Prelude to Spring: Wide Receivers

Wide receiver coach Kevin Sulmin breaks down his group heading into spring practice. Sophomore receiver Malcolm Kelly (pictured) made the All-Big 12 Freshman team in 2005 after catching 33 passes for 471 yards. (Photo/Getty Images)

The Sooners go into the spring in good shape at the wide receiver position. OU returns freshmen sensations Malcolm Kelly (6-4, 204), Juaquin Iglesias (6-1, 190) and Manuel Johnson (6-0, 170), all of which, by the end of the year, were starters.

Kelly started six games and by the end of the year was the go-to receiver for quarterback Rhett Bomar and the Sooners. He finished with 33 catches for 471 yards and two touchdowns, and became the first freshman since 1975 to lead OU in receiving.

Iglesias finished with 19 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the second overtime against Baylor. Johnson played mostly in a back-up role but still managed 10 catches for 170 yards and one touchdown.

Also back for the Sooners is senior Paul Thompson (6-4, 210), who split time between quarterback and receiver a year ago. Thompson got his feet wet at the wide out position and finished with 11 catches for 106 yards. And with the signing of junior college quarterback Joey Halzle, Thompson can now devote his attention to being a receiver.

"I am really looking forward to just being a wide receiver," said Thompson. "I have loved playing quarterback, but it was tough last year practicing at both positions and I really couldn't do justice to either. I am going to be a full-time wide receiver now and I think my future in football is going to be at receiver.

"I am looking forward to the opportunity to work at receiver full-time to see just how good I can be."

The Sooner offensive coaches hope that sophomore Quentin Chaney (6-5, 200) can improve on his two-reception, 26-yard performance and sophomore Fred Strong [6-3, 188], can finally start to show some promise coming off a year on the scout team. Throw in the talented Eric Huggins (6-4, 190), who is coming off a redshirt year when he was very impressive on the scout team, and Oklahoma appears to have the talent to be super again at receiver.

OU assistant coach Kevin Sumlin moves over from tight ends and fullbacks to coach receivers. He replaces Darrell Wyatt, who left OU to become the wide receiver coach with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Sumlin coached wide receivers at Wyoming, Minnesota and Purdue, and he is looking forward to getting back to the outside group.

"It is going to be a real smooth transition for me," said Sumlin. "In my coaching career since 1991 that is what I have done — either quarterbacks or wide receivers. I have only coached tight ends for the three years that I have been here at OU. Drill-wise, we might be a little bit different, but we have been real fortunate in that when I was wide receiver coach at Wyoming, Darrell came to Wyoming after I left. We have known each other for a long time and it will be an easy transition for me. My goal will be to get everybody playing at the highest level they can play."

The Sooner wide receiver corps is athletic but still young, and this spring will be very important for the development of each and every player at the position.

"I think our challenge will be that we have talent, but we are just young," said Sumlin. "Several of them played in some big games and made some plays for us. We have to continue to press the envelope and get better.

We have to eliminate some of the foolish mistakes that were made last year. Even though they are young, there are still four of them who are experienced and those kinds of mistakes shouldn't be made this year.

"Their challenge will be that there is a lot to it when you are young, and people don't expect that much out of you. Maybe the preparation is different now for a couple of those guys. People know who they are now and they are going to pay a whole lot of attention to them. They need to be aware of that and rise to the challenge."

The hope is that the competition for playing time will push the players to become better.

"I think that is what keeps everything competitive and keeps us getting better," said Sumlin. "Of the three young guys that played last year, Malcolm has tremendous size, tremendous hand-eye coordination and he could really be a fine player. He is turning into a good one. Juaquin made big plays for us and he has been working hard in the weight room, and Manuel Johnson made some big plays for us as well.

"Those three guys played last year and played well. Paul has come on and now that he is a full-time wide receiver he is the old guy of the group. He has tremendous leadership and he is doing everything that we ask him to do. Those younger guys are listening to him.

"I looked at Eric Huggins the other day and he is 200-and-something pounds now. He is a big 6-3 guy that got redshirted last year and spring football will be a big deal for him. He has a chance to do some really good things. We like how he has progressed with those other young guys. He is one guy that really didn't play as a true freshman, but he has taken advantage of his time in the weight room, learning and we look for big things out of him this spring. Eric has put on about 20 pounds, is getting stronger and his body is beginning to catch up to his frame a little bit. He will get every opportunity to prove he can play just like the rest of those guys this spring."

"Eric has worked incredibly hard and that is showing up in everything that he is doing. He is getting stronger and he is excited about spring football, and so are we. Like I said, he is going to get plenty of opportunities this spring to prove to us that he can play. Eric earned that right because he played so hard and so well for us on the scout team. When you come to a team like this not everybody can play right away as freshman, and how you accept that is part of your maturity.

"When a guy goes over and plays on the scout team he is simulating the other team. He is playing against our best players showing toughness and getting hit and knocked around. I think there is a lot to be learned from that. Some guys do it and some guys don't. Eric did it and did it well. If players work their time on scout team correctly then it can benefit them a great deal, and we think Eric did just that. We think it obviously has helped him."

Sophomore Lendy Holmes (6-2, 191), who caught two passes for 19 yards a year ago, is going to try his luck at cornerback. Holmes would be in that group of Chaney and Strong, who need to pick up the pace to keep up with the young guns. But by moving to corner, he hopes to find an opportunity for more playing time.

"The other group of redshirt freshmen from a year ago, Quentin and Fred, are going to have to come on and play like they are capable of playing. There is no doubt that competition makes us better and all these guys understand that. We are trying to develop depth as well as a good group. Competition will be our biggest friend this spring."

Key To Spring: The Sooner receivers need to get in perfect sync with Bomar and Halzle and concentrate on perfect routes and completions. It will take a few months, but with Thompson now at wideout full-time the receivers will not have to constantly re-adjust their routes and thinking depending on the quarterback under center.

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