La'Rod King is UK's air apparent at receiver

With Cobb, Matthews gone, position in Junior's hands

ccosby@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2011 

La'Rod King scored one of his two touchdowns against South Carolina last season. King knows he will be the focus of opposing defenses in 2011. "I have to go 110 percent all the time," he said.

  • UK Spring practice

    When: Through April 20. Practices begin at 9 a.m.

    Where: Outdoors at Nutter Training Facility, unless weather moves practice indoors to Nutter Field House. (April 2 practice is at Commonwealth Stadium.)

    Open practices: Kentucky's next four practices (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) will be open. Practices April 8-20 are closed.

    Spring game: UK's annual Blue/White Spring Game is 3 p.m. April 23 at Commonwealth Stadium.

La'Rod King made opposing defenses pay for locking in on Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews last fall, catching 36 passes for 478 yards and five touchdowns.

Now that Cobb and Matthews are gone, the question now is whether King can step into the lead role at wide receiver.

Instead of facing nickel backs and No. 3 and No. 4 corners as he did last year, King will likely draw the opponent's top defensive backs. How he handles that will help determine whether the UK receiving corps can offset the loss of Cobb, one of the program's all-time greats, and Matthews, who had 61 catches for 925 yards and a team-leading nine scores last season.

Coach Joker Phillips and receivers coach Tee Martin had the same response when asked if King, a junior, was ready to be a No. 1 receiver, saying, "He better be."

"Right now he's the one guy that has caught a lot of balls for us," Phillips said.

Phillips compares King's situation to that of former UK receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. In 2007, Lyons was UK's fourth-receiving option behind Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Jacob Tamme, posting similar numbers to King (56 catches, 655 yards, seven TDs).

The season after Burton, Johnson and Tamme departed for the NFL, Lyons' yards per catch and touchdown receptions dropped before he was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.

"When all those guys walked out, everybody was wondering if Dicky could be a No. 1," Phillips said. "But what helps La'Rod is that he can play every position. That's the difference between him and Dicky. Dicky was basically an inside receiver."

King said he can tell Phillips and Martin are expecting a lot out of him by the way they're pushing him in practice.

"I'm ready for the challenge," he said. "It's been hard. They're trying to see how mentally tough I am and if I'm ready for it. So far I like the way I've been handling it, but I've still got a long ways to go."

King's biggest hurdle has been consistency. He had two touchdown catches in back-to-back games against Georgia and South Carolina last season, but then didn't score in UK's final five games. King admitted he coasted at times.

"Yeah, I would kind of slack off because I knew I had Randall and Chris out there," he said. "This year there can be no slacking off. Everybody's going to be looking at me, so I have to go 110 percent all the time."

King knows Cobb's shoes will be virtually impossible to fill.

"You can't even think about that," he said. "That's over and done with. Randall's not coming back, and you're not going to replace him with one player. That's not even in my mind-set right now. I'm just trying to help my team get better."

He did, however, learn from watching how Cobb conducted himself on and off the field.

"Just being around the guy on and off field, he takes care of business," King said. "If you're around him for 20 minutes you're like, 'Wow, this guy is a leader.' That's what I want to work on. Leadership. If I'm going to be one of the main guys, I have to step up and try and lead my team."

While King is by the far the most productive returning receiver, Martin said he's not handing jobs to anybody at the moment. King is currently joined in the receiver rotation by senior Matt Roark, junior E.J. Fields and sophomore Brian Adams.

"I'm putting heat on all of them," Martin said. "They've got to show me something if they want me to believe in them right now. Until then, we're going to be hard, we've got to make them players. This unit has got to be big for us this season. They've got big shoes to fill, and the only way you do it is come out and do it every day and make the players believe it."

Outside of King, the rest of UK's returning receivers had a combined 15 catches in 2010 (Roark 12, Adams 3). But Martin pointed out that nobody expected much out of the Wildcat wideouts last fall, and Cobb, Matthews and King teamed up for what was perhaps the league's best 1-2-3 combo.

"We're about where we are last year," Martin said. "La'Rod's numbers were similar to Randall's the year before. Nobody knew for sure what Chris would do, we didn't know where Chris was going to be. We knew what we thought Randall could do, but we didn't know if he was a proven receiver just yet. Now we need the guys we have now to step their games up."

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