NORMAN, Okla. - Most of the questions about Oklahoma's offense heading into next season surround its young but talented group of wide receivers.
Jay Norvell is looking to replace departed seniors Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Quentin Chaney, but he has one player who might be able to replace all three in rising sophomore Ryan Broyles.
Norvell said Broyles will expand his role next season.
"I just don't think Broyles can come off the field like he did last year," said Norvell, Oklahoma's wide receivers coach. "He's got to be on the field more. He can't come off because he's one of our most dynamic guys, so if we have two running backs on the field then he can't afford to be on the sidelines. He's got to play outside for us."
The work for Broyles this spring has been extensive. He's no longer just a slot receiver. Broyles will be more than a yards-after-catch burner - his 5-foot-11 frame won't deter Norvell from putting him in a position to make plays down the field.
"Everybody thought Manny was too slight and he couldn't play out there, and he played good for us outside last year," Norvell said. "Ryan's capable of doing that."
That leaves room for more production from Brandon Caleb on the interior. Last season, Caleb was ready to make his breakthrough for Oklahoma as a wide receiver. But Norvell went with a starter-only approach late in the season. With Iglesias, Johnson and Broyles logging as many snaps as possible, there just wasn't room for Caleb, or anyone else, in the rotation.
"We had some veteran guys," Norvell said. "We played a lot more guys earlier than we did down the stretch. Down the stretch we just kind of played four guys and we just kind of played with it.
"Juaquin was an incredibly tough and very conditioned player and he didn't want to come out. He was conditioned to be that tough."
If Norvell can find that kind of toughness in 2009, he'll stick with a set rotation, regardless of the fast-paced, no-huddle offense Oklahoma will continue to employ. But one thing is for certain, Caleb will have a great chance of securing one of those starting spots.
But incoming junior college transfer Cameron Kenney will have something to say about that.
"When Cameron Kenney gets here we'll see what he can do," Norvell said. "It'll depend [on his progression]. I think Brandon Caleb will have a much bigger role."
Norvell will need Kenney and Caleb to play roles as inside receivers this year. That's because he's come to the conclusion Adron Tennell, Dejuan Miller and Jameel Owens will all be outside receivers for the offense in '09.
And it's likely Tennell will start off as the main outside threat for quarterback Sam Bradford. But whether he holds off Miller and Owens is up to him, and how much he can play through the nicks and dings that players like Iglesias managed throughout his career.
"He kind of went down and his ankle was bothering him and I told him he wasn't allowed to get hurt," Norvell said. "You can't get hurt. ... I think guys go through different stages of their roles and his role is changing. Guys are depending on him to play a lot more and be productive, and the same thing with Broyles."
Spring has given Norvell a sneak peek of where his receiver position will be next fall. It's clear Broyles and Tennell are heading into the fall as Oklahoma's best two options. Caleb will be heavily involved in the plans as well.
From there, the youngsters are still fighting for spots and fighting to define their roles in the offense.
"J.O. and Dejuan are young guys and they have to figure out how to play now," Norvell said. "Their role has changed. That's all part of it and those guys are getting a ton of reps. They're learning how to compete every day, and that's kind of what spring is all about.
"We'll find out what they do well and we'll look at what we have offensively and then you kind of build your plan off of that as you go through spring practice."