If Kentucky's medley of returning tight ends needed any extra off-season motivation, they needed only to check the statistics of one Jace Amaro.
The 6-foot-5, 257-pounder was the most recent tight end to play in new coordinator Neal Brown's offense. And somehow, despite missing six games with a spleen injury, Amaro ended up as Texas Tech's third-leading receiver in yardage and the most productive tight end in the Big 12.
Amaro, who caught 25 passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns in seven games, was that productive as a middle-of-the-field safety valve in Brown's pass-happy attack. The tight end position could end up an integral part of the new Kentucky offense as well.
"It's pretty huge because you have to be a run-blocker and you have to be a guy who gets out on the perimeter, catch balls, put pressure on the secondary," tight ends coach Vince Marrow said. "You have to be a complete guy."
But has Kentucky found its complete guy yet, just 10 practices into the spring with a scrimmage on Saturday and then the Blue-White Game the next week?
"We've got some good candidates," Marrow said with a nod.
There's 6-4, 233-pound Jordan Aumiller, who has surprised both his position coach and his coordinator.
"I'm really proud of him and how he's bounced back," Brown said of Aumiller, who struggled with a foot injury last season. "Coach Marrow's done a good job with him. He's excited about playing."
Aumiller has worked hard to get back into playing shape, his coaches said.
"He's one of the guys I've been very surprised with," Marrow said of the senior out of Danville. "He came in in pretty good shape. He's a big guy. Guys I'm used to seeing, even at the next level, they're 6-5, 240 range, good run-blockers."
There's Tyler Robinson, whom Brown said runs better than he has shown previously, and Ronnie Shields, who has been used mostly in run blocking.
Then there's Steven Borden, a junior-college player who committed to Kentucky despite never having spent any time here. Borden has spent much of the spring going back and forth between receiver, where UK has been struggling to find play-makers, and tight end.
"Once he really gets it, his talent is going to take over," Marrow said of the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder.
Borden said he started the spring working out more with the receivers, but he's spent more time with the tight ends recently.
He doesn't care where they play him, he's just excited about getting a chance to work in this offense.
"Tight ends definitely play a big role," Borden said. "We're not really sure who's going to be most involved, but on the whole, the receivers out there, tight ends included, we're going to be pretty integral in the pass game and the run game."
In last year's offense, Kentucky's tight ends combined to make 18 catches for 165 yards.
By contrast, Amaro had 156 yards on his own against West Virginia last season.
Marrow likes the potential of his tight ends, one of the most veteran offensive groups.
"It's like anything else, when you bring in a new offense and new staff, there's going to be some bumps and burns starting out, but we've been doing a pretty good job," said Marrow, the former tight ends coach at Nebraska. "These guys are working hard, spending extra time in the film room. So they're catching on. They have a lot more responsibility, but I like where they're at right now."
UK spring practice
When: Through April 12 on scheduled days
Blue-White Spring Game: Saturday, April 13, 7 p.m.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241 Twitter: @jenheraldleader Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com