Kentucky eager to crank up offense with new batch of wide receivers

broberts@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2014 

SP03CLEHTS

Cleveland Heights receiver Dorian Baker ran for a touchdown after catching a pass on Sept. 12. Baker signed Wednesday to play for the University of Kentucky.

DAVID C TURBEN — Special to The Plain Dealer

  • SPRING FOOTBALL

    When: Through April 26

    Where: Nutter Training Center (practices closed to public)

    Spring game: 3:30 p.m. April 26 at Commonwealth Stadium

  • SPRING FOOTBALL

    When: Through April 26

    Where: Nutter Training Center (practices closed to public)

    Spring game: 3:30 p.m. April 26 at Commonwealth Stadium

There were lots of smiles around the E.J. Nutter Training Facility on the first Wednesday of February.

Kentucky's football coaches had just signed the highest-rated recruiting class in recent memory, and the mood was festive.

Tommy Mainord was the happiest guy in the building.

The UK wide receivers coach was bouncing with joy as he ran down the list of five signees who will be under his tutelage this season.

A year earlier, Mainord stood in practically the same spot and spoke with the same enthusiasm about the receivers who had signed with the Wildcats in that class.

But, on that day, he also tempered expectations.

Mainord said then that the offense he and Neal Brown were bringing from Texas Tech to Lexington needed lots of pass catchers to function properly.

He said that year's group was a step in the right direction, but that the Cats were a long way from having the number of bodies they needed.

On this national signing day, there was a little more excitement, and fewer words of warning.

"We're a lot closer," Mainord said. "We're going to be able to play with better tempo because of that. Are we where we want to be? No. We need another class to do that. But we're a day closer. So this was a big day for us.

"Signing five receivers was needed, and we need every one of these guys. And every one of them brings a different aspect to the table. So we're going to be able to play faster when we want to play faster."

Dorian Baker, Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams make up the most highly touted class of wide receivers that UK's program has ever seen.

That's five players who will be given an opportunity to play right away. It's also five more players for UK's quarterbacks to target in practice.

In the short term, that might be the most important aspect of these additions.

Brown couldn't practice with his offense the way he wanted last season because UK simply didn't have enough bodies to do it. Fewer available players meant fewer reps in practice.

That's not an ideal situation for a group that's learning a new, fast-paced offense. Nor is it helpful in the middle of a quarterback competition, which UK will have again this spring.

"We're doing the spread offense — your quarterback needs a million reps," Mainord said. "There's not enough reps your quarterback can get. So it's always nice to get a few extra reps with different bodies. And when you have great depth, your quarterback is still getting quality reps that we weren't getting last year.

"We were having to rest guys and talk through and walk through more things, as opposed to live reps. So not only does it help our guys and get a lot of people more prepared to play, but it helps our quarterbacks get prepared as well."

Williams and Snodgrass enrolled in January and will take part in spring practice, which started Friday. UK's other three newcomers will join them this summer.

Brown and Mainord like the different attributes these five wide receivers will bring to the UK offense. Williams and Johnson are quick, the 6-foot-5 Bone is taller than any receiver on the current roster, and Baker and Snodgrass have an impressive blend of size and speed.

"We're getting speed. And we're getting height," Mainord said. "We're adding some things that are going to help us be more explosive offensively. And give us different elements that we didn't have in the past. And, on top of that, you add in guys that played as freshmen last year. ... Now we've got ourselves some good depth."

Last season's newcomers — Javess Blue, Ryan Timmons, Jeff Badet and Alex Montgomery — were responsible for most of UK's production in the passing game in 2013.

Blue, Timmons and Badet were 1-2-3 on the Cats' receptions and receiving yards list, and Montgomery probably would have been third or fourth in both categories had his season not been cut short by a knee injury.

The expectations for those players will be even higher this season, especially Blue, who didn't arrive in Lexington until last August but still managed to lead the Cats in every receiving category.

On signing day, Brown compared his new receivers to his returning ones, going down the list to point out their similarities and differences.

Basically, UK's offensive coordinator wants a little bit of everything in his receiving corps.

"For this offense, what we're looking for is some guys who are really fast who can really beat you over the top," Brown said. "We want some guys who are really solid that are strong, that can kind of do everything. ... And then you want little guys who can make you miss."

Add Stanley "Boom" Williams to that last category of "guys who can make you miss."

Williams — UK's top signee in the 2014 class, according to Rivals.com — is listed as a running back, but Brown, Mainord and running backs coach Chad Scott have all talked about the possibility of lining him up as a wide receiver.

All options are on the table for UK's offensive coaches this spring and fall. After a first season with limited resources and disappointing results, those options are certainly welcome.

"There's a lot of questions unanswered," Mainord said. "We've got all of these guys coming in. Where do they fit in the puzzle? ... You just experiment with some different things, and I think we'll have some answers going into the fall.

"Bottom line is: We have five skill positions, so let's get our five best football players out there at the same time and find out where their best fit is."

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

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