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August 15, 2011Since the departure of Garrett Hartley in 2008, Oklahoma has been searching for the right person to handle kickoff duties at Oklahoma.
Hartley was the last kicker at Oklahoma who could consistently boot kickoffs into the endzone. Oklahoma hasn't been able to find a player who could duplicate that feat, and it's led to quite a few big kickoff returns over the year.
But punter Tress Way is hoping that trend can change in 2011.
"He's just crushing the ball," said Way of Patrick O'Hara. "Yesterday, guys I'm not joking, he hit an 84-yard kickoff. He hit it four yards out of the back of the endzone. I'm just like, 'Paddy, do that so I can just focus on punting.'"
Way has been used on kickoffs during his special teams career at Oklahoma, but it's not a duty he wants to continue because of a history of injuries.
"I've torn my groin three times before just in my career," Way explained. "Three of them were from kickoffs. It's kind of a little tender.
"But with Patrick O'Hara, he literally has the strongest leg I've ever seen. I've been to a lot of camps but he literally has the strongest leg I've ever seen."
The problem for O'Hara in the past has been accuracy. O'Hara's leg is strong, but Stoops hasn't been able to trust him with kickoff duties because no one knows exactly where the ball will end up.
"He's still pretty raw, but this camp he's only mishit a couple out of all the kickoffs he's been hitting," said Way. "But oh my gosh, his hangtime and his distance, I've never seen anything like it."
Way would like to be out of the kickoff derby so he can concentrate on what he does best, turning the field around on opposing teams and pinning other people deep.
"I'd love to be down in Orlando for that finalist, for the final three," said Way, who was speaking of the Ruy Guy Award. "I know I'm capable of it and last year I averaged 44 and finished top ten in the nation, but I was just disappointed. I didn't hit the ball as well as I should have."
Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills are two certainties in the OU wide receiving corps. But there is a jumble of other receivers such as Trey Franks, Jaz Reynolds and Dejuan Miller.
Miller is coming off of a season where he tore his meniscus and missed half the season. Reynolds spent time in the doghouse but appears to be on the right track heading into 2011.
Franks ended up seeing the most action of the three last season until Cameron Kenney stepped up to become a major threat toward the end of the 2010 season. But now Franks is starting to realize his potential in fall camp.
Franks is known as a track star on the football team. His athletic ability is not the problem. Learning the position and developing a stronger bond with Landry Jones has been the biggest issue.
"It's about being comfortable in every situation and getting a thousand reps," said Jay Norvell. "Once he gets those, now he's really starting to get confidence. The rhythm between a quarterback and a receiver is a really special thing. The only way you can get it is by doing it every day over and over and over.
"Ryan and Landry don't even have to talk. They have a vibe between one another. It happened again today in practice. Ryan went deep down the middle and Landry knew what he was going to do before he even did it. And that's when you have something.
"When you have timing and understanding and feel in the passing game. That's where you really have something special. Trey is starting to get that. Kenny is starting to get that and the younger guys see that. As they emulate that they are starting to get that."
Norvell is also high on Jaz Reynolds and Miller. He says Justin McCay and Sheldon McClain are just behind those three in terms of playing time.
But he continues to be intrigued with Kameel Jackson.
"Now you've got a guy like Kameel Jackson and he shows some things," said Norvell. "He's got some savvy, he catches the ball, he makes plays when he gets the opportunity and he starts getting in the mix a little bit. We've got a number of guys that can play that number three position. We'll play them all as long as they'll make plays."
And Norvell says his receivers are not just pushing it other, they're also pushing him to get them on the field more.
"That gives us more competition, more things we can do and they keep asking about the five wides," said Norvell. "Coach, when is the five wide formation coming? We'll call it Cheetah. You know, they've got all these names."
YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD
"He's not the thickest or the biggest, but he can block. He gets inside and he's just relentless on the edge. Then he's got real soft hands. He's made a couple of great catches, great one-handed catches and stuff like that in practice. He's going to contribute. He's a guy that we need to make big plays and block on the edge. He's building as well as the rest of us. He's gotten a lot better over the last year." - Offensive Guard Gabe Ikard
Sheldon McClain and Justin McCay:
"Sheldon is much improved and Justin is continuing to improve. They're a little bit behind those other guys but they still give us athletic depth. It's a good thing when you're first unit can be on the sideline at practice and you can still put athletic guys on the field." - Jay Norvell
"He's going to be a great running back. He's obviously a young guy, but he's going to play this year and he's going to make big plays. When he gets out in the open that kid can fly. We have so many great backs, but he's a guy that can take it all the way every time he touches it. That's a very good feeling to have, that you're blocking for someone like that." - Gabe Ikard
"His overall grasp of our offense has allowed him to be more confident and in control. He continues to develop here going into his third year. Blake continues to make that kind of growth and I'm really excited about what he's done. Typically a guy comes back after his first spring and has the summer to rehash everything and he comes back a lot different football player in the fall and he's certainly done that." - Josh Heupel