Cats looking for depth at receiver

Injuries force young reserves to grow up quickly

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 27, 2010 

  • The main man: Randall Cobb has been UK's "Mr. Do Everything" the past two seasons. Though he'll still run back kicks and play some quarterback in the Wildcat, he should be a much more polished receiver in 2010. Assuming there's more consistent quarterback play, Cobb should greatly improve on last year's numbers (39 catches, 447 yards, five touchdowns).

    The supporting cast: Chris Matthews had some ups and downs in his first year out of junior college, but the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder has been impressive in fall camp and will be a solid No. 2 to Cobb. Sophomore La'Rod King has missed several practices with a neck injury but showed promise as a freshman and will be the No. 3 receiver assuming he's healthy. The coaches are still waiting on junior Matt Roark and sophomores E.J. Fields and Aaron Boyd to make a push.

    Newcomer to watch: Redshirt freshman Brian Adams has it all physically: size (6-4, 232), speed (sub-4.4 40-yard dash) and athletic ability (outfielder for the UK baseball team). Adams is still trying to pick up the system, but if the light goes on this fall, the Cats could have a keeper.

    Outlook: The Wildcats are set with the starting duo of Cobb and Matthews, but there are major question marks after that. Coach Joker Phillips likes to run three, four, and five-receiver sets, but he'll need King to remain healthy and Adams to speed up his development in order to have a reliable rotation.

    Chip Cosby

  • The wide receivers

Kentucky was counting on having a much-improved group of receivers in 2010 to erase the memories of the drops and inconsistencies that plagued the unit last year.

The Cats' starters should be good — Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews give the offense a pair of weapons on the outside.

But the rest of the rotation, a unit that figured to go four or five deep, is now filled with major questions.

The first big hit came when junior Gene McCaskill, who had 10 career starts and 32 receptions in two years, went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Then sophomore La'Rod King, who played well down the stretch last year and was being counted on as the No. 3 receiver, suffered a neck injury that kept him out for a significant portion of practice. King did return to action Thursday.

"He definitely gives us a little more when he's out there as our third wide receiver," Coach Joker Phillips said.

After King, the depth chart is anybody's guess as Kentucky gets ready to kick off the season at Louisville next weekend.

True freshman Brian Adams drew raves for his work during the summer, but he is still in the learning phase. And three members of the 2008 recruiting class — Matt Roark, E.J. Fields and Aaron Boyd — have yet to make an impact.

"A couple of the young receivers aren't stepping up and doing as well as we thought they would," Phillips said

Wide receivers coach Tee Martin said he hated to see the versatile McCaskill get hurt, but he thought it could motivate the others to elevate their games.

"It's not a big secret that there's playing time there," Martin said. "You lose a guy like Gene, who knew all three receiver positions, that's like losing three positions. There are a lot of spots open. It's time for guys to step up and mature fast."

Once the light comes on for Adams, he could be the guy. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, he's the most physically imposing receiver besides Matthews. And he's also the fastest UK receiver, having run a legit 4.4-second 40 at Kentucky's Pro Day in the spring. Adams has also been slowed by a groin injury.

"He just has to work on recognition of coverages and speed of the game," Phillips said. "He hasn't had a lot of reps out here, and most of the fall he's been banged up. He needs to be able to recognize what's going on, because it's happening a lot faster than he's used to."

"He's showing signs," Martin said of Adams. "As a young player you're going to have some good days and bad days. Hopefully the good will be more than the bad. He's making young mistakes. He knows what he's doing, he's just not doing it as fast. We need to get his speed on the field, no question about that."

Phillips said Adams had perhaps his best practice of fall camp on Thursday.

"He made some plays we've been expecting him to make since we've been in camp," Phillips said. "Hopefully he's starting to turn the corner for us, because we need four or five receivers that can make plays for us."

If none of the backup receivers proves to be game-ready, Phillips won't hesitate to play running back Derrick Locke there on occasion. Another back, freshman Raymond Sanders is also learning how to multi-task at receiver.

"We've done that in the past with our running backs," Phillips said. "Derrick Locke has proven in the past that he can flex out so we can spread the field. We did it with Rafael (Little) too. Sanders is learning. He's got good hands and understands how to work windows."

Freshman cornerback Jerrell Priester has the hands and speed to help on offense, but he will focus on defense for now.

"We need to use him at corner," Phillips said. "His plate is full right now."

Adams said he expects the backup receivers to be up to the task when their number gets called.

"I know with me, I just need to focus on the little things and get my technique down," he said. "A lot of guys can run. But I'm going to keep working hard and try to help out as much as possible. We've got some guys who are ready to step up and get the job done. I think we can fill those spots."

Brooks attends practice

Former UK coach Rich Brooks attended his first practice of fall camp on Thursday and addressed the team.

"He talked to them about the history they have a chance to make," Phillips said. "We've tried to get this thing to the next level the last couple of years and come close. He just talked to them about taking care of business so we can take it to the next level."

The Rich Brooks Foundation will host a bourbon and cigar summer celebration to honor Brooks' retirement on Saturday at Gainesway Farm. A cigar and bourbon tasting will start at 6 p.m. with dinner at 7. A live auction will immediately follow. Phillips and the UK coaching staff will be on hand. Reservations can be made at richbrooksfoundation.net or by calling Ralph Coldiron at 859-533-7688.

Mosby transferring

Phillips announced that redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan Mosby has requested a release and will transfer to another school. Mosby, a 5-11, 206-pounder from Heath, Texas, had been trying to earn playing time as a backup weakside linebacker.

■ Freshman linebacker Jewell Ratliff returned home to New Orleans to attend his grandmother's funeral.

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