Yesterday, Oklahoma picked up their second 2014 wide receiver commitment in the form of 6'5" Tulsa Union's Jeffrey Mead. The Sooners first 2014 wide receiver commitment was/is La Mirada's (CA) Dallis Todd who also happens to check in at 6'5". You can also go back to the 2013 class with the very late commitment of another 6'5" receiver when the Sooners landed Dannon Cavil.
So what's the point here besides the fact all three of these guys are tall?
Well, it could be a sign of potential changes with respect to what this offense might look like going forward. We've all heard about what we can expect to see, wait. Actually, that's not true. Let's try that again. We've all speculated about what we can expect to see whether it's Blake Bell under center. Or Kendal Thompson. Or Trevor Knight. Or even Cody Thomas. The obvious dilemma being none of us not named Stoops/Heupel/Norvell really know anything.
We weren't shown anything in the spring game and with practices in Norman on 24/7 lockdown, we won't really know anything until the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on August 31st.
So are we grasping at straws a little bit with this theory? Sure, maybe. Especially given the fact two of the three guys we're basing it on aren't even on campus and won't be for some time, but hear us out for a minute.
Whether it is Mark Clayton or Ryan Broyles and now Jalen Saunders or Sterling Shepard, during Bob Stoops' time in Norman the Sooners have consistently produced slot receivers. Which makes sense when you consider the style offense they've run, outside of the Adrian Peterson years of course, and the kind of mismatches you can exploit with guys like the ones we've mentioned.
Even aside from the slot, Oklahoma hasn't typically recruited those big "possession" type outside receivers in the past. However, think back to last year's team and how they used Justin Brown. Granted, he's only 6'3" but they did things with him on the outside we hadn't really seen from an OU offense. Bare in mind, it was things many of us were screaming for them to do with Dejuan Miller when he was here, but no need to dig up those old feelings. Back to the point, OU was throwing jump balls in the end zone for Brown which had never really been a part of their goal line offense prior to his arrival from Penn State.
But now with the expectation that the running game will become a more prominent feature of the OU offense, the Sooners could be tweaking their recruiting focus to seek out bigger wide receivers to set the edge on run plays and block downfield.
If we're poking holes in our own theory, we'd be obligated to point out that Clayton and Broyles were both willing participants and exceptional at doing so when asked to block. Despite their somewhat diminutive frames, both were more than effective and quite often helped to create big plays for their teammates when not making the play themselves. Saunders and Shepard have looked the part so far when called upon, but with a limited sample size it would certainly be premature to put them on the Clayton/Broyles level at this point.
However, even though they are capable it's theoretically much easier for a guy who is 6'5" 200+ pounds to sustain a one-on-one block downfield than it is for a guy who is 5'10" 185 pounds. Whether it's the running backs seeing the ball more (which we'd all be fine with) or the quarterbacks getting in on the run game (which we'd all also be fine with) effective blocking on the edge from your wide receivers can turn a five yard run into a fifty yard run in a hurry. Obviously, it goes without saying the offensive line plays a key part in any successful running attack and that is something this Oklahoma team will have to improve upon based on previous seasons. But the guys on the outside play a key, and often under appreciated, role in the run game as well.
To his credit, Jay Norvell has done an exceptional job in coaching his receivers to do this very thing during his time in Norman regardless of their size or lack there of. If you are a receiver in this program and are unwilling to block, you will not see the field very often.
And this size we've been talking about the entire time also has one other kind of important benefit. When they're not blocking for run plays, they become an immediate mismatch for most corners who they will typically have at least a couple inches on if not more. Much like with the point we were making above with Brown, these are guys you can simply throw the ball up to and let them go get it. Guys this big, who can catch as well as these three do, cover up some of your quarterback's mistakes. A less than accurate throw can turn into a big play when you've got a guy downfield who can leap over a corner to turn a potential interception into a big gain. And much like with the run game in that we don't really know what to expect, given their lack of in-game experience it's probably reasonable to assume whoever is under center might be prone to the bad throw or two.
Maybe these guys are a sign of changes to come. Maybe it's as simple as Norvell simply looked at his roster and saw the lack of size. We'll probably never know if it was one, both, neither of those, or something else entirely. What we do know however is that the man is keeping the cupboard stocked. And stocked full of high ceiling talent at that. Whether they are blocking for the run game, catching passes down the field, or both wide receiver does not figure to be a position of concern so long as Jay Norvell continues to be a part of this Oklahoma football program.