No. 19 Oklahoma expects other receivers to help Shepard
The 19th-ranked Sooners feel they have the talent and depth to make new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's system work. They'll finally get to start finding out Saturday in the season opener against Akron.
Coach Bob Stoops said Shepard, Durron Neal and newcomer Dede Westbrook will be the top wide receivers. He said Jarvis Baxter and Jeffery Mead will rotate in, depending on the formation, and Dahu Green and A.D. Miller will play as true freshmen. Mark Andrews is the top tight end.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield likes them all.
''You can't double team one of them, because if they give us a one on one matchup, we're going to take advantage of it,'' he said. ''If they want to spread out and cover, we're going to run the ball. We have good answers right now.''
Shepard caught 51 passes for 970 yards and five touchdowns last season, but Oklahoma's passing game came to a near halt while he struggled with a recurring hamstring injury late in the year.
Neal, who struggled to fill Shepard's role, feels he has much to prove this season.
''I hear stuff about this and that about me, how I'm not this and that,'' Neal said. ''But once you go into that locker room, you see your brothers and they see how hard you put in the work and the effort that you put in every day. That's all that matters. Just my mentality going into the season is being a playmaker. Simple as that. Be a playmaker.''
Westbrook caught 76 passes for 1,487 yards and 13 touchdowns in just eight games at Blinn (Texas) Community College last season. Mayfield looks forward to connecting with him.
''He's an explosive player,'' Mayfield said. ''He's a great guy. He's great off the press, tough to cover. You can ask any of our defensive backs, he's been a fast guy adjustment for them. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he's pretty fun to watch. Explosive plays, I would say, will come from him.''
Baxter is a 5-foot-11, 160-pound transfer from Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College. Green is a 6-5 leaper from nearby Westmoore High School who caught 14 touchdown passes as a high school senior. Miller, at 6-3, caught 18 touchdowns as a prep senior.
Andrews, a redshirt freshman, has impressed throughout camp. Mayfield likes his 6-foot-6 safety net.
''He's a big body,'' Mayfield said. ''He can box out and catch the ball over corners, and then he's faster than linebackers. So it's kind of a mismatch problem whenever you guard him.''
Mead, a 6-6 sophomore, has not caught a pass at Oklahoma, but he has improved his strength significantly since last year and gained Mayfield's trust.
''He's really come into his own and has made some big plays for us,'' Mayfield said. ''He's kind of realized he has the opportunity to have a bigger role, and he's taken advantage of it.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .