Injuries thin Kentucky's wide receiver ranks for Spring Game

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 21, 2014 

  • Spring game

    When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Commonwealth Stadium

When coaches who are long past their 40-yard dash primes are running routes to get quarterbacks enough throws in practice, that's never a good sign.

But that's what Kentucky has had to resort to this spring as injuries have accumulated and leveled an already thin group of wide receivers.

"I think I'd be in the two-deep right now, because we've got everybody else hurt," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said after practice on Monday.

Even wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord "had to run some routes today, and that's definitely not good," Brown quipped.

Five of the Cats' top six returning pass catchers from last season are either out or questionable for what the coaches were hoping would be an air show for the fans at Commonwealth Stadium for the Blue-White Spring Game.

UK started the spring without leading receiver Javess Blue, who had shoulder surgery in the off-season. Sophomore Alex Montgomery also missed the spring as he rehabs a torn knee ligament.

Ryan Timmons, the Cats' second-leading wideout last season, is a maybe for Saturday with a bum shoulder.

"Nothing that's going to require any surgery or anything like that, so we've just got to get him back, get him healthy," Coach Mark Stoops said. "I've got to see where he's at for the spring game."

Third-best receiver Jeff Badet rolled his ankle badly in Monday's practice, too.

That leaves UK with a bit of a deflated "Air Raid" on Saturday, with maybe just five scholarship wide receivers available, including two who should still be in high school: T.V. Williams and Thaddeus Snodgrass.

Snodgrass hasn't been immune from the injury bug either, with what Stoops called a muscle pull.

After seeing progress from the receivers most of the spring, Stoops is frustrated to know how few might be available come Saturday.

"It's spring game, and a lot of it is for the fans, and you want to get out there and put a good product on the field and have some fun, but we need to see where we're at," he said.

And fewer fans could mean fewer commitments from the large number of recruits expected to be at the event.

"Tell 'em we're going to throw it," Brown said when asked if it was going to be more of a Ground Raid on Saturday. "We need people here, man. Big recruiting day. Big recruiting day Saturday. Fans need to show up."

Earlier this spring, Brown lamented how thin the wide receiver group was when he arrived. It's gotten better, but it's not where he would like it to be.

"We're probably a year away from getting this thing — from a numbers standpoint — where it needs to be," he said. "We were grossly thin getting here, and then we've had some injuries this spring that definitely haven't helped."

The lack of numbers last season definitely showed in the final game numbers. In Brown's last season at Texas Tech, Air Raid had 4,627 yards on 418 catches. At UK last year, it was 2,321 yards on 204 catches.

His two leading Red Raiders receivers, Darrin Moore and Eric Ward, combined for 2,085 yards on 174 catches. Their combined 25 touchdown catches were nine more than UK's touchdowns through the air (even the ones that came from non-wide receivers).

UK has help on the way in the fall with other signees, including Dorian Baker, Blake Bone and Garrett Johnson.

But there's a more immediate need for healthy wideouts this spring: to help the coaches sort out the quarterback quandary.

"The quarterbacks aren't getting enough work right now, so we've gotta build in pre-practice and post-practice stuff to make sure they're getting enough reps in the stuff that we're going to run," Brown said.

Always one to look on the bright side, Mainord said it's possible that several of the players with minor injuries could be healthy by Saturday afternoon.

He also said that the one "silver lining" in these injuries is increased repetitions for some of the younger players and walk-on wideouts, but even some of those, including Joey Herrick, have had minor injuries.

"We've also been able to rotate guys at different positions," Mainord said. "If we're thin at one position, we move somebody over there. ... You're getting different guys at different reps, different spots, so at the end of the day, we're preparing this whole football team."

And while Stoops and Brown furrow their brows about the Cats' potential lack of available wide receivers, Mainord said the goal is to have all of them healthy by August, which he expects.

"We're keeping score in the fall," he said. "We want to make sure we have all of our bullets in the gun then, so to speak."

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

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