar Bowl.
And that was that.
Bell spent the last four games of the 2013 season in limbo, confused about what to do. He was finishing his junior season and was nearing completion of his communications degree. He considered transferring, but wasn’t sure he wanted to go through that process even if it meant potentially playing quarterback somewhere else. He thought about being a backup quarterback again, a role he knew well.
But then, Bell says, a light went off inside his head.
“I started having dreams, probably at the end of that 2013 season, of playing tight end,” Bell said. “Then I would wake up and think, ‘Absolutely not.’ It was weird, I had that dream every now and then.”
It was Bell who approached OU coach Bob Stoops about switching to tight end. Stoops presumably took a look at the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Bell and thought, “Why not?”
“I always had it in the back of my mind that I could play tight end,” said Bell, who played a season of wide receiver at Carroll before becoming one of the City League’s all-time best quarterbacks. “I thought I could catch the ball a little bit. I didn’t know how I would like it, though.”
Turns out, Bell likes playing tight end a lot. His numbers for the Sooners in 2014 were modest – 16 catches for 214 yards. But he had four touchdown receptions, second-best on the team.
“The first couple of games, it was a little rough getting down in the three-point stance,” Bell said. “But each and every game I think I got better and had fun with it. Even here at the Shrine game, I think I’m getting better with each practice.”
Before going to Florida for the Shrine game, Bell worked out at the Prolific Athletes facility in Carlsbad, Calif., spending time with former NFL wide receiver James Lofton. He’s scheduled to work out with San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates soon, too. Catching the football has come easy, Bell said. Blocking is the challenge.
“Trying to block those defensive ends and linebackers in the Big 12 was definitely hard,” he said. “But I felt like I got better.”
As much as Bell has taken to playing tight end, he admits to being devastated when Stoops made the decision to pull him as OU’s starter.
“It was a rough time for me,” Bell said. “That’s something that I did not want to have happen, but it did. Life throws you stuff like that and I’ve basically tried to take it as one door closing and another one coming open. I knew from some of the guys I had played with that the grass isn’t always greener. Some guys transferred and it was OK for them and for some others, it wasn’t. But I had a good career at Oklahoma and that’s where I wanted to stay.”
Bell’s father, Mark, a former tight end for the Seattle Seahawks, has also been able to provide a few tips of the trade.
“Joe Jon Finley (former OU tight end) kind of took Blake under his wing and I showed him some stuff,” Mark Bell said. “Really, Blake just had to learn how to be a lot more physical. Before, he had that blue shirt on and never got touched in practice. Now he’s blocking those big defensive ends and linebackers and catching passes and getting hit. He took some licks with that ‘Bulldozer’ role, too. But he’d never really blocked anybody in his life.”
Blake Bell says he’s left his quarterback days in the dust, never to return. He doesn’t throw footballs now, he catches them.
“I never envisioned this turn,” he said. “Obviously, people ask me about this change all the time and I would have always told them that I would be playing quarterback for the rest of my time playing football.”
But playing quarterback was taken away.
“We always thought big when Blake went down to OU,” Mark Bell said. “A big program like that with all that tradition – we felt like he’d be like Sam Bradford someday.”
It didn’t happen like that. But the Blake Bell story is still being told.