NORMAN, Okla. -- This time last year, receiver was still a glaring question mark on a team with Big 12 title hopes. Ryan Broyles was a likely All-American, but he was the only established player from a group that was one of the Sooners' weak spots in 2009.
"I felt like we almost didn’t have a purpose," Broyles said of the nightmarish '09 campaign. "We set out with greatest quarterback in OU history, I feel, Sam Bradford. One of the greatest tight ends [Jermaine Gresham] and both of those guys got hurt early in the season, so we lost that first game against BYU and I felt like the season was just up in the air."
A return to the national title game, where Oklahoma has been denied by Florida months earlier, looked unlikely just 30 minutes into the 2009 season, when Bradford suffered a shoulder injury that cost him most of his junior season. Gresham never made it on the field after a knee injury just days before the opener. Two of the biggest pieces of the national runner-up were gone.
"We really lost out on what we were working toward after the first game, so I felt like it was almost like we were going through the motions and it showed," Broyles said. "We went 8-5 and that was one of the biggest things that hurt us."
Freshman Kenny Stills burst on the scene in the spring of 2010 after enrolling early at Oklahoma, but few knew what to expect from the receivers come fall.
They did a great job, especially toward the second half of the year," Stoops said.
Most impressive, besides Broyles' nation-leading 131 receptions, was the unit's depth.
Stills was second on the team with 786 yards on 61 catches, including five touchdowns. A torn mensicus sidelined Dejuan Miller in mid-October after the junior had played two of his best games of the year against Texas and Cincinnati. But even with Miller out, Oklahoma had an answer.
Senior Cameron Kenney caught just 14 passes in Oklahoma's first 11 games, but finished with 19 in its final three -- the Sooners' three biggest of the season. He accounted for 264 yards and three scores, including a momentum-swinging, third-and-long, 86-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State in Stillwater to help the Sooners win a South title.
"That was a major spark," Stoops said. "There’s no question they became a strength and it became a big difference in the latter part of the year."
Freshman Trey Franks added 29 receptions, and although Kenney's eligibility is done, the Sooners' receiving corps looks like one of the Big 12's deepest heading into 2011.
"They worked," Stoops said. "[Receivers and co-offensive coordinator] coach [Jay] Norvell did a great job working with them and they gained a little maturity and confidence as they went and gained positive experience."
Stills, after another spring, looks to cement his place as one of the league's best receivers in 2011.
"He came in early in the spring, he learned the offense, and that helped. Guys come here in the summer and they’re a step behind. It’s not as easy. The faster you get out there, the easier it is to relax and be able to play the way you can play. He was able to get out and get in crunch time," Broyles said. "He’s going to be electrifying. People label me as a guy you can expect great things from every game. And he’s another one of those guys."
Broyles, a senior, is plugging what he's learned into young receivers like Franks. He's gearing up for what could be that big year the Sooners missed out on in 2009.
"To be honest, it took me three years to learn the offense and what the coaches expected," Broyles said. "But I feel like those guys are getting a grasp of that."