Oklahoma Sooners: Kenny Stills
This class featured seven players in the ESPN 150 and a ton of star power led by the “Cali Trio” of Kenny Stills, Brennan Clay and Tony Jefferson. The class was ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN.com.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin: An afterthought on signing day, but he was arguably the best player in this class. He started his first-ever Red River Rivalry as a freshman and started three straight seasons at two different positions, earning All-Big 12 honors twice. The nation’s No. 40 safety prospect coming out of Owasso, Okla., Colvin finished with 234 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five interceptions in 50 career games (36 starts).
Tackle Daryl Williams: The No. 53 tackle in the nation, Williams has performed like a highly-regarded offensive line prospect. He started his first college game as a redshirt freshman before injury derailed his first season. Nonetheless, Williams became a anchor on OU’s offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons and enters his final season as one of the Big 12’s best offensive linemen.
Safety Tony Jefferson: The No. 21-ranked player in the ESPN 150, Jefferson stepped on campus with high expectations. He didn’t disappoint, earning Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors in 2010 and All-Big 12 honors in 2012 before leaving early for the NFL. Jefferson finished with 258 tackles, eight interceptions and seven sacks in 40 career games (34 starts). He’s currently a safety for the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted last spring.
Receiver Kenny Stills: The No. 36-ranked receiver prospect, Stills started every game he played in crimson and cream. His speed and football IQ separated him from the competition, as he finished with 204 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns in 38 career games (38 starts) before leaving early for the NFL. He’s currently one of Drew Brees’ main targets with the New Orleans Saints.
Running back Brennan Clay: Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150, Clay overcame injuries to become a key performer. He never emerged as a star, but he was the type of consistent, productive player who helps teams win games. He had 1,913 yards and 13 touchdowns in 46 career games (18 starts).
Linebacker Corey Nelson: The No. 62 player in the ESPN 150, Nelson had a solid career. A three-year starter, he had 153 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss in 45 career games (27 starts).
Completely missed the mark
Receiver Justin McCay: McCay never made an impact with the Sooners, transferring after his redshirt freshman season. The No. 142 player in the ESPN 150, McCay transferred to Kansas and currently plays for the Jayhawks.
Receiver Sheldon McClain: Much like McCay, McClain had a higher ranking than Stills as the No. 22-ranked receiver nationally but never made an impact before transferring.
A-minus. Even though this recruiting class featured multiple disappointments, it was littered with stars and contributors. Tyrus Thompson, Julian Wilson, Roy Finch, Blake Bell and Chuka Ndulue are just a few of the other Sooners in the Class of 2010 who became starters or major contributors alongside Colvin, Millard and the rest of the playmakers signed in February 2010.
Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.
Depending on how they finish, Reese and Goodley could wind up becoming the best duo in Big 12 history. But they aren’t the only big-time duos in the Big 12 this year.
Kansas State’s Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett have been lighting it up since returning from injury. The last two weeks the two have totaled five touchdown catches.
Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard lead the Sooners with five touchdowns apiece. Texas Tech’s Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant are fifth and sixth in the league in receiving. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore are beginning to warm up with Clint Chelf at QB. And Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have been stalwarts in this league for years.
But who are the best tandems ever to play Big 12? We lay it out below.
Tight ends were not included (sorry Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman). The tandems were evaluated on what they accomplished together, not on whether their careers simply overlapped (eliminating Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, for example); and, this is a list for duos, not singles, trios or quartets (apologies to Rashaun Woods, and the 2008 Oklahoma and 2010 Baylor receiving corps).
To the list:
1. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012): In their only year in the league, this tandem was one-two in the Big 12 in receiving, combining for 224 receptions and 2,914 receiving yards. Bailey himself had 25 receiving touchdowns; nobody else in the league had more than 13. Austin, meanwhile, also rushed for 344 yards in one game at running back. As Bailey tweeted out earlier Monday morning on this topic, “case closed.”
2. Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Texas Tech (2007): Crabtree got all the headlines in 2007 on his way to winning his first of two Biletnikoff awards. But out of the slot, Amendola quietly put up 109 receptions for 1,245 yards, as Tech went 9-4.
3. Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, Texas (2008): Shipley and Cosby starred on one of the three best Big 12 teams that didn’t win a conference title. The two each had 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit TDs from QB Colt McCoy, as the Longhorns finished the year 12-1, their only loss coming on Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown in the final seconds in Lubbock. The two were also prolific on special teams, with Shipley’s kick return touchdown sparking Texas’ 45-35 comeback win over Oklahoma.
4. Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State (2011): As with Crabtree-Amendola, Blackmon got all the attention on his way to a second Biletnikoff award. But Cooper was a pivotal piece in OSU’s first Big 12 title team, as he racked up 71 receptions out of the slot. Blackmon, of course, had a monster year with 121 catches and 18 touchdowns.
5. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, Baylor (2011): Reese was actually the third wheel to this duo, which shined with RGIII at quarterback. Wright was an All-American with 108 catches, 1,663 yard and 14 touchdowns. Williams was big time, too, finishing fifth in the Big 12 in receiving before taking over the No. 1 role in 2012.
6. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (2010): Broyles led college football with 131 receptions on his way to becoming the all-time FBS leader in career catches. Stills broke OU’s freshman single-season receiving record, as the Sooners stormed back to capture the Big 12 crown after a pair of midseason losses.
7. Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2008): It might be difficult to remember now, but the Jayhawks used to play some ball. Meier tied Crabtree for second in the league with 97 receptions. Briscoe trailed only Dez Bryant with 1,402 receiving yards. This was an underrated duo.
8. Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett, Kansas State (1999): On one of the first passing teams in the Big 12, Morgan and Lockett shined. Morgan had 42 receptions for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection. Lockett, Tyler Lockett's uncle, was a second-team all-league pick for the Wildcats, who went 11-1 and finished the year ranked sixth in the polls.
9. Mark Clayton and Travis Wilson, Oklahoma (2004): Clayton carried the moniker of best receiver in OU history until Broyles came around. Because of Adrian Peterson, Clayton’s numbers dipped in ’04, but he was still an All-American with 66 catches. Wilson led the Sooners with 11 TD grabs, as OU advanced to a second consecutive national championship game.
10. Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani, Texas Tech (2005): Neither might be a household name around the Big 12 anymore, but these two were both first-team All-Big 12 selections in ’05 along with Iowa State WR Todd Blythe.
Among other things, the ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback called Oklahoma’s offense “a joke” and its receivers “brutal.”
“I was talking in the context of developing a quarterback to be ready to play at next level -- and it was very hard for me to stomach,” Dilfer said. “That’s the context. The context of quarterback development, the context of a draftable quarterback and an evaluation of him. You can’t evaluate a quarterback without an understanding of what he’s asked he to do, and how that’s going to allow him to flourish or somewhat stunt his development.
“As I studied Landry Jones’ 2012 film, it was constant frustration with him being asked to do something that’s not realistic. It wasn’t conducive to quarterback development.”
While Dilfer was focused on evaluating Jones, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he also pointed out Oklahoma’s offense wasn’t conducive to scoring against tougher defenses, either.
“They can do whatever they want to do. I have no right to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. Bob Stoops makes a lot of money, he’s won a lot of games. However they justify it being successful, go for it,” Dilfer said. “I stand by what I said. And if the answer is, ‘We don’t care, we’re trying to score points, and we think that’s the best way to do it,’ keep doing it. But in games against good defenses, that formula did not work.”
Dilfer has a point.
With Jones at the helm last season, Oklahoma ranked 15th nationally in points and 12th in yards on the way to a 10-win season. But the Sooners sputtered offensively when facing the better defenses on their schedule. Against Kansas State, Notre Dame, TCU and Texas A&M, Oklahoma averaged just 17 points -- three touchdowns less than its season average.
“That’s all that matters. All that matters is how you play against good teams,” Dilfer said. “The same thing showed up against the poorer defenses, but you get away with it against those defenses.
“If they think it’s the best way of playing, they get to choose that. I’m simply coming from a quarterback developmental context. People get so sensitive when their paradigm is challenged. What were they, 10-2? 10-3 with the bowl game? That’s a really good record. A lot of teams wished they had that record. And I understand that. My job is to thoroughly evaluate the quarterbacks at every level. And I know you can’t possibly do it if they’re not asking them to do to things that translate to the next level of where they’re trying to get to.”
While evaluating Jones, Dilfer said three things stood out that he believes stemmed Jones’ growth: the lack of tight ends in the Oklahoma offense, the use of the “Belldozer” package in the red zone, and the Sooners’ skill players, whom Dilfer termed “incredibly undisciplined.”
“From a talent standpoint, they’re talented kids,” Dilfer said of the Oklahoma receivers. “The word I would use is 'unorganized.' They lacked the crispness, the discipline, the precision it takes to trust where they’re going to be and when a quarterback can cut it loose.”
The Sooners did have two receivers taken in last week’s draft in Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, who combined for 155 receptions and more than 1,800 yards last season. Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders also had a big year statistically with 62 catches and 829 yards receiving.
Dilfer, however, said those numbers masked several flaws.
“Statistics, that’s what we reduce everything to; because they put a lot of yards up and are productive, that they’re good,” Dilfer countered. “I talked to a couple of NFL personnel guys that I really trust to see if I was missing something with (Oklahoma’s) receivers, and they said, 'No.' "
Jones was also hurt, Dilfer said, by not having a tight end to work with.
“When you don’t have the presence of an inline tight end, your quarterback is not being developed,” Dilfer said. “Thirty-five percent of how NFL football is played is tight end-centric. Whether it’s working the middle of field, whether it’s play-action. You’re just not learning a type of football from a quarterback’s perspective that’s transferrable to the NFL.”
Dilfer believes Jones didn’t properly develop his skills in the red zone, either, a critical part of NFL quarterbacking.
“That was the biggest thing that me drove nuts, taking him out inside the 20-yard line,” Dilfer said. “Landry does all the work to get you to the 20, then you take him out -- you never develop the red-zone passing game. I can’t tolerate that. When you do that in the red zone to a quarterback, there are so many other things that you are limiting because you’re not developing your quarterback in the red zone.”
“In the red zone, everyone knows (the Belldozer package) is coming. It works against the bad teams. Against the good teams, they load up and blow it up.
“All that lowers the quarterback development to the lowest denominator. It’s really a glorified version of 7-on-7.”
Ultimately, Dilfer said, that negatively impacted where Jones went in the draft.
“If Landry had played at USC he would have been a first-round pick,” Dilfer said. “I know Matt Barkley was a fourth-round pick, that’s not what I’m saying. You develop a quarterback in college by running multi-dimensions of offense. That’s what you have to do in the NFL. When you have a pure passer in Landry who can move around for a big man, is smart, is tough, you have to give him all the dimensions in which to operate. What he did at Oklahoma was operate in just a few dimensions to the point you couldn’t really evaluate or project what he’d be in the NFL. You didn’t get to see him do it. That really hurt his stock.
“What I saw with Landry is now an NFL coach is going to have to teach him stuff, develop stuff, that should have been developed his junior-senior years.”
OU officials declined to comment.
2012 record: 10-3
2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1
RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin
QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)
1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.
2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.
3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.
1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.
2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.
3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.
Today's question: Which new Sooner will open fans' eyes in the spring game on Saturday and be talked about all summer?
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The lone freshman early enrollees who have fully participated in spring football, Cavil and Thomas are already making an impression on their teammates and coaches. It started with their smooth transition into the program during winter workouts.
Thomas was the same way.
“He handled winter workouts like someone who’s been around for a couple of years,” nickelback Julian Wilson said. “He didn’t handle them like a freshman.”
The duo continued to impress this spring by displaying playmaking ability that could earn them on role on the Sooners’ offense and defense this fall. Thomas is a hard hitter who is displaying terrific instincts at safety. The departures of Jefferson and Javon Harris, OU’s starters last season, leaves a hole in the secondary and Thomas is making a case to slide into that gap.
“I’ve never seen a freshman like him,” cornerback Cortez Johnson said. “He’ll play a big part in our defense, most likely this year.”
Senior safety Gabe Lynn is taking on a mentoring role with Thomas but has already noticed his natural ability. Thomas' instincts have impressed along with his hunger to learn.
“He has good instincts,” Lynn said. “You really can’t tell he just came in, it fits right in. Ahmad wants to learn more so it’s very easy to help him, he’s asking questions all the time.”
At one point last summer it appeared the Sooners would lean on Neal to make an immediate impact as a freshman. Then Brown joined the program in August after transferring from Penn State and Jalen Saunders became eligible after four games of the 2012 season following his transfer from Fresno State, allowing Stills to move back outside after spending the first month of the season at slot receiver.
Suddenly OU had two veteran receivers on the outside and Neal was left to watch and learn despite playing himself out of a redshirt season with a strong preseason camp. Neal and the Sooners are hoping his learning experience will pay off during his sophomore season.
“Every day last year I took in all I could,” Neal said. “I came in and was ready to learn. I knew I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. Coming in, I really used Kenny as a resource because I knew that’s who I’d be backing up.”
Even though he saw limited action, Neal flashed some playmaking ability.
“When Durron was in games he did a great job,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “He's a big play type guy, and strong.”
Today's question: We know Lane Johnson will be the first Sooner taken in the 2013 NFL draft. Who will be the second Oklahoma player to come off the board?
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But Stills knows he still has plenty of work to do if he hopes to become a high pick in the 2013 NFL draft. How does he know? Because he asked.
The NFL’s elite cornerbacks are getting bigger and bigger as teams try to adjust to bigger receivers like Calvin Johnson, who can create mismatches. Thus physical cornerbacks like Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson are becoming more valuable.
The progression is forcing NFL receivers to become more physical and more violent at the line of scrimmage. With that goal in mind, Stills has been working out with NFL insider Jay Glazer, the co-owner of MMAthletics who puts NFL players through MMA training in the offseason.
“The MMA stuff has been really good, I’m enjoying that,” Stills said. “To be able to work with Jay Glazer, he’s a total meathead, he loves all that stuff. I hit him as hard as I can and he’s like ‘Yeah!’ It’s been fun for me to release that anger without putting pads on.”
Big shoes to fill: Oklahoma's receivers
If you want to know more about Oklahoma's quarterback spot and the big shoes to fill there, you can do that with the guys at SoonerNation. There's no reason to rehash the race to replace Landry Jones, but we'll look at the guys who Jones' heir will be throwing to today. Kenny Stills left early and Justin Brown had a solid performance in his one year as a Sooner after transferring from Penn State. Together, Oklahoma's got to replace their top two receivers who accounted for 155 catches, 1,843 yards and 16 touchdowns. That's no small task, but the Sooners have a lot of guys in place to make it happen.
Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders is at the top of that list after showing big potential in the second half of the season last year once he was ruled eligible. He had three games with at least nine catches (including 15 for 181 yards against Notre Dame) and topped 100 yards receiving in the Sooners' last three regular season games. He's well-suited to be the unit's best player next season, but look out for young guys, too. Oklahoma brought in an unbelievable haul of receivers in the 2012 recruiting class, and it may start paying off now. Sterling Shepard had a strong 2012 season with 45 grabs for 621 yards, but Durron Neal and Trey Metoyer should embrace bigger roles this season with a new quarterback.
The Sooners have had a strong receiving tradition for quite some time now with guys like Stills, Ryan Broyles, Juaquin Iglesias, Manny Johnson and Malcolm Kelly, and they look well suited to continue that tradition in 2013.
More big shoes to fill:
In 2012, however, Oklahoma was formidable at the position. So formidable, in fact, that OU went almost exclusively with a four-wide receiver set the second half of the season.
Half of that foursome is now gone, with Justin Brown graduating and Kenny Stills leaving early to enter the NFL draft. But enough pieces remain for the Sooners to be strong at wideout again.
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Vitals: Receiver K.J. Young (Perris, Calif./Citrus Hill) | 6-foot, 183 pounds
Committed: Jan. 13, 2013
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There's only one Big 12 team on his list, and it's the 2012 preseason favorite: Oklahoma, which is sitting at No. 3 on a list you probably don't want to see your team on.
Landry Jones is the biggest name gone, but Haney says this might be Bob Stoops' biggest rebuild project ever in more than a decade in Norman.
The team's three most talented players -- Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson -- are the biggest losses, but don't overlook guys like tackle Lane Johnson and defensive linemen David King and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris won't be easy to replace, either.
Oklahoma was fortunate to keep cornerback Aaron Colvin and do-everything offensive Swiss army knife Trey Millard, who I'd expect to get a whole lot more touches next season. He was criminally underused in the Sooners' offense this past season. Just ask Texas if Millard should get more touches.
Oklahoma's offensive renaissance should be interesting. There won't be major changes, but Stoops is always going to build around what his personnel does best, and next season, likely with Blake Bell at the helm, you can expect the quarterback running game to be featured. It's still likely going to be a pass-first offense, but with Millard and Bell, next season's team might be a little more physical between the tackles.
I'd agree with Haney in that the top of the Big 12 looks really weak for 2013, which may provide opportunity for the Sooners to make a Big 12 title run, despite all the losses.
Help is on the way: OU fans can debate whether Josh Heupel is the guy to run OU’s offense, but you cannot question his ability to recruit. Heupel has landed yet another top quarterback in ESPN 300 prospect Cody Thomas (Colleyville, Texas/Heritage, ranked No. 178). OU needs help in the secondary, and Mike Stoops attacked the position hard during the spring. Three-star safety Ahmad Thomas (Miami/Central) is enrolling early, and ESPN 300 safety Hatari Byrd (Fresno, Calif./Central East) said he is ready to replace Jefferson. Corner shouldn’t be hurting either with the pledge of ESPN 300 athlete Stanvon Taylor (Tulsa, Okla./East Central).
Other key commits: Cannot talk OU’s 2013 class without mentioning running back Keith Ford (Cypress, Texas/Ranch). Ranked No. 27 in the ESPN 150, Ford is the top-ranked recruit for OU’s class. OU is also getting help from the juco ranks with the commitment of four-star ESPN JC 100 offensive tackle Josiah St. John (Athens, Texas/Trinity Valley). Defensive end was locked up in April with two ESPN 300 commits in D.J. Ward (Moore, Okla./Southmoore) and Matt Dimon (Katy, Texas/Katy).
Other key targets: OU is still seeking help in the secondary and is looking at ESPN 300 athlete Adrian Baker (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna) and four-star cornerback L.J. Moore (Fresno, Calif./Central East). The Sooners are still keeping tabs on several offensive tackles after four-star tackle Aaron Cochran (Atwater, Calif./Buhach) committed to Cal earlier this week.
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Spring Game Wrap-Up
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
TBD North Dakota State Iowa State TBD Louisiana Tech Oklahoma TBD North Texas Texas TBD Stephen F. Austin Kansas State TBD Samford TCU TBD Central Arkansas Texas Tech 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State