NORMAN — It is not because he wears a blond mohawk. Nor is it because he seems to revel in giving his 32,503 Twitter followers oh, so much to read about.
It is not because he shared a picture of himself in a dress, in Texas A&M maroon rather than Sooner crimson, no less.
Instead, it is because of all of these things and that at different times last season, when his team needed him most, Kenny Stills appeared to lose interest, develop alligator arms or plain forget how to catch the ball.
Perhaps it changed this past spring, but you’d never know because the only thing Bob Stoops put out for public viewing was the spring game in which Stills was more notable for the balls he dropped than the ones he caught, not to mention the fact that Trey Metoyer was the best receiver at Owen Field that day and it wasn’t remotely close.
Perhaps Stills is ready to lead this season, his junior year. As the career catches leader among current Sooners, it stands to reason. But I’ve heard a lot of people try asking Stoops about that possibility and I’ve heard Stoops say many things, none of them an unequivocal endorsement of Stills’ leadership skills.
Really, if Stills’ could only earn the comments Stoops gives Landry Jones — “Landry with the experience and maturity, he really demonstrates it on a daily basis,” the head man said of the quarterback Monday — it would represent a great leap forward.
But maturity requires, you know, maturity.
Stills’ decline has been there for all to see. Not only has he quit making the plays and producing the points he once produced, but his ineffectiveness accelerated after Ryan Broyles was lost to a torn ACL last season.
In 2011, Stills was suspended for the opener, but came back with seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. A vicious hit taken against the Seminoles left him sidelined against Missouri, but he followed with back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back strong games.
Between Ball State, Texas, Kansas, Texas Tech and Kansas State, Stills caught 32 passes for 441 yards and six for touchdowns. In the next five games, beginning with Texas A&M, when Broyles was lost, Stills caught 22 passes for 283 yards and a lone touchdown.
OU lost two of those games, against Baylor and Oklahoma State, but it wasn’t because the Bears and Cowboys had any great ideas how to stop anybody.
Stills now lines up in the slot, Broyles’ old starting point, and it seems to make all the sense in the world. Frequently, he’s likely to draw coverage from somebody other than the opponent’s best pass defender. Also, because it’s where Broyles used to play, Jones should be in the habit of throwing more passes to the slot guy than everybody else.
“He has the best feel in there, I think,” Stoops said. “He has the best feel in the route running that’s required in there, has the best feel for doing it and executing it.”
“Kenny just has a really good feel in there and he’s going to cause some people to play differently against him for his speed and athletic ability,” the quarterback said. “I think he might see more balls come his way.”
But that’s nothing we don’t already know. Stills’ feel was made clear just as soon as he stepped on the field his freshman season. His speed and athletic ability remain unquestioned.
It’s his willingness to maximize those gifts everybody’s wondering about.
It’s not like he has to be what Marc Clayton was or Ryan Broyles’ was or what Malcolm Kelly, ultimately another underachiever, was supposed to be. But it’s time he quit being Kenny Stills, guy-who-should-be-a-whole-lotbetter-than-he’s-been-here-lately, and start being the real thing again.
Of course, it’s up to him.
Stoops loves Sterling Shepard, too.