It's a question we've all been asking throughout the offseason: how will Ryan Broyles' departure effect the Oklahoma Sooners? Furthermore, who is going to step up and be the go-to wide receiver?
The obvious answer all along has been junior wide receiver Kenny Stills, but there has been room for doubt. For a while, Sooner fans were able to compare and contrast Stills to fellow junior wide receiver Jaz Reynolds. Reynolds came on really strong last season, proving that he was capable of handling a larger workload.
Reynolds finished third on the team in both receptions (41) and receiving yards (715), but he led the Sooners in yards per catch (17.4), making him a true deep threat for quarterback Landry Jones. When you throw in the fact that Reynolds is a bigger target than Stills, it was easy to wonder whether or not Reynolds would surpass Stills in terms of production next season.
Well, all those questions have been answered with a resounding "no." Reynolds, along with junior wide receiver Trey Franks and sophomore Kameel Jackson, were suspended from the team indefinitely in May and have since had their scholarships revoked.
Reynolds was a surefire starter, while Franks and Jackson were undoubtedly going to see their fair share of snaps this season. If Kenny Stills wasn't the go-to guy before, he is now. Stills is the only wide receiver left on the roster that has caught a pass at the Division 1 level.
The Sooners have a great group of incoming freshman wide receivers, led by five-star recruit Trey Metoyer, but Stills has to step up and lead this group—he has to be a mentor to Metoyer, much like Broyles was to himself.
However, why are there still question marks surrounding Stills' predisposed rise to the top of the depth chart? Let's start with things we can look at objectively: statistics. Before Broyles was sidelined due to injury, Stills had three games (out of six played) in which he produced at least 100 receiving yards. Against Texas A&M (when Broyles was injured), it was Reynolds that stepped up, not Stills. Stills finished with only two catches for 44 yards in that game.
In the four games (including the bowl game) without Broyles, Stills averaged 4.5 catches for roughly 60 yards—with Broyles in the lineup, Still averaged 6.5 catches for roughly 94 yards. There's no doubt that Broyles being on the field opened things up more for Stills, but he showed absolutely no signs of stepping up and providing a Broyles-like spark in those last four games.
It's not like Jones wasn't throwing in Stills' direction, either. In fact, Stills started getting "alligator arms" down the stretch. For those who aren't aware of the analogy, it just basically means Stills was keeping his arms pinned to his sides more so than ever—he was dropping passes he normally wouldn't, wasn't particularly trying to reach for balls thrown a bit high, etc.
It's fair to assume that Stills wasn't necessarily prepared to be thrown into the spotlight last season. He had played as the No. 2 receiver for nearly two years, and he was eating it up. Broyles made big plays, Stills was awarded with one-on-one coverage—everybody was happy. Once Broyles was out, Stills had to be the big play guy. It wasn't the right time.
But what if that feeling is extrapolated through to this season? What if Stills is just a really great No. 2 wide receiver who isn't comfortable being a No. 1 option? While this is a possibility, I still find it hard to believe. Stills has shown signs of greatness the past two seasons, I just think he was too "caught in the moment" to figure out how to step up.
Now that we've covered the objective, let's focus on the subjective, which happens to be featured in the title of this article: is Kenny Stills mature enough to replace Ryan Broyles? Of course, this question comes in light of the now infamous "dress picture" that hit the Internet over a week ago.
Do I personally think this shows signs of immaturity or the inability to step up and be a leader for the Sooners? Absolutely not. That's silly, hyperbolic and frankly rather ignorant. It was meant as a joke, as Stills even tweeted—just to make a friend laugh. In my eyes, posting this picture on Twitter shows Stills' confidence, which is something that he needed to address in a major way in order to be Broyles' replacement.
However, with that being said, posting it on Twitter was probably the wrong thing to do. While I'm quick to recognize that, for the most part, people are getting more socially aware of gender issues and flexibility, something about seeing a man in a glittery dress still seems to set people off on rants—I mean, I'm bringing it up in an article, so maybe I'm not any better.
The Internet is constantly starved for attention, and pictures like this bring out a side of people that I find much more immature than Stills wearing a dress. We should not have to question Stills' maturity solely for being young and trying to be funny, especially considering that it's still the summer—the time for college students to be "free" to have fun.
Had this picture surfaced on the Internet the night before a big game, then questioning his maturity, or maybe just his priorities, would be more reasonable. Alas, for now, let's let him be a kid.
What really matters is how Stills produces on the field. If he does figure out what he needs to do to step up and replace Broyles' production, I'm sure Sooner fans won't mind if he even wears that dress under his jersey.