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February 6, 2012When Landry Jones sets foot on the OU practice fields early next month, he'll likely have flashbacks to everything that went wrong down the stretch in 2011.
That's because Jones will once again be faced with the reality of a thin collection of receivers.
Kenny Stills will be in tow and so will returning pass catchers Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson.
And no one has forgotten the arrival of Trey Metoyer, the former high school Rivals.com five-star All American.
But is that enough to make Jones feel like everything will be fine in 2012? Is that enough to help Jones rebuild his stock as a sure-fire No. 1 NFL draft pick?
"We're all disappointed with the way the season ended," said wide receivers coach Jay Norvell. "We know that. We had a team that could win the Big 12 championship, and we didn't get it. So we're not happy about that. And I'm certainly not happy about how we finished the season at wide receiver, in Stillwater. We need to get better."
Potential alone isn't going to immediately turn things around for Jones or this Sooner offense. Stills has potential. Metoyer has potential.
Heck, people have been talking about Franks' potential for two years and all Sooner fans are left with are a few flashes of athleticism and questions about his character.
You can almost put Stills in that category - the disappointment category.
All this group of receivers has proven, is that none of them deserve to be included in Ryan Broyles category.
They've also proven that Oklahoma needed to go out and sign the best group of receivers in the country.
You can sugarcoat it if you want. But Oklahoma's 2012 recruiting class doesn't exactly instill confidence in the receiving corps Jones finished with last season.
I reminded Norvell that during a recent appearance by Landry Jones on ESPN's College Football Live, in-studio analysts broke down the Oklahoma offense without Broyles.
They highlighted how easy the game was for Kenny Stills when Broyles was on the field. They also showed how hard it was for Still after his injury.
So I asked Norvell: What happened to Kenny's production after Ryan Broyles was out?
"I told someone a story today about Ryan Broyles," said Norvell in his answer to my question. "Sometimes you don't appreciate a guy until he's not around. All Ryan did was play good every chance he got a chance to play. That's a credit to him. Guys that want to be great players need to play great. It's that simple."
So I asked Norvell after that statement, "Are you referring to Kenny Stills when you say, "guys that want to be great players need to play great?"
"I didn't say that," Norvell snapped back. "You said that. But I'm just saying that if you want to be that kind of player, you do it by performing. You don't do it by talking. You don't do it by, you know, other actions. You do it by playing.
"That's what Ryan did every chance that he got, even when he wasn't healthy, even when he had sore ankles, even when he broke his scapula, even when he was sick at Florida State and we didn't think he was going to play."
Make no mistake, OU coaches are sending their message too. You either do it on the field, or we'll do it by recruiting over you.
What Norvell has effectively done is flexed his muscles, and his Oklahoma muscles on the recruiting trail.
Norvell was a man without many cards to play a year ago. When Trey Franks was suspended, he quickly found his way back on the field. When Jaz Reynolds was suspended, he quickly found his way back on the field.
There were simply no other options for Oklahoma to motivate players on the roster.
Now there are.
And Norvell can send the message he couldn't send a year ago.
"(Kenny Stills) made the biggest play of the (Florida State) game. The end of the game was great, when Kenny made that touchdown. But Ryan kept the game alive on the third-down catch about three plays before, or we're not even talking about him and the last play.
"Those are the types of performances that, when people ask me about Ryan Broyles, I think about the times when he wasn't 100 percent and played through it. That, to me, is what made him a great player.
"He made a lot of flashy plays, too, but those are the things that I think we're aspiring to be. We've got a lot of good, young players who are talented. We need to realize it."
And if Stills and the rest of the returnees can't realize that, Metoyer will be there in the spring to remind them of the onslaught of young talent ready to take over.
"I think the best thing that you can do is as a coach is create competition," Norvell said. "I can tell them a lot of things, but if they see a guy next to them that can play, that kind of gets their attention. So there's no question the best thing that we could have is competition."
At some point, you expect the light switch will flip for players like Franks and Stills. But if it doesn't, there is now no shortage of talented receivers headed to Norman.