Is Gresham’s loss a bigger blow for Oklahoma than Bradford’s?

Oklahoma Gresham Football

When Sam Bradford returns to action, whether it’s in two weeks, three weeks, or four weeks, he’ll be doing so without the nation‘s most dangerous tight end, as Jermaine Gresham will be out for the entire season after having surgery to repair torn cartilage on his right knee.

Thinking long term, the five-month recovery time means that Gresham will be ready to go for the scouting combine in February (if not the Senior Bowl in late January, if he recovers just a little ahead of schedule), so his stock for the 2010 NFL Draft wouldn’t appear to be affected much, if at all. Of course, that’s based on the assumption that he’s going to declare for the draft instead of returning next season, but after spurning the opportunity to turn pro after last season, it’s hard to see him passing up the chance after this injury.

Thinking short term though, this is a huge loss for Oklahoma, and dare I say it, more so than Bradford’s loss, not least because of the timetable involved.

Even when Bradford was in, Oklahoma’s offense wasn’t the well-oiled machine that we saw so often last season, and not just because of two costly fumbles in BYU territory. Bradford was a solid 10 of 14, but it was only for 96 yards, an average of only 6.86 yards per attempt.

Last season, Bradford averaged 9.77 yards per attempt (4,720 on 483 attempts), and his season-low was 6.24 in the BCS national title game against Florida, when he had 256 yards on 41 attempts.

Each of Oklahoma’s five leading receivers last season averaged more than 14 yards per reception last season, with Gresham and receiver Ryan Broyles, the two returnees from that bunch, averaging 14.4 and 14.9 respectively.

Gresham had at least one catch of 20 yards or more in 23 of the 37 games that he played in over the last three seasons (20 in 27 in 2007 and 2008), and he had catches of 52, 64, and 73 yards last season.

Florida’s defensive performance in January showed what can happen when you neutralize that big-play threat (Gresham had eight catches and two scores, but his longest catch was for 11 yards, and he had only 62 total yards receiving), but when you take a tight end that can stretch the field like that completely out of the equation, it can create problems, especially when you are a) working with a slew of unproven receivers, and b) when said field-stretching tight end’s backups, and no offense intended to Trent Ratterree and James Hanna, don’t compare.

Compound that by throwing an inexperienced quarterback into a tight game against an inspired defense, and the end result? All credit duly goes to BYU’s defense, and OU also had a couple of very, very costly penalties to go with those two lost fumbles that thwarted scoring chances.

However, when you don’t have someone in there who you can count on to make those plays that Gresham can, whether it’s a grab for 7 yards or 70, a third and long deep in your own end, or a touchdown in the red zone, it’s going to have an adverse effect, to the point where it matters only so much who’s under center.

Though the run might be more of a focus to make Jones’ job easier, these next few weeks will serve as an opportunity for Broyles (who was held to only four catches for 26 yards, which, coincidentally, was his same output from the BCS national title game) and the receiving corps, along with Gresham’s backups, to step up and show that they can make up for the lost production, whether it’s Bradford or Jones throwing the ball.