The Los Angeles Rams ranked fourth in the NFL in 12 personnel usage — one running back, two tight ends, two receivers — last season.
Moving over to Kentucky, new offensive coordinator Liam Coen will likely stick with that same grouping a ton this fall. The program is entering the football season with just four tight ends on scholarship, but each of those players could be expected to log significant snaps this season.
Expect plenty of 12 personnel as the offense looks to highlight one of the strongest positional units on the team. With a very versatile piece who could be one of the best players on the team, Kentucky has a matchup nightmare at the tight end position. The ability of these four players could allow Coen to get very creative when creating formations this season.
After touching on quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers, we’re sliding over to Vince Marrow’s position room. The tight ends have very high expectations this fall, and this collection of players might be one of the best tight end units in college football.
Justin Rigg: Another super senior, Rigg enters his sixth season on campus after originally joining the program in 2016. The Springboro, Ohio, native has played in 50 career games with 23 starts. The 6-foot-6, 253-pound tight end is an excellent blocker while the bruiser flashed some pop in the passing game last year. Rigg recorded 12 receptions in 2020 and led the team in explosive catch rate — receptions of 15 or more yards — at 21.05 percent.
The veteran is excited about the impending utilization of 12 personnel.
“It throws off the defense as a whole when you got two tight ends in there, especially,” said Rigg this spring. “You got one splitting out, you got one in-line. Really messes with the defense, and it really opens up our offense a lot more and it allows us to do a lot more with two tight ends in there.”
Keaton Upshaw: The redshirt junior from Lima, Ohio, certainly looks the part. Standing at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Upshaw is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses and should be able to line up out wide and as well as an in-line tight end. Last season, the tight end was second on the team in targets (26) and led all pass catchers with a success rate of 46.15 percent.
The offense is planning on taking advantage of Upshaw’s unique skillset this season.
“This offense is a lot different from last year,” Upshaw told reporters this spring. “Moving us around to the outside, inside, slot, to on the ball. With the motions and stuff, we’re moving a lot. We’re really liking how it’s going this year.”
Brenden Bates: A high three-star prospect out of Cincinnati in the class of 2018, Bates has played in 21 career games and is primed through a breakthrough season in 2021. At 6-foot-4 and 248 pounds, the redshirt junior brings plus size to the position as a player who can strike as a blocker and make plays as a pass-catcher with his athleticism.
With no fullbacks on the roster, Kentucky will likely ask the tight end position to do multiple things as run blockers. Expect Bates to potentially turn into a guy that is a formational chess piece to help key some of Kentucky’s run concepts with lead blocks.
This is damn impressive by redshirt sophomore TE Brenden Bates (No. 80). On the lead, he takes on the downhill linebacker and totally clears him out of the way for a pancake block that sets up a nice run. pic.twitter.com/CU5yXnty4i
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) September 27, 2020
Jordan Dingle: The top-500 recruit from Bowling Green, Ky., Dingle will arrive on campus this summer. The younger brother of Justice Dingle — a transfer outside linebacker from Georgia Tech — enters the season with high expectations.
“Big time target for us,” Mark Stoops told the media regarding the younger Dingle on signing day. “Just has all the ability in the world — has that length at tight end that we’re looking for.”
“The reason why we got Dingle — I really believe it came down to probably three games he watched if you honestly asked him– they see the way we threw the ball to the tight ends,” said Marrow. “He really fell in love with that. He’s athletic — coach Stoops, I think he was going to fire me if I didn’t get him because he offered him as a sophomore and we recruited that guy for the next two years. I’m very excited to have him.”