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Bradford's decision allows Sooners to move on
NORMAN, Okla. -- After weeks of uncertainty over whether Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford would be able to finish the season as Oklahoma's quarterback, his teammates are moving on with the knowledge that he's not coming back.
Bradford's announcement that he'll have season-ending surgery and enter the NFL draft clears the way for backup Landry Jones to take ownership of the team for the rest of this year, and perhaps beyond.
"There's a little relief," said Jones, who has thrown for 1,363 yards and 13 touchdowns while replacing Bradford.
The initial prognosis suggested that Bradford could return as early as two weeks after he sprained a joint in his right shoulder in Oklahoma's season opener against BYU. Instead, it ended up being five weeks -- with three solid weeks of questions about when he'd return -- before he played again.
Then in his second game back, Bradford got hurt again -- bringing on another round of questions until he announced his plans Sunday. Without Bradford, the Sooners (4-3, 2-1 Big 12) lost three times and fell out of the national championship race after playing in the BCS title game last season.
"I don't think Sam, by any means, has held us back from just all the talk," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday. "I think you guys overestimate what kids pay attention to."
Stoops said the way the finality of Bradford's decision can help Oklahoma is that Jones, a redshirt freshman, can accelerate his development by getting more practice time the rest of the season, not by eliminating distractions or uncertainty.
"They understand Sam's situation, " Stoops said. "So there isn't anybody [that[']s] been slowed by this, as far as the uncertainty of what his path was going to be."
Ryan Broyles, the Sooners' leading receiver, said Jones can take more initiative now that his role is solidified.
"He knows that he doesn't have to worry about if he's going to be starting this week or how many reps he's going to get. He knows he's the man right now," Broyles said. "That definitely gives him confidence."
While Bradford was recovering, Oklahoma tried to get both quarterbacks ready to play by having one run plays during practice while the other would stand several steps behind and go through the motions.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Drew Allen is now the No. 2 quarterback, although he hasn't decided yet whether he would want to pull the freshman's redshirt simply to get him some game experience. Walk-on John Nimmo played in mop-up duty instead of Allen earlier in the season, when Bradford still was expected to return.
"It's not good not having a very good player in Sam," Wilson said. "Like I said a couple weeks ago, I thought we had two quarterbacks. Now I'm not sure. We've got one, and now the other guy hasn't played.
"The only thing is at least you kind of know here is where you're at. You're not in a wait-and-see deal, with all the hype that goes on: 'What's the timeline?' or 'Sam could be back.'"
Jones said no amount of practice time could have aided his development as much as playing in every game this season.
On Saturday, Jones had a career-high 26 completions for 252 yards and two touchdowns in Oklahoma's 35-13 win at Kansas -- his first road victory.
"He's definitely stepping up. He's feeling more comfortable out there," Broyles said. "Now that Sam's out, I guess he can feel like he can be more of a leader and more of a vocal leader. We all know that he can play football."
Jones won over his teammates early on by speaking out in the locker room at halftime of the BYU game after Bradford was injured. He followed that with a school-record six touchdown passes two weeks later against Tulsa.
"I think after Sam went down that it was Landry's team," left tackle Trent Williams said. "Knowing that Sam had that shoulder, we weren't real sure on how much we could count on him staying healthy."
Jones said he doesn't expect to receive the same kind of attention as Bradford and even suggested that his girlfriend, Whitney Hand, was a bigger star at Oklahoma as a starter for the Sooners' women's basketball team that went to the Final Four last season.
Eventually, though, the expectations will fall to Jones as he takes over for the leading passer in school history.
"Obviously, it's extremely hard. Sam's a great player," Jones said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks to ever come through this school, a Heisman Trophy winner, so I have some big shoes to fill."