Sumlin has high hopes for young receivers

Sooner receiver coach Kevin Sumlin talks about his young group of receivers heading into the 2006 season. Malcolm Kelly (pictured) led the Sooners in receptions (33) and receiving yards (471) a year ago. (Photo/Getty Images)

OU wide receiver coach Kevin Sumlin is one of the most well connected coaches in college football. He knows a coach on just about every collegiate staff in American, knows a great number of high school coaches and he is also well-known in the NFL. In fact, he turned down opportunities to work in the NFL last year.

Sumlin is a coach that works at his craft and who has been considered a success at every coaching stop along the way. OU Head Coach Bob Stoops literally stole Sumlin from Colorado, who he worked for about a week after being part of a staff change over at Texas A&M.

Of course, Sooner fans knew all about Sumlin at Texas A&M because he was the Aggie Offensive Coordinator in the Aggies 30-26 upset of OU in College Station in 2002, so his hiring was looked at as a very positive hiring by media and Sooner fans alike.

Sumlin started his career at OU as the tight end and fullback coach, as well as special team's coordinator before moving to Co-Offensive Coordinator, receivers coach and special team's coordinator for the 2006 season.

He is always a positive person and his glass is always half full. He is also not one that is all that concerned about the how the offensive line is going to come together.

"First, we have some young talented guys that as they get experience they will get better," said Sumlin. "Number two, is finding a position that is right for them. Some guys are better guards and some guys are better left guards than right guards. Ffinding tackles is the hardest thing and then center. Once you find those guys then you have to find the five guys, or the six or seven that work together.

"Defenses have changed a bunch and with all the different looks and blitzing, we have to be able to communicate. Those five guys have to work together and I think coach (James) Patton is looking for five guys that want to work as a nickel and not as five pennies. That is the key. We are going to work towards that and coach Patton is going to do a really good job of that."

At wide receiver, Sumlin returns a wealth of talent that played a year ago creating a great deal of optimism in the group for 2006.

"I think those guys have proven in big games that they can play," said Sumlin. "We don't use the word young anymore, because all of these guys played as freshmen. The guys that didn't play are redshirt freshmen and they have been here two years."

"They have been in big games and they know what is expected of them. It is time for them to accept their role as guys who are going to make big plays, or guys who are going to lead us. We had two, three to four players last year as true freshman who played and made plays for us."

"The challenge for us will be depth-wise, and that will involve some of the guys who got redshirted who need to step up and accept some of those roles. That will be the Quentin Chaneys, Eric Huggins and the Fred Strongs. The guys that didn't play last year are going to have to be the guys who step up, because we can't play with just two or three guys. Those guys are going to have to come on and play at a level that we expect."

Make no mistake about it, if the wide receivers at OU are going to be good this year it will be because of a trio of sophomores who proved their worth last year as true freshman.

"I think all those guys are good players," said Sumlin. "I think Malcolm Kelly is a big guy who is more than capable of being a big time player. He has already made some big plays for us. Juaquin (Iglesias) is very, very fast and very athletic and he has some great skill.

"Manuel (Johnson) is the fastest of the bunch. He is working hard in the weight room and he is the guy who, and this is hard to say for a guy who runs a 4.4 already, but he can improve physically and really make some strides for us. I was really pleased how far Paul Thompson progressed in the spring. I think he is working at it, he wants to do it and he is getting better. Yeah, he has some limitations and he is behind a little bit, but he showed in a couple of scrimmages that he is capable."

"The neat thing is that all of those guys are going to develop and not only them, but the guys that just stepped on campus," Sumlin continued. "Then, also throw in the redshirt guys who didn't play last year and we are going to find out if they are going to accept that role or if they are going to compete to get on the field. I will say that three or four of those guys are every bit as good as the guys who are playing. It is just a matter of time for the light to come on and for them to become the player that they can be."

OU Head Coach Bob Stoops is the type of coach who is always pushing his wide receivers. When you consider that he is one of the best defensive back coaches in the country, then it is not surprising that he knows a thing or two about which kind of wide receivers can hurt his secondary. Whenever he is asked, Stoops always says that his wide receivers need to make more big plays and they need to make more plays after the catch.

So the question is who among this wide receiver group is going to come up with the YAC (yards after catch) yardage like the great Mark Clayton or Mark Bradley used to get?

"I think everybody is capable. We work hard at what to do with the ball after we catch it and protecting the ball" said Sumlin. "I think all of those guys are more than capable of that. I think the day of recruiting the possession receiver has become hard. You know the guy that you can count on catching the ball every down to move the chains, but if they don't then you must punt. Everybody wants to be that guy but those guys really get the ball punted."

"The whole thing is that we want to be able to get open, make the catch and then what are we going to do with it after the catch? Some of the passing game will change because of that. We have to be able to utilize some of these guys in medium yardage and first down situations, and help elevate some of the pressure in the run game. Yeah, the YAC yardage will be big and our ability to do some things after the catch will be very, very important."

The wide receiver positions in some ways appear to be set with Kelly, Iglesias, Johnson and Thompson set to get most of the playing time. However, it is obvious that Chaney, Strong and Huggins will be given every opportunity to prove they belong in the rotation.

Throw in the tremendous talents of Adron Tennell and Brandon Caleb, and out of the bunch the Sooners are going to come up with some players who will have a major impact on the offense in 2006. The spots at the bottom of the rotation are wide open, giving a number of new players opportunities to prove that they belong on the field next season.

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