UK receivers bigger, tougher and maybe better

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2009 

Joker Phillips' second group of wideouts during his initial stint as wide receivers coach at Kentucky under Bill Curry in 1992 was known as "The Mighty Mites."

Their average size was 5-foot-8, 145 pounds and featured 5-7 Kurt Johnson, 5-8 Mark Chatmon, 5-9 Tim Calvert, 5-9 Troy Hobbs, and 5-10 Scott Gilley. Hobbs was listed at 131 pounds, Johnson went 145, and Chatmon was 160.

The Wildcats have never been known for having an abundance of big, intimidating receivers but, 17 years later, Phillips' receivers are Mighty Mites no more.

Junior-college transfer Chris Matthews is nearly 6-foot-6 and weighs 210 pounds. Sophomore Matt Roark is 6-5, 209. Freshman LaRod King goes 6-4, 210. Junior Kyrus Lanxter is a sturdy 6-2, 205.

"Mark Chatmon was at practice one day, and he couldn't believe the size of those guys," Phillips said. "We'll look good warming up, that's for sure. And we'll look good, athletically."

The Cats were forced to play five true freshmen last year and, once Dicky Lyons Jr. went down for the season with a knee injury, the unit labored with drops, wrong routes and an overall inability to get open.

But the receiving corps is expected to be one of the most improved units on the team this year. Sophomore Randall Cobb is expected to emerge as a go-to receiver after splitting time at quarterback last year, and Gene McCaskill and Lanxter both came on strong late last year and should be significantly improved.

One of the biggest developments of fall camp has been the play of Matthews, who should be in the starting lineup opposite Cobb for the season opener with Miami next Saturday.

"We haven't had a receiver like him since I've been here," Brooks said. "He's 6-6, runs in the 4.4 range and goes up and catches the ball."

Matthews was touted as one of the top receivers in the junior-college ranks, but he didn't arrive in Lexington until late summer.

"It was hard," Matthews said. "I wasn't in the best of shape and didn't really know what was going on."

But once Matthews got a little more familiar with the offense, his play-making ability started to show.

"When he first got here, I was wondering if (Matthews) was going to be able to live up to the hype because he still had so much to learn," said UK sophomore cornerback Randall Burden. "But now that he knows the offense, you see what people were talking about. He's big, tall, fast, and he makes plays."

Matthews knows the story that it usually takes wide receivers a full year before they get acclimated to BCS-caliber football and produce (Kentucky example: Steve Johnson). But Matthews said he'll be different.

"I haven't proven anything yet because we haven't played a game," Matthews said. "But when we play this first game and I score, and I do what I'm supposed to do, then I'll feel like I've proved something. I really want to make a statement early, right off the bat. That's the best way for me to help this team out."

The receivers will also get a boost from another new face, King, a freshman from North Hardin. King played only one year of receiver in high school but is already drawing high praise from Phillips.

"If our guys last year had the toughness of LaRod King, they'd have been much better as freshmen," Phillips said. "He's a tough kid."

A bit of that toughness came out when King was asked about having to go against a talented secondary that includes first-round NFL Draft prospect Trevard Lindley. King expressed no fear in taking on the challenge.

"They're the best of the best," King said. "Trevard's an All-American. But I look forward to going against those guys every day so I can see where I'm at. It excites me. Trevard's a smart player. He works with us as much as the receivers do and lets us know how to break down a cornerback."

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