Air Raid will have more weapons next year

broberts@herald-leader.comOctober 26, 2013 

Before they'd ever coached a snap at Kentucky, the architects of Air Raid 2.0 knew they didn't have enough in the arsenal.

UK wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said in the spring that he and offensive coordinator Neal Brown would like to travel with "10-plus" capable players at the wide receiver position.

They didn't have that many then, and they don't have that many now.

But they're getting close.

Cleveland receiver Dorian Baker announced his commitment to UK last week, becoming the fifth player at his position to join the Cats' much-ballyhooed recruiting class of 2014.

Baker will almost certainly be the final wide receiver to join the group, which Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell says will end up among the best in the country.

"It's a really good group," Farrell said. "Obviously, for Kentucky, it's an exceptional group. You don't see this very often. Everything we're seeing here with Kentucky is a bit different than what we're used to.

"It's certainly not the best group of wide receivers in the country, but I would say it's right there on the cusp of top-15, top-20 groups in the country. And to say that about Kentucky is very rare."

UK has only five scholarship players with more than two receptions so far this season. None of those players are seniors, which means they'll likely be back for 2014.

The four Wildcats with the most receiving yards are all newcomers who committed to UK after Mark Stoops took over as head coach.

The opportunity to play immediately will also be there next season, and Farrell sees several UK freshmen getting the call from Stoops and his assistants.

"I think he's going to go with youth," Farrell said. "I think he's going to go with whoever is the best player. And some of these kids coming in — they may not be as experienced or as college-ready — but they are more talented than some of the guys on the current roster."

The talent starts with Ohio native Thaddeus Snodgrass, who was also the first receiver in the class to commit to UK.

Rivals.com considers Snodgrass the No. 36 receiver in the senior class, and Farrell said he "might not have even scratched the surface of how good he could be."

Next comes Blake Bone, another four-star prospect and the player Farrell called the "most college-ready" among UK's commitments at the position.

Bone is listed at 6-foot-5, which will make him the biggest target for whoever is playing quarterback at UK next season.

"I think he's the type of guy that could really be a dominant receiver down the road once he gets a little bit faster and starts to get comfortable at the college level," Farrell said. "His ceiling is also extremely high."

The Cats will also bring in two slot receivers — T.V. Williams and Garrett Johnson — both in the 5-9 range and neither weighing more than 160 pounds.

Farrell described Williams as an elusive target who's tough to tackle. "He's like a water bug. He is very, very quick."

The analyst says Johnson will bring a little more "Florida swagger" to UK's roster. "He feels that he can make a play at any time in any game."

Baker isn't as highly rated as Snodgrass, but he's similarly skilled in multiple areas and — at 6-3 — big and strong enough to outmuscle even SEC defenders.

While those are the five players "officially" listed as wide receivers in this UK recruiting class, there's at least one other commitment who could have a major impact on the Wildcats' passing game in 2014.

Stanley "Boom" Williams is listed by Rivals as the nation's No. 2 all-purpose running back, and he's among the most important of Kentucky's 25 commitments.

"I would also throw Stanley Williams in there, because I think he could end up being a slot receiver as well," Farrell said. "He has tremendous ball skills. And I think he's going to be more of a threat in the passing game than anybody else. So when you throw a guy like that in there, then you could be talking about a top-10 recruiting class at wide receiver."

Farrell lauded UK's recruiting staff for putting together not just a talented class of receivers, but a class that complements itself so well.

The Cats will have size, speed and numbers — all important in Brown's Air Raid revival.

The size, in particular, is something UK fans aren't seeing much of this season.

Alexander Montgomery — listed at 6-2 — is the only wide receiver more than 6 feet tall who has had any impact on UK's air attack.

That's not a recipe for success against big-time college opponents.

"Size is very important," Farrell said. "We all see the Wes Welkers and DeSean Jacksons of the world, and those guys are important. ... But when you're a quarterback, you want big targets. Especially if you're throwing on the run or you're looking to get bailed out. You want 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 guys catching the football for you.

"I think the fact that they don't have those guys on the current roster speaks to the struggles they've had. You definitely need them. If you go into the SEC without them ... The MAC, you can get away with that. You can't get away with that in the SEC."

Farrell pointed to several factors that helped UK put together such a talented group of receivers.

There's the Air Raid offense and the opportunity for immediate playing time. He called top recruiter Vince Marrow "a difference maker," pointing specifically to his ability to bring in Snodgrass.

That commitment gave UK's coaches the opportunity to sell Lexington as a destination for top receivers.

This class will come to town with high expectations, and a chance to live up to them early on.

Whether they do or not is up to them.

"I honestly really think that this class thinks that they are the new Kentucky," Farrell said. "I just think that's been the sales pitch: 'You guys are the new Kentucky. You guys are the class that we're going to build off of. You're the springboard for the next level that we're going to reach.'

"So I think these guys all think they're going to play together. The reality is some of these guys are going to sit, some of these guys are going to be scout team ... and some of these guys are going to start from day one. But, they don't see it that way."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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