UK receivers: New coach striving to rebuild unit's confidence

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 22, 2012 

New assistant coach Pat Washington photographed on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 at University of Kentucky football media day at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by David Perry | Staff

HERALD-LEADER

  • Scouting the wide receivers

    The main man: Senior La'Rod King's 40 catches and 598 yards exceed the totals for all other returning receivers combined. Of UK's 12 receiving scores last season, seven were to King. The former North Hardin standout struggled at times this spring, but seems to have embraced his role as a leader.

    The supporting cast: Part of UK's problem offensively last season was the lack of a supporting cast. Coaches think those younger receivers are starting to show themselves now, led by Demarco Robinson. Others like E.J. Fields and Gene McCaskill have proven they can make plays, just not consistently. Daryl Collins, Bookie Cobbins, Aaron Boyd and Rashad Cunningham are going to have to be effective this season, too.

    Newcomers to watch: Two freshman receivers, Demarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree, have impressed in camp and probably will be contributors this year. Sweat is the faster of the two. Legree is more of a possession receiver, with big-play ability after the catch.

    Outlook: If Kentucky's offense is going to get out of the basement, it's going to need big plays and consistent catches. New receivers coach Pat Washington seems to have instilled a quiet confidence in the group, and many have said they've developed good chemistry and timing with newly named starting quarterback Maxwell Smith.

  • This is the seventh in a series of nine stories analyzing the UK football team position by position. Read the other installments on Kentucky.com. Coming Friday: Tight ends

Dropped pass after dropped pass.

Overthrown balls and underthrown balls.

New University of Kentucky wide receivers coach Pat Washington wasn't here for those, but he's seen them all over and over again.

He watched every game from last season and analyzed every miss, every catch.

More than anything, he's convinced that there's been a crisis of confidence among the UK wide receiving corps.

And he has a special way of fixing that.

"Like with a kid, you've got to kind of whip them on the butt a little bit but hug them on the neck at the same time," Washington explained.

It's what he's trying to do for the mix of young and old receivers.

"He has this vibe about him where I can go up and talk to him about anything going on in my life," senior receiver La'Rod King explained. "I have a personal connection with him."

Once that was built, King said it was easy to take criticism and critique from Washington, a former standout quarterback at Auburn and a successful wide receivers coach at Tennessee.

King (and his 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns) was the one bright spot in the UK passing game last season, but Washington still found ways to improve King's play.

They've been working on getting the senior to use his 6-foot-4 height advantage and long arms to make the catch at the highest point, King explained.

"(Washington) doesn't bash, he just tells you your strength and your weakness. He's really good at that," King said. "He knows what he's talking about and he knows how to relate to you."

When asked about his tactics and his coaching style, Washington smiled.

"I try to do it in a mild manner until he forces me to do it in a manner that isn't mild," he said.

Sometimes it's all about smiling.

"He's very complimentary," senior E.J. Fields said of Washington. "He does a good job in selling (you) on the pluses of your game, not your minuses. He does a good job of keeping your head up high and not letting you get down on yourself."

It's not all sunshine and butterfly kisses, though, with Washington. He knows UK's passing offense, which managed only 135.6 yards a game last season (sixth-worst in the nation), has to improve.

He doesn't want to spend the next off-season watching sequels of last season's dropped pass after dropped pass.

"I don't think there were any huge technical problems," he said of the bad quarterback-wide receiver connections. "The biggest problem was there were people around the guy who was trying to catch the ball and he wasn't concerned about the ball. He was more concerned about the people around him.

"I've got to make sure they can catch the ball with distractions and when it's contested. So we put them in those situations as much as possible. And if they can't do that, then I'd better replace them."

That was part of the problem last season. Beyond King, no one was consistent enough to push the starting receivers.

The Cats have to have more than King if they want to succeed, Phillips said on UK's Media Day.

"You better have three guys out there that can make plays for you," Phillips said. "We've got to have a number of receivers that can make plays for us."

They think they have that this season with freshmen like Demarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree, who both will play immediately based on reports out of camp. Coaches also are expecting big-time play from sophomore Demarco Robinson, who was inconsistent at best last season.

King sounded like someone who was convinced he was going to be a senior leader for a group that was improved.

"Anybody could step up and make that play," he said this week when asked about which receivers were standing out.

The group has received Washington's message, King said.

"He's a very honest guy," King said. "If you know what you're doing and you can go in and make that play, you go in and make that play, whether you're a walk-on or a scholarship guy, it doesn't matter. If you're better than this guy, he's going to play you."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241.Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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