When Kentucky’s offensive coordinator talks, fans listen closely to every word he has to say about the quarterbacks. We’ll get to those comments later. The most significant development he shared on Thursday’s KSR was not about the passers, but the pass-catchers.
The BBN knows Josh Ali can ball. UK’s 2020 leading receiver is getting some help this fall from former Kentucky Mr. Football, Wan’Dale Robinson. An incredible athlete, everyone knew the Nebraska transfer had the tools to make an immediate impact in Lexington. His work ethic is what surprised coaches this spring.
“Gym rat, a total gym rat that does everything you want him to do, in terms of on and off the field,” is how Coen described Wan’Dale. “[He] loves to study film, loves to know more about the game, studies Cooper Kupp on a regular basis, studies the best receivers, shows up and plays. He’s a much better fundamental and technique receiver than I thought he’d be, kind of being a little bit of a gadget guy at Nebraska. [He] should be dynamic and a big-time playmaker for us.”
Outside of Ali and Wan’Dale, that’s it. The rest of UK’s wide receivers are unknowns. There’s plenty of the underclassmen with big-play potential — Izayah Cummings, Michael Drennen, Chauncey Magwood, Tae Tae Crumes and Christian Lewis, to name a few — but reliable depth is an issue entering fall camp, especially after Sr. Clevan Thomas suffered a season-ending injury.
“I think we can also supplement some of those depth issues. I love the tight end room,” Coen said. “I’m excited about that room. I think that group of guys can be dynamic and do some good things for us.”
Justin Rigg fits the bill as a traditional tight end. Keaton Upshw has proven that he can split out at receiver haul in jump balls. Injuries forced Brenden Bates to play limited snaps, but he performed well as an H-back.
All three tight ends can line up and motion to different spots on the field to force mismatches, a talking point throughout spring practice. Today Coen shared for the first time that he will also look to UK’s running backs to solve the pass-catching issue. He plans to use more than one running back at a time, not just by forcing them to run routes and catch passes out of the backfield.
“Obviously, there’s receiver depth issues, there’s no question about that, but I believe that how deep we are the running back position, we can utilize that room where it’s not just one of those guys playing on the field on a play-by-play basis. You would argue that that is one of our deepest positions, right, in terms of the skill at that position, the future, the talent. We need to get creative and ultimately get multiple of those guys on the field at the same time and I think that they’re dynamic enough to catch the football, not only out of the backfield, but from some other positions on the field. I think we can supplement some of the depth issues that we do have at the receiver position and also utilize some of the guys that we have in that room.”
It would not be a first for some. Rarely used outside of the backfield in 2020, Kavosiey Smoke did catch a hitch or two after lining up as a slot receiver. Travis Tisdale is explosive in space, potentially providing a spark in jet sweeps and the like. JuTahn McClain did not catch a pass last fall, but as a true freshman he showed off his athleticism by playing in every game on special teams.
Kentucky may not have enough proven wide receivers entering the 2021 preseason, but they have enough weapons to ensure that Coen’s aerial attack gets off the ground.