With Shepard departed, other WRs must produce for Oklahoma

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma's wide receivers have grown weary of the question they will be asked until the season starts. How in the world will they fill the considerable void left by the departure of Sterling Shepard?

With 86 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns, Shepard provided 29.5 percent of Oklahoma's catches, 32.2 percent of its receiving yards and 29 percent of its receiving touchdowns.

Now Shepard is in training camp with the New York Giants and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and second-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley must figure out how to replace that production. While touting Shepard's example to the Sooners' current receivers, Riley said he's letting them know they will be counted on to make the big plays this season.

''I think they sense that,'' Riley said. ''I think they sense there are more opportunities. We want to be a more well-rounded group. In a perfect world, we don't have a guy who we will throw it to that high a percent of the time. ... I think through the development of the offense as we go through these years in recruiting, I think we're going to be a more well-rounded group, and the thought is, much tougher to defend.''

No one receiver figures to come close to the numbers posted last season by Shepard, but the list of those who could see more chances is long. It's led by senior Dede Westbrook, the Sooners' top returning receiver with 46 catches for 743 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.

Senior Jarvis Baxter (20 catches) and sophomore Mark Andrews (19 catches) played in all 13 games last season, but fellow returnees Jordan Smallwood, Dahu Green, Jeffery Mead and A.D. Miller saw only spot action, combining for eight catches.

Riley said the production of those players ''will be one of the deciding factors for us. ... We'll get some opportunities one-on-one with guys like that. If we can win those battles, we feel we'll be tough to play.''

Baker Mayfield, a returning All-America second-team quarterback, has raved about sophomore Nick Basquine - named as the Sooners' top scout team player in 2014 before not playing last season - going so far as to say ''he might wind up starting for us. He's going to play a lot anyways.''

Added production could come from a handful of newcomers. Freshmen Mykel Jones and Zach Farrar are highly touted prospects, and Riley said Jones is ''similar to Sterling in his explosiveness.''

At Penn State in 2015, senior transfer Geno Lewis had 17 catches in 13 games, and he started 18 times for the Nittany Lions over three seasons. Lewis said the lack of experience in Oklahoma's receiving corps made it an attractive place to transfer.

''I basically went down and I wrote down all the power five schools and looked at all their depth charts for receivers and looked at their quarterbacks and everybody they had coming back and things like that,'' Lewis said. ''Oklahoma was just the best fit for me. I just felt like it was the best opportunity for me.''

Smallwood said it really doesn't matter who makes the most catches, just that the job gets done, and that the Sooners' receivers have tried to tune out the doubters.

''We stay focused and don't really pay attention to what the outside world says,'' Smallwood said. ''Our whole goal is to do it as a team together. We're going to have people that hate on us and doubt us. We're going to work together as a team.''

Added Andrews: ''I don't really take much thought into being underrated as a receiving corps, but I know that we do have a bunch of hungry guys that have a chip on their shoulder, not because people are saying that we're underrated, just because that's the type of guys that we are. We're going to be ready to play and show everyone what we can do.''

That's the right attitude to have, Mayfield said.

''I think they're sick and tired of hearing that our receivers aren't going to be any good because Shep's gone,'' Mayfield said. ''They should absolutely take that personal. I think that they're here playing receiver at Oklahoma for a reason. I trust them and they're playing well right now and we're only going to keep progressing as camp goes on.''

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