As he successfully did in college, Saints receiver Kenny Stills focused on avoiding sophomore slump

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (84) pulls in a 76-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Not long after Saints receiver Kenny Stills caught 61 passes for 786 yards and five touchdowns during his freshman year in college to help Oklahoma win the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 2010 season, he was arrested on suspicion of underage drinking and driving.

Stills recalls many predicted he’d experience the dreaded second-year doldrums, and the fact that he was suspended for one game and missed another with a head injury to start 2011 didn’t ameliorate that perception.

But a slump never came. He caught 61 passes for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games as a sophomore while Oklahoma triumphed in the Insight Bowl, and as a junior he had a career year with 82 grabs for 959 yards and 11 scores in 13 contests as the Sooners reached the Cotton Bowl.

As Stills heads into his sophomore campaign with the Saints in 2014, there is no legal distraction like there was in Oklahoma three years earlier. But his mindset preparing for his second year with the Saints is similar to the one he had moving toward season No. 2 with the Sooners.

“That’s kind of the mentality I took to this offseason — making sure, like in college, you don’t have a sophomore slump,” Stills, whom the Saints selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, said Wednesday night at a charity softball game in Metairie. “I gained a few pounds. My head’s been in this playbook. I’m so focused just on football.

“That negativity (from the public after his freshman year) has always driven me.”

The son a former safety for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, Stills last season played as well as any rookie joining one of the most complex, prolific offenses in the NFL could hope.

He finished third on the team with 641 receiving yards off 32 catches. His astounding 20.03 yards per catch was the best among NFL players who qualified for that statistical category’s leader board.

Stills had five touchdowns receptions and incorporated himself smoothly into the Saints’ passing offense, which was second in 2013 and has never been worse than fourth since quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton arrived in 2006.

The “shortest” of those TDs was 34 yards. The longest was 76. In between, the scores were from 42, 52 and 69 yards. Four of them were on obvious, third-down passing situations, but he nonetheless managed to free himself of the coverage.

From all that, Stills only concludes that he’s “a little more comfortable around the stuff … (he’s) learning” alongside a receiving corps which is led by nine-year veteran Marques Colston and recently added rookie Brandin Cooks, the first-round pick out of Oregon State.

“There’s so much I can still learn from this offense, and that’s what I’m focused on this offseason,” Stills said. “There’s definitely more that I can do. There’s always more that I can do.”

Quotable:

“A lot of fans have been asking if I’m going to be taking over Lance (Moore’s) dancing. I’m not a big dancer, but we’ll find a way to keep the fans entertained.” — Stills, on Moore, the longtime Saints receiver who was released in March and later signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Stills said he speaks to Moore daily via text message and is happy he landed with the Steelers, whose six Super Bowl trophies are the most in the NFL.

Stills and Moore may forever be linked in the memories of Saints fans because Moore, on his last touchdown celebration at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, thrust his hips three times in a celebration inspired by the skit “Excessive Celebration” from the Comedy Central show “Key & Peele.”

Moore and Stills — who threw his playing towel in the air as part of a celebration they insist was talked about beforehand but never rehearsed — were each fined $7,875 afterwards.