At this point last fall, the Bearkats coaching staff was still trying to figure out which players would start where on offense.
Quarterback was one of those positions where there was a high level of uncertainty.
With another year working within the offensive system in the spring and again in camp, sophomore quarterback Brian Bell has entrenched himself as the Kats’ starter.
“I’ve seen improvement out of all of (the quarterbacks). Brian has really picked up where he left off last year,” Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz said following Friday morning’s practice. “He had a great spring. He had a great summer.
“He’s our starter. He’s proven that in spring ball and here in camp. He’s done a very good job. We tell our guys that every day’s an interview. Every day, you’ve got to get better. Every day, you’ve got to improve. Every day, you’ve got to show what you can do.
“Brian’s a competitor and he knows that as well, but he is definitely our starter.”
Entering his second camp with the Bearkats, Bell, who logged victories in six of the nine games he started last season, admits to having a better grip on the offense, which gives Fritz and Co. a better plan of attack.
“It’s been a lot easier. We started off further down the road than we did last year,” Bell said. “It’s real nice having our first group in there and knowing who our starters are.
“It’s not a for-sure set of starters because we’re all still competing for our jobs and everyone’s pushing us, but it’s always good to know who you’re going to be next to in the first game.”
After putting together a solid season as a true freshman, Bell has progressed as coaches had hoped and has picked up more of the offense.
“He has really had a good preseason camp. He’s put on about 20 to 25 pounds of muscle,” Fritz said. “He’s a little faster than you think he is and he’s shown some improvement.”
“We’ve probably got about 25 percent more of the offense in than we did at the end of the season last year.”
Throughout camp, Bell has gotten plenty of competition from senior Greg Sprowls, transfer freshman quarterback Emory Miller and true freshman Chris Grett.
“Everybody needs competition. There’s no way to get better without competition. That’s the great thing about the quarterback position, there’s always someone there to push you,” Bell said. “The bad thing is that there’s only one quarterback on the field at a time.”
In the two previous intrasquad scrimmages, Miller has also shown explosive flashes, making big plays with his feet for several 20-yard-plus scrambles once he escapes the pocket.
“It’s kind of hard coming in, learning a whole new system. I’m just trying to learn the plays right now,” Miller said. “It’s been competitive, just trying to learn the plays and getting in and getting reps and just trying to fit in with the other guys.”
Sprowls has also been effective moving the chains and connecting with receivers on quick routes and screen passes.
“Greg Sprowls has gotten better. He was our third-team quarterback last year and I think he got a lot more command of the offense right now,” Fritz said. “This is by far the best he’s played since I’ve been here.
“Emory Miller, I don’t think he was in great shape coming in. He’s getting in really good shape. This is a brand-new offense for him, so he’s a lot further behind the other guys as far as terminology and philosophy of the offense and what we’re looking for, but I’ve seen him get better every day.
“Chris has also shown us some good things, but we may end up redshirting him this year.”
While Bell will be taking the majority of the snaps for the Kats, Fritz said that he’ll try to find ways to get the ball into Miller’s hands, which may translate into the speedy signal-caller lining up at receiver at times.
“He’s got some explosiveness that you just can’t teach. With every team, you try to find guys that can put their toe in the ground and get vertical, get wiggle and can make people miss. He’s one of our guys who can do that,” Fritz said. “We’ve got to find ways to get him the ball in space. One guy’s not going to tackle him in the open field.
“The guys talk about being an ankle-breaker and he’s done that about seven or eight times in camp so far. There’s some things he can do and we can also play him at receiver. We’re toying with that a little bit as well.”
Overall, Fritz said he’s been pleased with what he has seen out of his quarterbacks.
“I expected Brian to make this kind of progression,” the coach added. “I felt like Greg would get better. Emory, we knew about in high school and he got a year of experience, although a different system in Wyoming, but he’s got a year of college coaching and playing experience under his belt even though he was a redshirt.”
The Bearkats will hold two more intersquad scrimmages this week – today (Sunday) at 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Sam Houston will host nationally-ranked Western Illinois in the 2011 regular-season opener on Thursday Sept.1 at 6 p.m. in Elliott T. Bowers Stadium.