It’s almost an insult to Ryan Broyles to even ask the question.
Can he be replaced?
You just don’t snap your fingers and find an adequate fill-in for one of the greatest pass catchers in college football history. Broyles could beat defenses in so many ways – deep routes, screens, catch-and-runs. He was the perfect receiver for oklahoma’s uptempo Air Raid offense, an explosive weapon and security blanket rolled into one.
The magnitude of the void left by Broyles became painfully obvious in the Sooners’ final four games of the season. The offense sputtered, limping to a 2-2 finish that included a blowout loss to in-state rival Oklahoma St.
The ugly finish illustrated the importance of identifying a new alpha dog among the receivers this spring.
The obvious candidate to step in as the centerpiece of the OU receiving corps is rising junior Kenny stills. Few would question that Stills is now the leader of the receivers and certainly one of the most visible members of the entire squad. The flamboyant Californian gutted out an injury-plagued season in which he missed two games and struggled with his consistency, yet still managed to best his production from a year earlier.
Bob Stoops and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell are even using some not-so-subtle motivational tactics to push Stills, taking to the press to try to motivate him this spring. Do they kid because they care?
Highly touted freshman Trey Metoyer looks like the only other receiver with the potential to at least approach what Broyles brought to the field. After spending the fall at Hargrave Military Academy getting his academic affairs in order, Metoyer is already drawing rave reviews for his aerial acrobatics. Provided he can get a handle on the offense this spring, Metoyer sounds like a lock to earn a starting nod in the fall.
Fortunately for Norvell, after Stills and Metoyer, he has experienced back-ups competing for reps as the offense’s third receiver. Assuming Jaz Reynolds has overcome the kidney issues that sidelined him late in the 2011, he almost certainly has a spot in the starting lineup, even if he has to take it slow this spring.
In contrast, rising sophomore Kameel Jackson has an opportunity to build on a solid finish to last season after being pressed into service. He could push for an even bigger role in the offense in 2012. A shifty runner with the ball in his hands, Jackson has a chance to possibly lock down the slot receiver spot with a strong spring. The fact that he saw action as a true freshman last year when the Sooners had a deep group of receivers suggests the coaching staff has high hopes for him.
Finally, given how many snaps he has seen in the last two year, it’s too soon to write off Trey Franks. The speedster appears to have taken up residence in Stoops’ doghouse. In other words, for Franks, his chief goal this spring has to be simply earning his way back into the coaching staff’s good graces. Do that, and he may find his way into the lineup come fall.
At the end of the day, counting on just one receiver to replace Broyles’ presence in the offense probably amounts to an exercise in futility. It would be asking a lot of any program to find the next Broyles, just like Oklahoma St. will undoubtedly struggle to find the next Justin Blackmon.
However, the Sooners do have a bevy of talented pass catchers with experience. Although one of them alone likely won’t emerge from spring drills as Broyles’ heir apparent, they absolutely have the potential as a group to position themselves to meet, or even exceed, the production of last season’s unit.