MANHATTAN, KS - OCTOBER 29: Kenny Stills #4 of the Oklahoma Sooners catches a pass over Nigel Malone #24 of the Kansas State Wildcats in the third quarter at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
The expectations for Oklahoma football are always high and championships are basically demanded on an annual basis. As the Sooners head into the 2012 season those expectations remain firmly in place. With an experienced offensive line, a healthy stable of running backs and a four-year starter quarterback to go along with the return of defensive guru Mike Stoops, Oklahoma is in position to make another run at the conference title and possibly even a shot at and eighth national championship.
However, for those goals to be accomplished there are a few hurdles this team has to overcome the beginning with the receivers and tight ends.
Oklahoma was already tasked with replacing the all-time NCAA career leader at receiver in Ryan Broyles which became even more difficult to do with the spring suspensions of Trey Franks, Kameel Jackson and Jaz Reynolds. The suspensions are indefinite which leaves us with absolutely no idea as to whether we'll see them on the field this fall or not. While their futures hang in the balance the one thing that we do know is that OU will start the 2012 football season without them and there lies the problem. The suspensions, along with the graduations of tight ends Trent Ratterree and James Hanna, leave the Sooners with Kenny Stills as the only receiver who has caught a pass at the major college football level.
Stills isn't a bad place to start. The Junior receiver has compiled over 1,600 yards and13 touchdowns, with an average of 13.4 yards per reception during his first two seasons. He's a gamer but proved last season that he has yet to adjust to being the main target. He certainly thrived as complementary receiver and as Florida State learned, the hard way I might add, he's a great down field threat. That said, he can't shoulder the passing game alone.
Help seems to have arrived this spring with the arrival of Trey Metoyer. At 6-2/198 he showed during spring ball that he has great body control and even better hands. One thing to keep in mind in regards to Metoyer is that while he is a freshman he's not the typical true freshman. Metoyer is already a year removed from high school after having spent the last year in prep school. Anyone who saw Metoyer in spring ball can attest to the fact that not only is he ready to play football at this level but that even without the suspensions he may have been the best receiver on the roster. Of the true freshman in the 2012 class, Metoyer is hands down the most game ready.
Durron Neal, Sterling Shephard and Derrick Woods all have a chance to be on the field this fall as true freshman but the skeptic has to wonder how much of an actual impact can they have? If Metoyer can live up to the billing then Stills will be able to roam in the secondary and do what he does best. That means any of these three would most likely be left in isolation with one-on-one coverage.
The next best option to Stills and Metoyer as a major play-maker, in my opinion, has to be Courtney Gardner. The JUCO transfer averaged 18 yards per reception last season while racking up over 1,000 yards and13 touchdowns. The knock on him right now is that he's not on campus yet as he's finishing up summer classes. The thought is that he'll be in Norman by the end of the month and then will need time to get caught up on the offense. If he's on campus, there's just no way this kid doesn't play for Oklahoma this fall.
Lacolton Bester is another option for having an immediate impact. Bester is also a kid who achieved a large amount of success at the JUCO ranks and while that does not always equate to success in the Big XII he would still have a step on the true freshman in the way of experience at a higher level of competition.
With the current struggles at receiver there may not be a better time than now for Oklahoma to reestablish the tight end as a key component of the passing game. The problem is that OU is looking at a freshman once again to make this happen. Brannon Green is a blocking tight end that the Sooners brought in from Fort Scott Community College to hopefully help spark the rushing attack. Taylor McNamara is the guy Oklahoma will look to in the passing game. He's got terrific body size (6-5/235) for a tight end in the fact that he was on campus for the spring only betters his chances of having an impact on the field this fall.
As you can see there are plenty of options to make Oklahoma's passing game work but the challenge for the coaching staff is putting it all in place during the first two weeks of the season before Notre Dame comes calling, and that's no small hurdle.