OU Receiver Kenny Stills Needs To Be The Leader This Season
NORMAN, Oklahoma - For once, the focus on the Oklahoma Sooners offense doesn't lie on quarterback Landry Jones. Of course, there will still be those detractors who feel the all-time leader in just about every passing category at OU isn't good enough, but those people just can't be helped.
Instead, the beady eye of scrutiny has been turned on the two-tone mohawk man, wide receiver Kenny Stills.
When Ryan Broyles went down with an ACL injury last season, everyone turned to Stills to pick up the slack, and be the leader for the wide receivers. Instead of being impressed with a young players' ability to step into the spotlight, people were sorely disappointed when Stills not only failed to produce, but also seemed to shy away from the spotlight.
This season, the Sooners can't afford for Stills to shy away from the spotlight. Not with four freshmen wide receivers that are going to be counted on in a big way this season. Those players need leadership, and it has to come from Stills, the only wide receiver on the roster with any playing experience.
Saturday, co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell was brutally honest in regards to Stills and how he was progressing as a leader. What he said wasn't necessarily the most comforting thing he could have said about the most veteran wide receiver on the roster.
"We had a long talk at the end of spring practice, talked about a lot of things, and basically took the gloves off on where he's at as a football player," Norvell said. "He's got a long ways to go as a football player, but I think he's made a lot of strong (progress)."
Whoa. But wait there's more.
"He's right there," Norvell said. "He's played really well at times, he's shown special things, but he's been inconsistent. Really good players aren't inconsistent. We need him offensively to be the guy that plays great all the time."
Norvell is certainly correct in that assessment of Stills. In his freshman season of 2010, Stills had 61 catches for 786 yards and five touchdowns. A year later, Stills had the same number of catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown catch in Tallahassee against Florida State.
After Broyles' injury, Stills had 20 catches for 239 yards, fairly modest numbers, but zero touchdowns. Now, that's not all on Stills, but it's also not all on his quarterback either. There's plenty of blame to go both ways for that goose egg.
Simply put, Stills wasn't ready a year ago to be the No. 1 option. When that opportunity presented itself, he caved.
Lots of fans blamed Stills' personality for the downfall. Stills is constantly chirping on Twitter, and this summer, a picture surfaced of Stills in a dress. It was a friend's who was a bridesmaid in former OU basketball star Cade Davis' wedding.
Stills certainly is a flamboyant character, but Norvell said his personality is his own and shouldn't affect his leadership ability.
"Kenny's big personality, that's his personality," Norvell said. "I don't think he's ever going to lose that, but he does need to make better decisions and be more mature at times."
Now, there was a positive side to all of this as well.
Regardless of what happened last year, Stills is coming around and becoming the leader the coaching staff expects him to be.
"It's only been two days but Kenny has been very positive, very much a leader," head coach Bob Stoops said. "That's been a really good sign."
The most resounding comment came from Norvell, and although it was directed toward Stills, it's a universal truth when it comes to leadership in general.
"He's going to be a leader either way," Norvell said. "It's just whether he's doing it the way we want it. That's the challenge."
So far, it seems Stills has accepted the challenge and is leading the way the coaching staff desperately needs him to. With more maturity and consistency, Stills can become that No. 1 option his quarterback and his team need to be successful in 2012.