Spring Position Preview: Wide Receiver

Oklahoma receiver coach Darrell Wyatt talks about his talented group (including Mark Clayton pictured left) and hints that two redshirt freshmen might just break into the lineup this spring. Clayton caught 83 passes for 1425 yards last season. (AP Photo/Jerry Laizure)

NORMAN, Okla. — Going into the spring the strongest position on the squad may be that of wide receiver. The Sooners return every major player from the team that competed for the National Championship a year ago, and that includes All-American Mark Clayton.

"It certainly is a plus that we have so many experienced players coming back for us in the spring," said wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "We gained some valuable experience last year and a number of our players had a great deal of success. We had a number of guys make big plays for us and Mark Clayton had an unbelievable year.

"We also had outstanding years from Brandon Jones, JeJuan Rankins, Will Peoples and Mark Bradley. Also, Travis Wilson played a bunch for us the final four games of the season and he made some spectacular plays for us. Travis is a big, strong receiver who is not afraid to catch the ball over the middle, and he could become a great player for us.

"We have depth in the group and we have emerging freshmen in Tristen Ross and Marcus Johnson. They looked good in practice the second half of the year. It is going to be a very competitive spring."

With such an experienced group back the goals are different from the days when many of the players were trying to just make the squad.

"I think we gained valuable experience in the games last year and we had a number of guys make big plays for us," said Wyatt. "We have a lot of competition and they know that we have depth in the group. I am telling you that our freshmen receivers (Ross and Johnson) are very talented and are ready to get into the mix. I realize they don't have the experience of the other guys, but they are talented enough to get in there and mix it up.

"Just because the rest of the group has experience doesn't mean they don't have a lot to work on this spring. We have to become a more polished wide receiver core, one that can run routes better and one that can create more big plays. We have improved in all three areas, but we still have a ways to go to get to where we want to be."

Despite the fact several players return with a number of playing time minutes, wide receiver will be no different than any other position as starting spots will be up for grabs.

"You earn your job throughout the spring and fall camp," said Wyatt. "Obviously, you have a guy like Mark Clayton that has certainly demonstrated that he can make plays on a consistent basis. However, there is such good competition there and such talent that those guys know that they have to compete, because we will never hesitate as a staff to put that player who is playing better into the football game."

It would be a major story if Ross or Johnson can dent the depth chart with all the returning talent at wide receiver. However, both are so talented that they just might be able to do just that.

"Both are very talented guys, but different kinds of receivers," said Wyatt. "Tristen Ross is a physical receiver who runs great routes and has great hands. Marcus is more of an athletic, smooth receiver than can make the acrobatic play and who is very elusive with the ball in his hands."

Ross is considered to be ahead of Johnson in the battle between the two. Ross was so impressive last year on the scout team that the OU coaches considered bringing him up to the varsity, despite the fact that they already had good depth at wide receiver.

Johnson is a converted quarterback who is still learning how to play wide receiver, but there is no mistaking his tremendous talent.

The wide receivers are always a group that works hard under Jerry Schmidt, and this offseason was no exception.

"I think we have become a stronger unit, which was a goal this offseason," said Wyatt. "That is important for us, because we need to handle bump-n-runs better and on a more consistent basis. I think our guys committed themselves to the weight room this offseason, and I think that will show up this spring.

"Our guys have put on a little weight, which was OK with us because they will need that weight and strength to get through the spring and the season ahead."

Rankins will go through workouts and he is still listed as a starting receiver for the Sooners. There have been persistent rumors that Rankins was not happy with the fact he didn't start or play in the Sugar Bowl against LSU, and that he was thinking of transferring. If that was the case then that was news to Coach Wyatt.

"The reason we didn't play JeJuan against LSU is because we felt we had other talented receivers that could match-up better against their secondary," said Wyatt. "It had nothing to do with us as a staff being disappointed with him or angry with him in any way. I should have probably got him in the game, but with the way it was going we just never felt the time was right to get him in there. JeJuan has not missed any workouts this offseason and he has never mentioned to me that he is unhappy with his role at OU. He has started a lot of football games for us thus far during his career and he will continue to do so."

Bradley had offseason knee surgery and won't be available this spring. However, Brandon Jones will be over his wrist injury and go through spring for the first time as a full-time football player since he has been at OU. Jones is giving up baseball this spring to concentrate on football and that should really boost his ability at receiver.

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