Kentucky offensive coaches flex their teaching muscles

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2013 

Most coaches will tell you they got into the profession because they enjoyed teaching.

Two of Kentucky's offensive coaches have done so much teaching in this first nine months that they probably could qualify for advanced degrees in education.

"We've gotten to really, really teach," wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said in camp. "It's nice as a coach personally to have that many guys where you have results daily."

For Mainord and offensive coordinator Neal Brown, it was mostly about tweaking already developed receivers at Texas Tech.

Since arriving at Kentucky, it's been back to the basics.

"At the last place we were at we always had older guys," Mainord said. "It was kind of a rotation. We'd been there long enough where we had a rotation going. The young guys kind of watched and learned. Here it's from scratch a little bit."

But to Brown the process has "been fun."

"It's a little nerve racking, but also from a teaching standpoint, Coach Mainord and myself have enjoyed it."

They will enjoy it more if the mostly rookie wide receivers ace their exams, starting Saturday against Western Kentucky where UK likely will play three true freshmen and a junior college transfer early and often.

The Cats' three "veterans" at that position, junior Demarco Robinson and sophomores Daryl Collins and A.J. Legree, have zero career touchdown catches between them. There are others thrown in the mix like converted tight end Ronnie Shields and several walk-ons.

Somehow Mainord and Brown have had to prepare this group to be key cogs in an offensive system that, last season at Texas Tech, passed the ball for a nation's best 4,627 yards.

Texas Tech's top two wideouts, Darrin Moore and Eric Ward, combined for 2,085 yards last season, just 30 yards fewer than UK passed for all of last season.

Brown believes the teaching has paid off, that UK will see key production from its receivers.

"Those guys that are out there, whoever we put at wideout, we're going to have to trust in them and have confidence in them that they can make plays," he said. "We're not going to alter from a play standpoint what we did at Texas Tech. We gave those guys an opportunity to make plays at Tech and we're going to do the same here and have full trust in those guys."

There was one scrimmage during camp where the dropped passes that had plagued UK's receiving corps the past two seasons came back, but for the most part the group has impressed its coaches.

"We're going to be young," Brown said. "I don't think there's any hiding. I don't think I'm telling something Western doesn't know. We're going to be young. ... They're getting better. There's some days they make me want to pull my hair out sometimes, but overall they've been a fun group to coach."

The three true freshmen — Alex Montgomery, Jeff Badet and Ryan Timmons — as well as transfer Javess Blue all have been touted as potential impact players.

After practices, all of UK's receivers can be seen catching hundreds of tennis balls.

They're still learning, still growing.

"I firmly believe in what those guys do and what Neal does," Stoops said on Wednesday. "Coach Mainord does a great job with these guys. He told me the other day between right now and game time ... they're going to catch thousands of these things. Without a lot of running, but now just working on the hands."

Will all of the teaching pay off?

Stoops thinks so.

He's so convinced that his receivers are going to find the end zone that he's already put in a no touchdown dance rule.

"No celebrations; he wants none of it," Blue said. "We're not trying to get on Coach Stoops' bad side. I wish we could do it, but nah."

The dancing will have to wait until after they win the game, the junior college wideout said.

"We have a lot of confidence in those guys," Stoops said. "We really do. They're just unproven. But they've practiced really hard, and we anticipate those guys playing real well."

Practice notes

Kentucky will not name permanent game captains this season as it has in years past, Stoops said.

"We'll go game captains," he said. "So, yeah, we'll move it a round a little bit."

He said the game captains for the Western Kentucky game have yet to be decided.

Stoops said he met with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow about who won the starting job on Wednesday night and he said they were "fantastic."

"They've been great through this whole process. They're team guys. Sure, they're competitors, but they want to win. They're all in."

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

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