UK tight ends: Cats boast wealth of potential weapons

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 23, 2012 

  • Scouting the tight ends

    The main man: The position has had its share of bumps and bruises in fall camp and it's been tough to figure out who has the upper hand. Ronnie Shields (6-foot-5, 243 pounds) had a big spring and looks to be a front-runner along with Tyler Robinson (6-3, 258 pounds). It's likely they will be used situationally, with Robinson being the more physical of the two and Shields being the finesse player.

    The supporting cast: Behind Robinson and Shields are Jordan Aumiller (6-4, 240) and Anthony Kendrick (6-3, 241), who could provide solid depth. With so many injuries in the pre-season, senior Gabe Correll (6-5, 231) has been able to make his move up the depth chart.

    Outlook: One of the pluses of this group is that there is no "main man" per se. It's also one of the minuses. There are four players who have seen significant action, but none has put up significant numbers that make him look like a true playmaker. Each of the players does something different that can help the offense, though, so they could become more of a collective weapon for the Cats.

  • This is the eighth in a series of nine stories analyzing the UK football team position by position. Read the other installments on Kentucky.com. Coming Saturday: Special teams

Ronnie Shields learns something new every day.

Kentucky's sophomore tight end, who didn't start playing football in high school until his junior year, said he walks off the field every day with a new bit of knowledge.

So what did he glean from Thursday's practice?

"I learned how to be more aggressive on blocks, worked on proper stance, footwork, technique," he said.

Shields is happy to take in whatever he can be taught.

"I feel like I'm still learning and developing as a player," Shields said. "That's a good thing for me because it means I'm still getting better."

It's also made him a potential weapon for Kentucky this season. He's being placed into several different offensive packages, including some at wide receiver.

"Ronnie's got the ability to move around, play a bunch of different spots, receiver, he can line up as a tight end, be flexed out," tight ends coach Greg Nord said of the 6-foot-5 Stone Mountain, Ga., native.

Shields is making a push to be the starter at tight end, as is junior Tyler Robinson, who is the more physical of the two players.

"We'd like to get our tight ends involved a little bit more," Coach Joker Phillips said. "We'd like to start with underneath stuff and then go over the top of people."

It's been five years since UK has had true productivity out of that spot. Jacob Tamme, who now plays for the Denver Broncos, had 56 catches for 619 yards and six touchdowns in 2007.

In the past two seasons combined, UK's tight end consortium has managed only 567 yards on 63 catches for three touchdowns.

This past spring (and the subsequent spring game) showed loads of promise at the tight end spot with Robinson making five catches for 75 yards and Shields pulling in three for 42 yards.

Quarterback Maxwell Smith made good use of the tight ends in that game and the coaches are hoping that the position — which could go as deep as five players — can become a more viable weapon for UK than it has been in years past.

But offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said it's difficult to know what UK has available when so many of them have been hampered this fall by nagging injuries.

"In spring, our tight ends were a big weapon for us," Sanders said. "We were at full compliment and everybody was healthy. As far as this fall, it's been frustrating because we've had to revamp a little bit and not use them as much because we've had guys in the training room and guys not out there. What do we need? We need to get them all out there.

"We've got a few guys who can be weapons, but it's hard to be a weapon in the training room."

Nord has confidence the players can and will be weapons when the time comes.

As a redshirt freshman, Jordan Aumiller had 18 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown. In his two seasons, Robinson has had 19 catches for 124 yards and two scores. In his freshman season, Shields had two grabs for 10 yards. Junior Anthony Kendrick has had six catches for 45 yards in two seasons.

After the spring game, Phillips seemed to see that same promise from the tight end collective.

"We didn't put them in situations where they had to block as much today," Phillips said in April. "We feel like we've got a good combination of guys. Tyler could be our good, physical, on-the-line tight end. We think (Kendrick) and (Shields) could be our 'move' tight ends, guys who can stretch the field."

Practice report

UK started its first full day of preparations for the Louisville game on Thursday and Phillips said newly named starting quarterback Maxwell Smith is settling in nicely.

"Once it's announced, the starting guy feels a little bit more comfortable and guys are more comfortable with him," Phillips said. "You're able to lead a little bit better. He's a little more vocal because now he knows it's his."

Always the realist, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders noted that the comfort level comes with more repetitions for Smith.

"It's a little easier to take charge when you're getting reps with the first group," Sanders said. "I've been pleased with what he's done, but I've also been pleased with how Morgan (Newton) has responded."

Sanders also was asked about the offensive line and he seemed pleased with the first-team guys, but still a bit uneasy with the depth.

"I'd like to have four more guys you really feel good about," Sanders said

■ Running back CoShik Williams (foot sprain) practiced on Thursday and Phillips said the senior probably would be the starter versus Louisville.

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

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