OU receiving corps shines in spring game

Sooners pass catchers have plenty of depth, play-making ability

NORMAN – There was little rhythm to Saturday’s spring game, but the highs came from a place that wasn’t known for his exciting moments.

Oklahoma’s receiving corps left a lot to be desired last season, especially after Sterling Shepard went down for the final few games of the regular season.

Dede Westbrook turning a bubble screen into a 40-yard gain or Mark Andrews dragging tacklers after winning a deep jump ball in between two defenders weren’t just products of the offense.

Right-handed Jeffery Mead’s left-handed catch in a crowd, John Humphrey Jr.’s speed and Dallis Todd’s leaping, downfield catch are just a few examples in an abbreviated game of just how much better the Sooners’ wide receivers will be this season.

“I think our receiver group is going to be better than anticipated,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “. . . There’s a bunch of those guys who have made good improvements. In this offense, the way they teach and the disciplines of it allows a lot of guys to play and have production.”

Some of the best plays Saturday were made by new names. Humphrey, Todd, Andrews and Westbrook didn’t play for Oklahoma last year. Mead’s redshirt was burned for a late-game Hail Mary.

There’s a lot of hope on the horizon for Oklahoma’s past-catchers and Saturday did nothing to change that.

Here’s a look at the tiers of talent as spring practice nears its end.

Immediate playmakers

Sterling Shepard – Limited by the touch-football restriction placed on him for the spring game, Shepard had just one catch for negative yards. He’s the best playmaker coming back, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be the top pass catcher this coming season.

DeDe Westbrook – The rumors were true. Westbrook, who was one of the top JuCo players in this year’s recruiting class, showed tremendous speed and great strength with the football. He had just the one catch – a 28-yard bubble screen – but proved all the potential talk to be true. He will be a game-changer for Oklahoma.

Mark Andrews – The receiver-turned-tight-end was the recipient of the most praise for his winter workouts and spring performance. He has been referred to by just about everyone as a mismatch nightmare, and his spring-game performance didn’t prove anything different. Out of the slot, there aren’t many that could cover Andrews, who came to Oklahoma primarily as an outside receiver. Andrews made a great block on Westbrook’s long screen reception and had two catches for 56 yards.

On the cusp

Jeffery Mead – After playing for basically just one play last season, Mead was one of the stars of the spring game – hauling in a game-high three catches for 93 yards. Still very thin, Mead said he has put on almost 10 pounds of muscle since he arrived on campus. While he still has to get a little bigger and quicker in and out of his cuts, his hands say a lot. They are huge, and they’ll catch a lot, too.

Durron Neal The second option last year, Neal might be better served as a more complimentary piece. He had two catches for 21 yards but was smooth after the catch. Still an outside receiver, there’s a chance that Neal finally lives up to expectations in an offense that will create space for him to operate.

Michiah Quick Sitting out the spring game, it’s not hard to see how much of an impact a player with Quick’s quickness could have in the open field. There’s a good chance he could be in rotation with Shepard, who played significantly out of the slot Saturday. Stoops said that Shepard could play just 75 percent of snaps during this season, a good number for Quick and Oklahoma.

Rotation guys

Dallis Todd – Todd made a nice catch in traffic but wasn’t used significantly. He had just the lone 19-yard catch on a day when 16 different players caught passes and none caught more than three. Todd’s size gives him an advantage on the outside, where he would most likely split time with Mead.

John Humphrey Jr. – What speed from the early enrollee. He had just one catch but the burner took it 45 yards. Humphrey might not be a significant rotation player immediately, but his big-play ability – proven true in the spring game at least briefly – will earn him a few targets.

Jordan Smallwood – A torn ACL took Smallwood’s spring away just as it seemed he was making progress. How he comes back from that will a big indicator on how good he’ll be next year – if he even comes back.

K.J. Young Playing mostly against the second team, Young gained 28 yards on three catches. There’s much more talent ahead of him than last year. He’ll have some work to do but will see playing time in the fall.

Wait until next year

Dahu Green and AD Miller – Green and Miller watched the spring game from the sideline this year as potential stars still out of uniform. With the obvious advantages of a tall receiver in Oklahoma’s offense, there’s a chance that either Green or Miller finds a place in the rotation. There’s a lot of unexpected talent ahead of them though.

That’s not a bad problem for Oklahoma to have.

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