The best football player in crimson this autumn will be the player who was the best in crimson last autumn. But will Malcolm Kelly get the chance to show it? No, I didn't forget about Adrian Peterson, now about to go ashore for the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson is an all-time great; he ran like his shoulder pads were on fire. Ran through defenders the way Secretariat ran through dust. But Peterson's collarbone snapped against Iowa State, halfway through 2007. Kelly was a force the entire year. He's big, he's strong, he's fast and he has great hands. Wild prediction: Kelly will go higher in the 2008 NFL draft than Peterson went in the 2007 draft, though most of the mock drafts don't yet list Kelly, since he'll be just a junior this season. If Kelly turns pro and slips past seventh overall in the draft, some lucky team has a steal. Kelly was nothing short of spectacular in 2006, making acrobatic and clutch catches. His 6-foot-4 height puts him above defenders, and once in the air, Kelly retains his ability, which is no small thing. A lot of guys look like NBA small forwards with both feet on the ground; once airborne, they become mere mortals. Truth is, Kelly made steady Paul Thompson look a lot better than he really was as a quarterback. Thompson would float a pass in the general direction of the opposing secondary, and Kelly would twist and turn and clutch the pigskin like it was a life raft going over the Lake Texoma spillway. But in all likelihood, Thompson was a far cry above what OU likely will use at quarterback this season. Neither of the Sooners' top two candidates, Sam Bradford or Kid Nichol, have taken a collegiate snap. Can either develop enough to take full advantage of Kelly's talents? Yes. Will they? Doubtful. The Sooner plan seems obvious, as it with any team reconciled to playing a yearling quarterback. Take it slow. Keep gambles to a minimum. Make decisions as clear as possible for either Bradford or Nichol. On a team with excellent blocking and defenders who during timeouts sharpen their teeth on ox-bones, that really is the only sound strategy. But it's no way to take advantage of Kelly's talents. It's no crime to have a flanker as your best player. The 1968 Sooners were co-Big Eight champs, and their best ballplayer was wingback Eddie Hinton. The '03 Sooners were labeled a team for the ages, before a post-November fall, and in the rearview mirror it seems clear that pass-catcher Mark Clayton was their best player. At least on offense. Of course, coaches would prefer a quarterback be the go-to guy on the gridiron. That luxury is at least a year away, probably longer, for Bob Stoops. But Malcolm Kelly can take Oklahoma a long way in this 2007 season, so long as he gets a little quarterbacking help. Sudden Sam Bradford or Kid Nichol have to get the ball somewhere in the vicinity of their best ballplayer.
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Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly could exceed all offensive expectations this season. Kelly was a force for the Sooners last year, especially after Adrian Peterson was injured. BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN