Receivers finding trust is key to relationship with QBs

ccosby@herald-leader.comApril 15, 2010 

Improving Kentucky's passing game has been the point of emphasis for Coach Joker Phillips during spring practice.

Not surprisingly, that has spurred a lot of talk among fans and media about the three-man quarterback race.

But the QBs represent just half of the equation.

If the UK passing game really wants to get off the ground in 2010, the Wildcats will also need the receivers to step up their game as well. For every errant pass that didn't reach its intended destination, there was a pass that was on the mark that was dropped.

Granted, the Wildcats didn't throw it much during the latter half of the season after true freshman Morgan Newton took over. But Phillips has vowed the offense will be more balanced this fall, so not only are the quarterbacks going to have to throw, but the receivers are going to have to catch.

"Both sides have to understand the passing game," Phillips said. "The receivers have to make plays, and the quarterback's got to trust that those guys are going to make plays. And that's what's happening now. I see a trusting relationship developing with both of them. The quarterbacks are giving the receivers a chance, and the receivers are making plays for them."

On paper, the UK wideouts look improved. Randall Cobb gives the Wildcats a playmaking No. 1, and Chris Matthews should be more comfortable in his second year out of junior college. La'Rod King came on late as a true freshman in 2009, and Gene McCaskill has 32 catches over two years as a part-time starter. Matt Roark will also challenge for a rotation spot, and Aaron Boyd, E.J. Fields and Brian Adams all had good showings in Kentucky's first spring scrimmage.

Phillips said he could envision traveling with eight or nine receivers, especially with a special teams demon like Roark who's blocked five kicks in his career.

UK receivers coach Tee Martin said he'd have no problem managing a rotation that deep.

"That's what you want," Martin said. "You want fresh guys out there. For me to ask them to go 110 percent and not take off a play, get out there and block, physically dominating guys, you've got to have a rotation of about eight or nine guys. And I have to be comfortable putting any one of them out there and get the job done. We're blessed to have that many guys who can contribute to the offense."

Martin noticed the receivers and QBs have been spending extra time after practice working on communication and timing, something King said is essential for the passing game to get untracked in the fall.

"Everything we do affects the quarterback," King said. "It's more than just the quarterback. We have to do everything we can to work with those guys and have a connection and good chemistry. There's a lot of little things we have to work on."

The receivers also have to get used to the tendencies of three different quarterbacks competing to be the starter.

"Whoever ends up being the starters at receiver are affected by three different guys," Martin said. "Mike's timing is different than Morgan's, and Morgan's is different than Moss. Their arms are different, the ball speeds are different, so we have to get consistent as we can be so we're not getting different looks with different quarterbacks in the game."

The Wildcats experienced that first-hand last year when Hartline went down with a knee injury in the fourth game against South Carolina and Newton was thrust into the lineup as a true freshman.

"Any one of the QBs could go down at any time," King said. "If Mike starts and Morgan comes in, you have to adjust to Morgan like that (snaps his fingers). You don't have time, especially during a game. That's why you have to do everything you can before and after practice to get the timing down."

The receivers haven't gotten much ink at UK since Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Dicky Lyons were lined up a few years back. If everything comes together as planned, King said the Wildcat receivers can give people something to talk about in 2010.

"I think we're looking pretty good," King said. "Everybody's jelling. Our confidence is up. The past year it wasn't really about the receiving corps. It was about running backs. But we've got some talented guys here."

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