NORMAN, Okla.-- Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will certainly miss throwing to All-Big 12 receiver Sterling Shepard, who caught 86 passes for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns last season on his way to being the a second-round draft choice of the New York Giants.That was 40 more catches than Dede Westbrook had -- OU's leading returning receiver.
Mayfield has challenged the deep Sooner receiving corps to live up to Shepard's standards. They have listened.
"I think they're sick and tired of hearing our receivers aren't going to be any good because Sterling isn't there," Mayfield said. "They should take that personal. They are here at Oklahoma for a reason. They are good receivers. They are only going to keep progressing."
Incoming freshman Mykel Jones of Patterson, La., reminds Mayfield the most of Shepard. He's small (5-11 and 188 pounds) but doesn't play like it.
"He's very quick and very shifty," Mayfield said. "He has great ball skills. He can jump. He plays big and is very explosive."
Mayfield has a soft spot for Nick Basquine -- who like Mayfield -- came to OU as a walk-on two years ago. He has worked his way from the scout team to contending for a starting spot.
"He has worked his butt off the last two years," Mayfield said. "He has great ball skills and has very good hands. You're happy that a guy who has put in so much work is beginning to have some success."
Mayfield remembers Basquine a year ago going off to the side with the OU strength coaches to do extra drills.
"As a walk-on, you have to put in the extra effort and take advantage of your opportunities because they are limited," Mayfield said. "That's what he's been doing and that's why he is in the position that he's in."
Mayfield also singled out A.D. Miller, Dahu Green, Jeffrey Mead, Jarvis Baxter and Jordan Smallwood. Returning starter Mark Andrews has bulked up. Smallwood is beginning to develop after being slowed by injuries.
"Everybody is playing well, which is good for me," Mayfield said.
Mayfield also must adjust to a new center with Jonathan Alvarez moving from guard to center to replace two-year starter Ty Darlington, who was one of the Sooner co-captains.
The passing game should open up with OU having what is considered the nation's best run combo in Samaje Perine (1,349 yards last season) and Joe Mixon (753 yards).
"If they (opponents) don't try to stop the run first, they will be foolish," Mayfield said. "I'm not worried about establishing the running game with Samaje and Joe. They will set up the rest of the offense and set the tone. We will try to run the ball first and we should be able to do it."
The biggest key for the Sooners will be keeping Mayfield healthy. True freshman Austin Kendall is the only scholarship player behind Mayfield with Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray having to sit out the season because of NCAA transfer rules.
Mayfield's preparations have stepped-up with the Sooners playing two national powers (at Houston, Sept. 3 and Ohio State, Sept. 17) in the first three weeks of the season.
"Our summer workouts were a little different just because we realize we have to be ready from the get-go," Mayfield said. "We can't have any rust to knock off. We have to be ready to play now."
A year ago, Mayfield was fighting Trevor Knight for the starting job. He not only became the starter, but was fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting after throwing for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns and running for another 405 yards and seven touchdowns.
Mayfield said he is playing more loose and less uptight than he was at this time last year because he knows he won't be benched over one mistake. Nontheless, he still is playing with the hunger of a walk-on.
"My work ethic has been exactly the same, if not harder," he said. "I've been pushing myself more. If the guys see me taking a day off, or that if I'm looking like I have it figured out, it wouldn't be good for the program. I work hard and I expect others to do so, too."
This article was written by Bruce Campbell from Enid News & Eagle, Okla. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.