UK football notebook: New assistant gives receivers a clean slate

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMarch 17, 2012 

Forget the dropped passes from last season.

Forget the poorly run routes.

Forget the miscommunications.

Forget anything and everything you remember about Kentucky's much-maligned collection of receivers.

That's what new UK wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Pat Washington said he plans to do.

"I'm a new guy," he said the week after taking over the position from Tee Martin, who left to take the same job at Southern California. "They've got a blank sheet right there. They can become a starter."

That doesn't mean Washington's just going to trash the videos from last season.

He does see value in learning from past mistakes.

"I have to see if there are problems we can fix," he said. "If a guy doesn't have the ability, then he doesn't have the ability, but if there are problems we can fix ... we'll fix those problems."

Washington, who will get his first real look at UK's receivers when spring practice starts on Wednesday, fancies himself a teacher more than a coach.

"The biggest thing for me is get the maximum out of their potential and help them reach their potential," he said. "You want to coach them hard, but at the same time you want to teach them. Coaching's not all about screaming and fussing and hollering. We have moments to teach and when those moments come up, I want to make sure I'm teaching them something about the game."

He sees each drop as a chance to learn a valuable lesson.

There are plenty of teaching tools from last season when Kentucky's pass offense was last in the Southeastern Conference, with a completion rate barely above 50 percent.

"When a guy drops the ball, the easiest thing to do is to say, 'Catch the football. Don't drop the football,'" he said. "But what I do is watch to see why he dropped the ball. I'm a teacher on the field. Was it his hand placement? Did he keep his eyes on the ball? What is it that he did or didn't do?"

Kentucky returns just one receiver, LaRod King, who caught more than 10 passes or amassed more than 90 receiving yards last season. The former North Hardin star was the 10th-best receiver in the SEC with 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns.

The next best returning receiver statistically is E.J. Fields, who had 10 catches for 89 yards and one score. Gene McCaskill is back, but injuries have slowed him throughout his UK career.

"We have some decent experience coming back with LaRod King, but for the most part, we've got several guys we redshirted last year who are going to be playing for the first time," Washington said. "We're sort of raw, but we have enough talent to be successful."

When asked what he looks for in a recruit, UK's new passing game coordinator talked about finding players with NFL bodies and speed — rare commodities on the high school level.

Washington pointed to former UK star Randall Cobb — undersized, but someone with play-making ability and unquestioned work ethic.

"I'm looking for a guy who can make plays," Washington said. "Put the ball in his hands and he'll make something happen."

Washington may find those types of players in recent UK signees A.J. Legree and DeMarcus Sweat. At least that's what Washington's predecessor said the Cats had uncovered.

"He's a guy that when he touches the ball, something good was happening," Martin said of Legree, a 6-foot-1 player from Fort White, Fla. "Even if it wasn't a touchdown, it was the most exciting 5 yards you'd seen. He has a heart, a desire to go out and make plays."

Legree caught 47 passes for 698 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior for Fort White. He also was a state champion high jumper, with a leap of 6 feet, 10 inches.

Something else jumped out about Legree when Martin went to his home to make Kentucky's pitch.

"Every time he would speak about something, he was just wanting to talk about making plays," Martin said. "That's the kind of guy I want in my room. He's got the swag; he's got the 'it' factor. DeMarcus Sweat is the same way."

Sweat, a 6-1 receiver from Lithonia, Ga., was listed as one of the nation's top 100 receivers by ESPN.

"I saw that heart, that desire," Martin said of Sweat. "He got injured and then came back and was making plays. He just won me over."

Chemistry class

Coach Joker Phillips' two most recent hires, Washington at wide receivers and new defensive backs coach Mike Cassity, have deep connections with their fellow coaches on Kentucky's staff.

Recently both coaches were asked, in roundabout ways, if there would be enough dissension on the staff.

Both assured there is plenty.

"In that meeting room, we all think alike," Washington said. "We're all on the same page. We're friends and we can agree and we can disagree. We can argue; we're like brothers. We can argue and then we can go have lunch."

The Cats now have a group of coaches who have ties to each other, the state and the university, which Cassity said is invaluable in the heat of battle.

"Staff chemistry is so, so very important at this level," Cassity said. "I'll tell you this: We have guys who want to be here. I've been on staffs where guys spend all their time trying to find the next job. We have a lot of coaches who have worked hard to be a part of this program and how important it is to them personally. I know I can speak on behalf of a lot of our coaches who fall into that category."

Spring football

Spring football gets under way on Wednesday, but there still isn't a full schedule out for when practices will be open.

UK spokesman Tony Neely said Phillips has been on vacation and that a full schedule will be released either Monday or Tuesday.

Spring practice is scheduled to run from Wednesday-April 21.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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