ARLINGTON, Texas — CeeDee Lamb looks a year older and a year thicker.
Last summer, teammates and reporters marveled at the Oklahoma junior receiver’s physical transformation following his freshman campaign. Those advances are similar this season — a little more weight, a little less fat.
But he still remembers running a much thinner body through his first fall camp in Norman.
“I would do something good, but it wouldn’t be fast enough,” Lamb said at Big 12 football media days this week. “For receivers, we have releases to get off jams. For mine, it would be too slow, and the quarterback would be on the next receiver because I was too long on my release.”
Ever since, despite a reputation for highlight-reel catches and long touchdowns, Lamb says his quest has been about little things.
“Just adding more tools to my inventory,” Lamb said. “My freshman year, the things I did in high school weren’t going to work. I’m still adding more to my game.”
He figures to be a high-round NFL Draft pick in 2020. But one small improvement could be enough to place Lamb in an exclusive category with OU’s all-time best receivers. He and teammate Grant Calcaterra were placed on the Biletnkoff Award watch list released Thursday as preseason candidates for college football’s top pass-catcher honor.
Calcaterra’s talent is documented. Earlier this week at AT&T Stadium, Texas coach Tom Herman stopped mid-sentence and said. “It’s hard for me to watch that” when an image of the OU tight end’s game-clinching TD catch against the Longhorns flashed on the video screen.
But Lamb is still considered OU’s next major statistical threat at receiver, a game-changing athlete on the outside, even though last season the Biletnikoff voters left him out as a semifinalist. It wasn’t for lack of numbers — he caught 11 TDs and totaled 1,158 yards — or explosiveness.
The 6-foot-3, 191-pound former small forward from the Houston area drew attention with a catch that didn’t count against UCLA, when he palmed one of Kyler Murray’s passes near the sideline but was ruled out of bounds by a small margin. Images of the grab became smash hits on social media.
And it wasn’t that Lamb wouldn’t do the small stuff. His reputation as a lethal blocker has grown, to the point where he worried his peel-back block in the Orange Bowl against Alabama’s Mack Wilson — a move that was legal then, but was ruled a penalty in the offseason — would earn him an ejection.
Lamb wants to make strides to keep pace in a league that has produced seven past Biletnikoff winners and has several who could do so again this season. Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace was a finalist in 2018, and TCU’s Jalen Reagor and Texas Tech’s McLane Mannix are on the preseason list. Texas’ Colin Johnson could join them by midseason.
“The things you see like catching the ball and getting upfield or going up and catching a ball, those thing are expected as receivers,” Lamb said. “Catching in traffic, catching with your back turned, knowing where your defenders are — those are things you have to work on.”