Kentucky hoping Robinson can ramp up return game

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 11, 2012 

Kentucky needs to find a punt returner who wants to be a punt returner.

It sounds so easy, but being a returner is about much more than speed and skill.

"A lot of it is attitude and wanting the responsibility," special teams coach Greg Nord said on Wednesday. "Sometimes if you go out there and think, 'Wow, I hope I catch this,' or 'I'm only out here doing this because Coach wants me to,' it's hard to be the punt returner."

This spring, UK thinks it may have found the right brand of returner in Demarco Robinson, a 5-foot-10 receiver from Ellenwood, Ga.

Coach Joker Phillips has said repeatedly that the goal of this spring season is to find some play makers for Kentucky.

Finding a return man is a necessity after the Cats finished at the bottom of the Southeastern Conference, averaging 1.8 yards per return last season. That was 4 yards fewer than the next-worst team.

Kentucky's 11 punt returns in SEC play went for a combined total of 20 yards, with the longest being 6 yards.

Not a single touchdown came out of UK's return unit all season.

That has to change, Phillips said. He thinks Robinson has that big-play ability.

"We need him to be that guy," the coach said, but cautioned that the sophomore still has lots to learn.

"He has the ability and we have to start feeding him confidence and him understanding our blocking schemes," Phillips said. "That's our job to make sure he leaves this spring with confidence in being our returner because he definitely has the ability."

Maybe most importantly, Robinson wants to be "that guy" that Nord and Phillips talked about. He certainly has the experience. As a senior at Martin Luther King High School, he returned two kicks (one punt, one kickoff) for touchdowns.

"I like punt returns a lot," he said on Wednesday. "It's different on this level, too. I just have to get the hang of it. I'm getting the feel for it better, too."

His big-play ability isn't limited just to special teams. The coaches have seen flashes of potential in Robinson in his role as wide receiver.

In Saturday's first full scrimmage, Robinson had two big plays, including a 30-yarder and a grab on a screen pass that went for 60 yards.

It was nice to make big plays again, said Robinson, who set a state record in Georgia for total yards in a season with 1,655. He also had 27 touchdowns on 73 catches.

"It felt real good," Robinson said of his catches on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. "That's really what I've been waiting for, just to catch that feel, the old feeling. It felt good. That's how I felt (in high school). It just helps everything when you get to make a big play. It amps your confidence up."

What has been the biggest difference this spring for the player who had five catches for 17 yards last season as a true freshman?

"I'm just pretty much getting a better feel for the game on this level," he explained. "I understand the playbook a lot more, so there's not as much thinking going on. I can just go out and play."

Cobbins not practicing

This spring would have been prime time for Bookie Cobbins to learn his new position at wide receiver, but he has other "business" to attend to, Phillips said on Wednesday.

When asked about the quarterback turned wide receiver's status, Phillips said Cobbins is trying to get his academics in order.

"He's dug himself in a hole that he's got to try to battle out of," Phillips said.

Better to have him on the field in August than never on the field again because of academic issues, Phillips said.

"We've got a lot of time to improve this summer at a new position," Phillips said. "But if he's not going to be here academically, it's not going to matter."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.

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