UK football

Senior Randall Burden anxious to catch punts for Kentucky

He says it's harder than it looks

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 17, 2011 

No doubt Randall Burden will be wiping his hands on a towel more than a few times when Kentucky takes the field for the first time this season.

"When I get back there, I'll probably be sweating like I've already played in two games back to back," the fifth-year senior cornerback confessed.

It's not because Burden worries about UK implementing a new defensive scheme.

It's not because it's the start of his last season as a Wildcat.

It will be because of his likely new assignment as the Cats' punt returner.

Burden is only half kidding about sweating buckets before returning punts.

He's been practicing for the opportunity to do it for the past three years.

He likely will get his first chance to do it live in a game this season.

Special teams coach Greg Nord said on Monday that Burden has worked hard to earn the starting spot.

"He's older, he's been in the big arena, he's earned a little bit of my trust," Nord said. "He was working at it all summer and was like, 'I want that job and I'm going to go get it.'

"You want a guy who wants to be back there, who has the confidence to be back there."

As Burden has learned, catching punts is not always easy.

"It's hard judging a punt," he said. "When you punt the ball, it turns over and the wind can catch it either way. With kickoffs, the wind doesn't hit it that much. Trying to stay underneath it is the biggest thing with punts.

"Some people really don't like doing it because it's hard to do it, to judge it."

But Burden, who was the primary punt returner his senior year at LaGrange (Ga.) High School and averaged 18.6 yards a return, said he enjoys the challenge.

"I like doing it," Burden said. "Just about everyone on the team would tell you they'd rather do kickoff than punt returns, but I like doing punt returns. It's fun to me."

Nord said Burden has shown himself to be a steady returner. Gene McCaskill also shows promise at the spot long held by Green Bay Packers rookie receiver Randall Cobb, who caught 63 career punts for 619 yards and two touchdowns in the past three seasons at UK.

Burden, a 6-foot, 170-pounder, said he started catching punts three years ago in practice.

"I always joked around with Coach (Joker) Phillips about putting me back there to catch them," Burden said. "Last year I started actually taking it seriously because I realized there really wasn't anyone behind Randall to do it.

"This year, I've tried to just work on it more, working on little things to get that starting spot."

UK student assistant coach Glenn Holt, who returned kicks and punts for the Bengals, has given Burden some tips and confidence.

"He said I was real smooth at catching them," Burden said. "That was something I was real happy about. It makes me feel better about it."

All of the heat won't be on Burden, Nord said. The coach has seen some promise from some of the freshmen, too.

"There's a couple freshmen that I'd like to think could help us before the year is out," he said.

There are several other freshmen vying for Cobb and Derrick Locke's old job as kickoff returner as well, Nord said. Potential candidates also include senior Winston Guy and sophomores Jerrell Priester and Raymond Sanders.

"At least there are some guys who have done it in a game," Nord said. "Kick returns — as far as catching it and handling it, making the right return — is not nearly as hard as catching punts."

Phillips pleads for focus

Coach Joker Phillips was displeased with his team's focus after practice on Tuesday morning.

During a short-yardage scrimmage, there were too many false-start penalties and turnovers by his offense, especially some of the newcomers, Phillips said.

"We can't be careless with the football," he said. "We've got to know the snap count. All of those things happened on what we call 'the money down,' which is third down.

"If you want to play on money downs, you better be a money player. A couple of our guys showed today they can't be money players."

The team practiced early on Tuesday and then got on buses to go to a nearby pool to spend some time together off the field and out of football meeting rooms.

"I've got to go get my Speedo on," Phillips said with a broad smile. "It's a fun day for us to see them in a different setting, break the monotony of being in training camp."

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