|ESPN.com: Big 12||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
NORMAN, Okla. -- Considering all of the key receivers that left Oklahoma's team after last season, it's understandable why some aren't sold on the Sooners' returning talent at the position.
Leading returning receiver Ryan Broyles doesn't mind that at all. In fact, Broyles actually likes that many are considering his receiving corps as one of the Sooners' biggest positional question marks.
|Stephen Brashear/Icon SMI|
|Ryan Broyles will be one of quarterback Sam Bradford's go-to guys in 2009.|
"We've all been doubted around here before," Broyles said. "We just want to rise to the occasion and show what we can do when we get the chance."
The Sooners must replace playmakers Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Quentin Chaney from last season. That trio combined to produce 145 receptions, 2,368 yards and 21 touchdowns to spark an explosive passing game that catapulted Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy.
Their departure is expected to hamstring the Sooners' vertical passing game in Bradford's third season as a starter. But it's also bolstered the confidence of several players who are figuring that it's now their time to shine.
No player has been more vociferous this spring as 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver Adron Tennell, a senior who is poised to emerge as one of the Sooners' likely deep threats.
"I feel like I'm back in high school. I'm unstoppable and nobody can touch me," said Tennell, who has produced only 16 catches in the first three seasons at Oklahoma after struggling with a knee injury and talented teammates in front of him.
Tennell, known as "Pooh" by his relatives since childhood, arrived at Oklahoma as the most-heralded receiving recruit in recent history. One scouting service had him ranked as the third-highest recruit in the 2006 recruiting class, behind only Florida's Percy Harvin and USC's Vidal Hazelton.
But Tennell's development was stunted after he injured his knee on special teams late in his sophomore season against Texas Tech. The injury caused him to miss all of winter conditioning and spring practice before last season.
As the other players developed, Tennell's playing time diminished. He produced only nine catches for 68 yards last season.
"Being behind all of those guys who were here before me, I was hoping I'd get to play," Tennell said. "But when I didn't, I got anxious about having to sit and watch. Now, I'm trying to shine when I get my chance."
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he can tell a distinct change in Tennell's attitude this spring.
"He looks better in our drills and when you see him walking around, you can just tell he has more confidence," Wilson said. "He has a look in his eyes like he's got more confidence. Hopefully, that will continue. And if it does, he should have a chance to have a good year."
Tennell will likely develop into an outside threat and Broyles will play a slot receiver. While playing at the position last season, Broyles produced 46 receptions for 687 yards and six touchdowns.
The Sooners are expected to have other young talent waiting for their chance to develop. Sophomores Jameel Owens and Dejuan Miller and junior Brandon Caleb all are in the mix for playing time, although Owens has been hampered by an ankle injury.
And Oklahoma coaches have been pleased with the development of junior Mossis Madu, who had doubled as a slot receiver and a running back in early preparations so far this spring.
Whoever starts will likely receive the benefit of playing with all of the riches in the Oklahoma offense surrounding them.
The Sooners will return two 1,000-yard backs from last season in Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray. And the presence of tight end Jermaine Gresham, who produced 66 receptions for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns, should ensure that wide receivers will benefit from single coverage.
"A few years ago, we had Malcolm Kelly and everybody was concentrating on him," Tennell said. "But with the running backs coming on and with Jermaine, we've got a bunch of weapons. They think we're the weak link but we're going to show them."
Bradford is excited about throwing to the young receiving corps, even if many observers consider them as a liability.
"Before the season last year, it was the same thing," Bradford said. "After we lost Malcolm, everybody wanted to talk about how our wide receiver corps was weak and we wouldn't be able to make plays. We showed them."
His current receiving group is capable of similar production when they get playing time, Bradford said.
"I think the people outside the program are making more of a deal out of it than it really is," Bradford said. "And I like that people are doing that. It's great. The more people that sleep on us, the better."