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April 19, 2010Watching Kenny Stills star in the Red & White Game on Saturday, I couldn't help but be impressed. Stills' performance struck up old feelings as I sat watching him catch passes all over the field.
I'd almost forgotten what it was like to see a young difference maker in the OU offense. It really has been since Malcolm Kelly's first days on campus since a true freshman impressed me like Stills did at receiver.
Back in the days when Stoops had open practices, I remember Mark Clayton's first day on campus. I remember how much he stood out in comparison to other receivers already on campus.
I remember the first day I saw Adrian Peterson at running back. I remembered thinking how big he was, and how fast he moved. He was truly head and shoulders above the majority of players on the field that day.
Sometimes talent is so obvious it just jumps right out and bites you.
That was the case with Stills on Saturday.
Stills also made me realize it has been too long since Oklahoma has had those types of players coming into the program on the offensive side of the ball. By all accounts, Ryan Broyles was the last player who had that type of impact right out of the gates.
But Broyles arrival coincided with Stoops closing off practices. And even though we didn't get to see it first-hand, the reports of his dominance were not exaggerated.
Bob Stoops is correct in defending what his team went through a season ago. The NFL Draft will confirm how big a loss Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham were to the offense in 2009.
But you have to admit that there was a tremendous drop off in talent at the receiver position outside of Broyles. Just like Stills' abilities on Saturday, the lack of difference makers hit you squarely in the face throughout last season.
Coaches talk about inexperience, and they are just in that defense. But what they didn't say, what they weren't willing to say, is that there has been a dropoff in ability on the offensive side of the ball.
I'm not saying Oklahoma doesn't have talent, they clearly do. But they have the type of talent that needs to develop, that needs to gain confidence and experience before it can make a major impact on gamedays.
What Stills proves is that there is a level of talent above what Oklahoma currently possesses. And Stills also shows that there is still plenty of room for difference makers next season.
It's a message to Justin McCay, Trey Franks, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. If you are truly a special athlete and a special football player, there is room for you in Oklahoma's offense next year.
"That wasn't unusual. He's been very consistent," said Kevin Wilson of Stills' Red & White Game performance. "I think a couple of signees that aren't here yet might get into the mix too and there's going to be a lot of young competition helping this football team."
Wilson doesn't have to talk about the difference makers his team didn't have last season. He doesn't have to admit anything about his team's shortcomings. But it's obvious to me when he talks about looking forward to the arrival of his newest recruiting class.
You can tell he knows there is an upgrade in talent coming to push the players already on campus, players who were overshadowed by a true freshmen receiver who didn't need two, three or four years to reach that level of production.
"Austin Haywood will be the mix, Trey Millard will be in the mix, Roy (Finch) and Brennan Clay will be in the mix, Trey Franks looks pretty fast," said Wilson. "There's going to be guys in the mix and I think the class coming in is really going to help. The preseason is going to be a lot of fun."
Oklahoma's defense has been getting better year after year because they have been bringing in players such as Ronnell Lewis, Tom Wort and Tony Jefferson. But Oklahoma's offense has lagged behind.
No one illustrates that point better than Stills. If this incoming recruiting class has one or two more of those types of players, the Sooners could be right back in the conversation about college football's top offensive superpowers.
But Stills proved the one thing many of us have been unwilling to admit over the past two seasons - the Sooners do need an upgrade in talent on the offensive side of the ball.