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Oklahoma Still Hoping to Find Answers at Wide Receiver in Fall Camp

Just a month out from the season, the next few weeks will be critical for shaping OU's wide receiver rotation in 2023.

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s quest for answers at wide receiver will spill over into fall camp.

The Sooners will begin practice on Thursday, kicking off the final stretch until Brent Venables’ second season back in Norman gets rolling on Sept. 2 against Arkansas State.

Jalil Farooq and Drake Stoops return 76 combined catches from 2022, but OU has to replace its two leading receivers in Marvin Mims and Brayden Willis, as well as 33 catches for 229 yards out of the back field from running back Eric Gray.

Willis and Gray’s versatility was a necessity for offense coordinator Jeff Lebby in 2022, as the wide receiver rotation was tight.

Regardless of if the difficulty as learning the new offense or losing wide receivers coach Cale Gundy right as fall camp began before the season, the reality for Oklahoma was that essentially four wide receivers played last year — Mims, Farooq, Stoops and Theo Wease.

Mims is now in the NFL and Wease transferred to Missouri in the offseason, leaving just two players with experience making plays for the Sooners.

Following the season, Venables landed Texas Tech wide receiver coach Emmett Jones, known for his track record as a talent developer, to take over in Norman.

Jones quickly hit the transfer portal to find answers.

Michigan’s Andrel Anthony announced his commitment to Oklahoma the same day Jones’ hire was announced, and after spring practice the Sooners added another speedster in former Texas receiver Brenen Thompson.

Add in another summer arrival in true freshman Jaquaize Pettaway alongside 2022’s new faces in Gavin Freeman, LV Bunkley-Shelton, Nic Anderson and Jayden Gibson and the Jones should have the bodies to form a much larger rotation in 2023.

“You want to play six or seven receivers, you want to play two to three tight ends,” Lebby said during OU’s Media Day on Tuesday. “And you don’t want those guys playing 80 to 85 snaps.”

If Lebby’s ideal scenario plays out, four or five receivers can win spots behind Farooq and Stoops in fall camp.

Taking the step up to Oklahoma, Jones acknowledged this is one of the most talented groups of wide receivers he’s gotten to work with top to bottom.

But what he really liked about the work his group did in the summer was how they attacked the offseason work with intention and fire.

“I like for people to look at that room and say we might be down at that receiver position,” he said on Tuesday. “… Yeah we may smile when we hear it but once we get in that classroom and shut that door, it’s a chip on our shoulder.

“… We have multiple guys… and probably 12 to 14 caught well over 21,000 (passes off the jugs machine). Some surpassed 25,000. So I didn’t have to stand and watch those guys do that. All I did was just remind everybody.”

Regardless of experience, Jones still has a simple approach that he will demand from his entire group of pass catchers from the moment fall camp gets underway.

“It’s a one day at a time process,” Jones said. “I told Farooq about that yesterday too. It’s a one day at a time process. We’ve got to help each other get through this. We’re going to make sure we understand what we’re doing every day.”

With the running back room sorted out, Dillon Gabriel’s comfort level in Lebby’s system and the offensive line shaping to just have a battle at left guard, there will be plenty of attention paid by the coaching staff to how OU’s young receiving corps performs throughout fall camp.

“We need all those guys to come on,” Lebby said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are capable with a lot of guys that don’t have much experience.

“Again, these next three weeks are going to be critical.”