- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Sooners added one of the top sophomore receivers in the country over the weekend.
Jalen Saunders, who led Fresno State in receiving while earning All-Western Athletic Conference honors last season, announced he’s transferring to Oklahoma. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Saunders had 50 catches for 1,065 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns in 2011, and had another 30 catches and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2010. Saunders also made an impact in the return game during his time with the Bulldogs, returning 32 kickoffs for 743 yards. He’ll have to sit out this year, but will be eligible for the 2013 season.
SoonerNation spoke with the Fresno Bee’s Robert Kuwada, who covered Saunders at Fresno State, and the Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson, who has followed Saunders’ career all the way back to high school, about the latest addition to the OU wide receiving corps:
What is Saunders' biggest strength?
Kuwada: Speed. In the league he played in, people couldn't cover him 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Davidson: Jalen has terrific speed, NFL-type speed. He has excellent hands, works hard and just blows by people on the outside.
Where can he improve?
Kuwada: Catching the ball, he can be a little more consistent. He needs to expand, and be more than a deep guy. Just some all-around consistency. Do a little more than just be a guy on the outside that can fly down the field.
Davidson: Like any player, Saunders needs to get stronger, fall in love with the weight room, and continue to be a better blocker.
Is he capable of being an impact returner?
Kuwada: Definitely. He can return kicks and punts. He's got that kind of speed. He catches the ball, and can do both, without a problem. They didn't use him last year, they had some other guy, didn't want to overuse him. He would have been an improvement over what they were doing if they had used him in that role.
Davidson: Saunders can absolutely impact a game on returns. Speed works wonders in the open field.
What kind of personality does he have?
Kuwada: He's a good kid. He got kind of down in the spring, didn't really like his role and what they were trying to do with him.
Davidson: He's a very low-key, friendly fellow, well liked, very much appreciated. Fresno State fans are very disappointed he's leaving. There's nothing like suddenly trying to replace a deep threat who had 12 touchdown catches.
Was where he was being used the main reason for him wanting to leave?
Kuwada: Talking to his father about it quite a bit, he sees himself more of an outside guy. I think he could be really effective at both, but he wants to play on the outside.
Davidson: Like so many others in the college game, a new coach and scheme doesn't fit for everyone. Saunders is used to being a down-field threat from the outside. The new Fresno State coaching regime tried him out as a slot receiver, a lot of over-the-middle stuff, during spring drills. That didn't fit him. He took visits to Washington, Sacramento State, Texas A&M. Yes, Oklahoma is a big step up in overall competition than what Fresno State sees, but Saunders will make an impact. He'll have a year to learn the system, get acclimated.
Where does he fit in best in an offense?
Kuwada: Given what he wants to do, I'd leave him on outside. But matchup wise on the inside, he'd be a tough matchup for any opponent. You couldn't leave a linebacker there, that's for sure. He could play inside, but that's not where his heart is. So I'd let him play outside and let him use his ability.
Davidson: Definitely as a deep threat on the outside and on returns. Sooners fans will love his work ethic and ability to blast into the end zone. He's not a boring player by any means...makes plays.
4dJake Trotter and Brandon Chatmon