At the beginning of the season, the wide receiver position was a position of serious concern for the Oklahoma Sooners.
Only one receiver on the roster had a catch at the Division I level (Kenny Stills), and the rest were freshmen and one junior college transfer (Lacolten Bester). Returning veterans Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks had been suspended indefinitely, and Kameel Jackson had been dismissed from the team.
Then, things began to change for the Sooners. First, Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma from Penn State, filling both a leadership and experience void for the Sooners. Second, the Sooners began playing games and discovered their young receivers, particularly freshman Sterling Shepard, were more ready for game action than originally had been thought. Then, before the Texas game, the Sooners received word from the NCAA that Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders, originally ruled ineligible for the 2012 season, could in fact play this season.
Now, eight games into the season, the wide receivers unit is a team strength instead of the liability everyone thought they would be.
That was evident on Saturday against Iowa State, when OU quarterback Landry Jones hit nine different players for completions, six of them being wide receivers. With Saunders now in the mix, the Sooners have a potent lineup of starting receivers with Saunders and Shepard on the inside and Stills and Brown on the outside.
One of the biggest reasons the new wide receivers have developed so quickly (besides the fact they're talented) has been the leadership of Jones. Early in the season, Jones stayed after practice with the receivers, working on timing and rhythm, gaining a feel for each other in the process.
That extra work has translated to the field, where just under 50 percent of the Sooners' completions this season have gone to receivers who weren't on the roster last season. While that might seem like an obvious statistic, you have to remember that Jones hasn't always been the best at distributing the ball amongst his receivers.
Jones had a special connection with former OU receiver Ryan Broyles, and he used that connection a lot while Broyles was at OU. Broyles had 31.6 percent of OU's completions in 2010 and 29.7 percent in 2009, and that's out of all OU's completions, not just completions from Jones. That percentage is probably much higher.
This season, even though Jones has an obvious security blanket in Stills, his lone returning receiver, he has not used that to the same extent he used Broyles. Stills has been the leading receiver in four of the Sooners' eight games this season, and only in the first two games against UTEP and Florida A&M was he the leading receiver by more than one reception.
The reality is, Jones spreading the ball around to different receivers, and giving them the opportunity to develop in games has as much to do with this unit's maturation as anything. It's also another sign Jones has matured quite a bit more than most have given him credit for.
The Sooners' offense has been getting better and better throughout the season, thanks in large part to the development of a group of receivers that everyone originally thought would be a major hindrance to the team this season.
It's taken time, and a lot of extra hard work, but the results are very positive, and with how young some of the receivers are, there's still plenty of room to get better.
|Opponent||Players with receptions||Receptions for Kenny Stills||WRs with receptions|
|UTEP||7||6- led team||3|
|Florida A&M||9||10- led team||5|
|Texas Tech||7||7- led team||5|
|Kansas||8||6- led team||5|