The drop off in offensive production in 2011 after the loss of Ryan Broyles was staggering for Landry Jones and the Oklahoma offense. The regular season loss to Oklahoma State was the toughest example of how far Jones and the passing game had fallen.
Taking a look at the numbers also reveals the major challenges Jones and offensive co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell face heading into this season.
In full games played with Broyles during the 2011 season, Jones completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 386.9 yards per game and 26 touchdowns.
In the four games Jones played after the loss of Broyles, Jones completion percentage fell to just 59.8 percent. He also threw for just 278 yards per game in those four contests. More than 100 yards less per game.
And the most damaging stat? Jones threw just one touchdown pass after the loss of Broyles.
Now the player many criticized for not properly filling Broyles shoes at the slot receiver position is back for more in 2012. Kenny Stills is looking to turn this offense around by becoming the slot receiver he couldn't be last season.
"Really, he didn't play terrible down the stretch, we just didn't play very good as a team," explained Norvell. "I don't think it was any great failure that he had at the end of the year. We need to collectively play better as a team and I know he's anxious to be in there.
"There's a lot of opportunities in the slot and he understands that."
Broyles certainly proved that over the years. In 2011 alone, Broyles put up massive reception numbers in multiple games. In the season opener against Tulsa, Broyles had 14 catches. He continued putting up impressive reception numbers against Missouri (13), Texas (9), Kansas (13) and Kansas State (14).
Another interesting aspect of Stills' move to the slot is his incredible production as an outside receiver. Stills starred in OU's biggest road game last season as he caught seven passes for 125 yards against Florida State, as well as the game-clinching touchdown on a jump ball in the endzone. Jones actually underthrew the ball, but Stills adjusted mid-air and came down with the clutch grab.
Stills started developing a reputation for big plays in big games as an outside receiver.
"He's the kind of guy who looks outside and says, 'Put me out there if we're running a post coach.' We won't hesitate to do that either," said Norvell of Stills. "We did it with Ryan and we'll move guys around to where they need to be and where they can best help us."
So why put Stills in the slot? Why take the team's most dangerous big-gamer and stick him in a position where his production didn't seem to match his talent toward the end of 2011?
Because Stills and Norvell both believe that is exactly what this team needs.
"I never wanted to take over (the slot)," admits Stills. "I wanted to be on the outside. Being on the outside, I felt like I do better out there but I felt like what the team needs is somebody with experience at slot and that's what I'm trying to do is do what's best for the team and hopefully make more plays in there."
With freshman senstion Trey Metoyer ready to make big plays downfield and Penn State transfer Justin Brown coming into the program with plenty of experience as a wideout, Stills became the best candidate to take over the slot.
"Knowing how well Trey (Metoyer) was going to play after last spring, I felt like I had the most experience to play in there," said Stills. "It would be hard to throw Sterling (Shepard) in there his very first game and start at slot. It would be how I was last year. It wasn't very productive and I didn't play very well."
Stills has spent plenty of time stewing on his performances last season. During the summer and fall, he worked harder than ever to build the skills needed to succeed as a slot receiver.
"The slot has more moving parts because you're in the middle of the field and you have people coming from both directions at you," Norvell explained. "When you're an outside receiver, you don't have to worry about the boundary. You just have to worry about all the receivers inside.
"When you're inside, you've got people coming from all directions so you kind of have to have better vision and you've got to see the field better. That kind of constricts some guys. They don't feel comfortable doing that. Other guys don't have great vision and they run into people. That's not good as a receiver.
"That's where Ryan was so great. Maybe the best that's played inside there."
Stills may be taking one for the team, but he also watched Broyles steal the spotlight over the last two years. He knows there are plenty of opportunities at the position. He knows he's not walking around with a ball and chain attached to his leg.
"I feel like the slot is what gets this offense going," he said. "The slot has a lot more chances to make plays. The slot gets to read the defense more and gets to make a lot of decisions. Being in a football background, I'm just used to reading defenses and being able to make those plays."
The setup is there. But even Norvell knows fans haven't seen the payoff. He expects that will come this season.
"Since he's walked on our campus he's had a great feel. That's really the most important thing you need as a slot receiver," he said of Stills. "You've got to have a feel for concepts, you've got to be able to be intelligent and see defenses and Kenny's always had that. We've always felt he'd be a natural in the slot, even when we had Ryan. There just was no sense in playing him in there when we had Ryan."
Stills says Broyles fooled everyone into thinking the slot position was easy. Broyles could dance around linebackers, safeties and even his own teammates in tightly crowded spaces.
"Ryan made it look so easy and that's why I kind of feel I struggled," said Stills. "He made it look so easy and I thought that's how it was going to be. It's not. I've worked a lot harder in the spring and the summertime to master the position and I'm still working on it."
No one is denying OU struggled without a capable slot receiver after the loss of Broyles. But Stills can't forget he was the main reason behind those struggles. He wants to right that wrong this season.
"That's why I'm kind of doing what I'm doing now and trying to do my best to take over that position," he said.
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