- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- Kenny Stills has been in this position before.
Before his breakout rookie season with the New Orleans Saints last year, the wide receiver was also a freshman sensation at Oklahoma three years earlier.
Back then, Stills recalls that he was constantly warned about the danger of a “sophomore slump” -- which he admitted was partly because of his perceived maturity issues.
Regardless, Stills said that negativity drove him then and continues to drive him now.
“You know, in college, your second year they expect you to have a sophomore slump,” Stills said this week during teammate Ben Grubbs’ charity softball game. “So that’s kind of the mentality I took to this offseason, making sure like in college you don’t have a sophomore slump. And just continuing to build and get better.
“I gained a few pounds, and my head’s been in this playbook. And I’m so focused just on football and enjoying myself and having fun. So I can’t wait for us to get going.”
When asked why he isn’t latching onto another popular football cliché instead – the “Year 2 leap” – Stills said, “I guess I was a little bit of a problem in college my freshman year, so they expected me to have a little slumping, so that’s kind of what they put in my head. And that negativity always has driven me.”
Stills was perceived as a bit brash and cocky during those early years at Oklahoma, and he also was suspended one game as a sophomore after an arrest for misdemeanor driving under the influence.
However, he never did experience that slump that he was warned about.
After setting school records with 61 catches and 786 yards as a freshman at Oklahoma, Stills followed up with 61 catches for 849 yards as a sophomore and 82 catches for 959 yards as a junior. He then declared for the NFL draft early and landed in New Orleans as a fifth-round pick.
Now, Stills is hardly seen as an area of concern.
If anything, he might actually be flying under the radar. Most outside observers seem to just take it as fact that Stills is entrenched as the Saints’ No. 2 starter after taking over that role from veteran Lance Moore last year.
Stills caught 32 passes for 641 yards and five touchdowns last year, leading the NFL with 20 yards per catch. The 6-foot, 194-pounder was often used on deep routes since he was the fastest receiver on the field.
This year, however, Stills is expected to run more short and intermediate routes, as well, while first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks takes over the mantle as the fastest receiver on the team.
“Coach [Sean] Payton does a good job of using us everywhere,” Stills said. “He puts us inside, outside. Has me running this route, that route, clearing out. So it just depends on what he wants me to do. Wherever they put me, I’m gonna prepare myself to go out there and make big plays. ...
“There’s still so much I can still learn about this offense. ... There’s definitely more that I can do. There’s always more that you can do. I’m learning as much as I can. And wherever they put me, I’m gonna be prepared to make plays.”
12hEric D. Williams